I am blogging my past TV reviews from Facebook; this was my surprisingly unenthusiastic reaction to “The X Files” Season 1. Yes, this review is dated, as it makes no mention of the show’s impending return. (Hooray.)
I love ‘The X Files.” And I mean I REALLY love “The X Files.” It’s possibly my favorite television show of all time, running neck and neck with shows like “24,” Battlestar Galactica” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” So I was very surprised at my own disappointment when, via Netflix, I was able to watch Season 1 in its entirety for the first time. Taken together, I think its 24 episodes deserve a 5 out 0f 10. And bear in mind – that’s coming from a diehard fan.
I first fell in love with this show as its fourth or fifth season was currently airing. This was long before Netflix streaming, and I’m pretty sure it was before DVD’s were even a thing. (I’m old.) What few episodes I’d seen of Season 1 were from syndication and purchased VHS tapes. So I’ve been proclaiming my love for the show (which had a nine-year run) for years without ever having seen much of the early seasons.
Some great TV shows can get off to a rough start. “The Simpsons,” “MST3K” and even “Family Guy” were less than stellar when they first began. Shows like “24” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” were good, but got much better. “The X Files” was surprisingly average.
The first nine episodes were, frankly, poor. There was little of the suspense, mystery and characterization that would eventually make the show great, with Mulder and Scully being flat, and even annoying characters that were thinly scripted and awkwardly played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Duchovny, early on, was just bad. His wooden line delivery made him seem like a Fox Network intern who was standing in for a sick professional actor. Anderson was better, but could only do so much with the clunky and simplistic dialogue.
Episodes like “Ghost in the Machine” and “Ice” seem clearly like ripoffs of sci-fi classics (“2001: A Space Odyssey” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” respectively), though “Ice” still manages to be fun. One episode, “Space,” was so boring that it was painful to watch. “Squeeze,” which is a favorite for many longtime fans, was good, but even it hasn’t aged all that well. I’m surprised the show lasted.
As mysteries or police thrillers, these early episodes also failed. Eager witnesses cheerfully and conveniently present themselves early on to volunteer clues and exposition. The underlying reveals seemed like elements thrown together with little exposition. And Duchovny looks like he’d never held a gun in his life. (I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to wave it around like that.) I can’t remember the episode but, at one point, Mulder (a supposedly brilliant Oxford-trained criminal psychologist) actually confuses schizophrenia with MPD (multiple personality disorder). Sigh.
Then there was a shift in tone and quality. “Eve” is one of the all-time greats. (And it was here where the dark themes and complex overarching plotlines were truly established that would later define the show.) “Beyond The Sea” saw Anderson shine, along with the writers and directors. It was simply fantastic … even unforgettable (thanks in no small part to amazing guest actor Brad Dourif).
“Darkness Falls” and “Born Again” established their creators’ abilities to make great standalone, scary mysteries. Duchovny just seemed to … get better. He settled into the role, became more natural, and the writers seemed to begin giving Mulder the endearing quirks and idiosyncrasies that eventually grew him into an attractive, three-dimensional character that so many people would grow to love.
And the final episode, “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” clinched it. Here the show seemed to reach the greatness that I remember, with a great story with humor, pathos, creepiness, tension and seemingly plausible twists and mysteries. It was wonderful, and a great precursor of the greatness we would see in later seasons.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the show. And Season 1 was really more average than flat out bad. I’m just saying that the first season compares poorly with what longtime fans remember from the next eight years.