Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's the Great X-file, Charlie Brown

If another day brings another dollar, then another Halloween begets yet another X-Files marathon.

For the seventh year running, I will screen, for selected friends and family, nine episodes from nine seasons across nine nights, starting tonight at 9:30 pm sharp. By the time October 21st comes to a spooky close, this will mark 61 specially chosen episodes (why not 63? The first marathon pre-dated the release of the final two seasons on DVD, making that first year a truncated one. Consider the case on this particular X-file solved), a small figure compared to the series’s 202 installments, but one that is nonetheless a large tally, all things considered, and which grows not only larger with each passing year but also increasingly difficult to constitute.

The reason for such exponential challenge resides in the television show’s narrative composition. Creator/showrunner Chris Carter and his writing staff – along, undoubtedly, with some cajoling from Twentieth Century Fox – made the cardinal decision to split all episodes into one of two camps: mythology and standalone. Each week would deliver unto audiences either a new chapter of the series’s ongoing and overriding story arc, detailing the government’s conspiracy of silence in regards to the presence of extraterrestrial colonists on our planet, or a self-contained, monster-of-the-week tale that would focus more on scares than on continuing any particular plot thread. The two were never meant to intersect one another, which was good for the studio executives and their all-ruling Neilson ratings but bad for the narrative cohesion or the overall quality of the show; to have, say, Agent Scully’s newly located and previously unknown daughter suddenly and tragically die in one ep and not be mentioned – an incredibly traumatic, even debilitating, event such as this – in the next tends to violently jar one out of his suspension of disbelief. The poor woman wouldn’t be able to return to work for months, let alone go about as if nothing had happened just 24 hours later.

But, as is often the case in war and art, theory never survives reality. Many of the series’s so-called standalone installments do, indeed, feature a certain amount of bearing upon and extension to the overarching narrative (“Leonard Betts” [episode 4x12], for example, contains the little bombshell that Scully has cancer, a development which proves to be something of a major throughline for the remainder of the show). And to further slim down the selection pool, the question of just what, exactly, comprises a (substantial) continuity reference can make the black-and-white distinction between mythology and monster-of-the-week an amorphous gray zone – does any reference to or inclusion of aliens, for instance, automatically designate an entry part of the mythological canon? That continuity can very easily become anathema to enjoyable casual television watching, as mentioned previously, is a no-brainer, even for a series that went off the air eight years ago, but not at the expense of undermining the marathon’s existence.

The answer, it turns out, is to take a page from Carter’s showrunning book and do what he and his staff did week after week for nearly a decade. Starting in 2007, after three years of standalone-only collections, the marathon began to alternate with mythology lineups, simultaneously extending the event’s lifespan while increasing its potentiality. And what potential potentiality has – this year, proving The X-Files’s elasticity in its death as well as in its life, a new wrinkle in the form of themed episodes is being introduced; instead of nine traditional installments being selected by their horror content or creepy atmospherics, comedy is the name of the game, starting with Scully’s eating of insects and ending with Burt Reynolds’s memorable performance as a music-loving, checkers-playing God.

Happy Halloween – even if it’s one filled with laughs as opposed to thrills.

Wednesday, October 13th – “Humbug” (season two)

Thursday, October 14th – “War of the Coprophages” (season three)

Friday, October 15th – “Small Potatoes” (season four)

Saturday, October 16th – “Bad Blood” (season five)

Sunday, October 17th – “Dreamland” (season six)*

Monday, October 18th – “Dreamland II” (season six)*

Tuesday, October 19th – “Arcadia” (season six)

Wednesday, October 20th – “Hollywood AD” (season seven)

Thursday, October 21st – “Improbable” (season nine)

Note: since neither season one nor eight contains any comedy episodes, the amazingly clever "Dreamland" two-parter is being shown – chronologically, of course – in their place.

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