The X-Files, 20 Years On

The online magazine Grantland (which I’ve never come across before now) has a nice article celebrating the 20th anniversary of The X-Files. Some of the writer’s reminiscences are perfect — this one is the sort of thing everyone probably remembers from their youth but never quite codified:

I didn’t watch The X-Files, which premiered that fall, 20 years ago now, on September 10, 1993. I was wasting time at an advanced enough level not to need help from television. ButThe X-Files was there, in the background, for that year and for several years after it. In my memory of that time it seems to be running, muted, on every TV in every room I enter after dark. We are huddled around a phone trying to figure out whether there are such things as girls we might plausibly call, and in the other room we see the back of my friend’s mother’s head and Mulder’s and Scully’s faces staring out at us.

xfilesNice. X-Files was the last television drama I followed (shamefully, I’ve never seen a single episode of The Sopranos, or The Wire, or Deadwood, or Battlestar Galactica, or Firefly, or Breaking Bad, or Mad Men, or The Walking Dead, or…wow, really any of the 21st-century TV renaissance in America). I’ve been thinking about picking out a few choice X-Files episodes to watch with my son Stu, but I’m a little wary of submitting them for his approval. There was a time when Dad’s imprimatur guaranteed a favorable viewing of a movie or TV show, but now that he’s a teenager my endorsement can really go either way. Is this thing I’m showing him something he can comfortably get behind, or will it serve as a reminder that we’re different generations and a way to subconsciously differentiate his own identity from mine?

Probably I could get him on board — like me, he’s an SF fan. An episode like “Drive” or “Kill Switch” (two of my favorites that rarely show up on other fans’ 10-best lists, though “Drive” is a sort of precursor to Breaking Bad) or “Pusher” or “Bad Blood” would at least give him a taste of what the show has to offer. But at some point you end up wading into the show’s mythology, which I always found an unsatisfying mess, and where do you start there? More importantly, where do you end? I suspect neither of us would want to grind through the whole nine seasons. The quality there is just too variable.

Really, it’s probably better to just leave The X-Files in the 1990s where it belongs, pre-Stu, pre-al Qaeda, pre-iPod. It would likely feel like a dumbphone phenomenon in this smartphone age.