Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Series Rewatch: The X-Files S1E1 "Pilot"

Like I said before, part of the reason I wanted to watch The X-Files and Lois & Clark at the same time was to compare how two shows that had a lot in common--"nerd" shows, started almost simultaneously, sci-fi/fantasy/comic book genres--developed over the series. I've seen this pilot four or five times since the last time I saw the L&C pilot and I was really expecting this one to be the one that held up the best. And in most ways, it did. Plot, characterization, commitment to the concept of the series as a whole--in ALL of these things, I think that The X-Files pilot episode blew the doors off the joint. Oddly, where it fell apart most for me was, to some degree, visually. The special effects in both pilots were dreadful by today's standards. And I think that worked better on L&C because it is SO over-the-top camptastic that it kind of feels like it should have ludicrously awful special effects. Now, the "look" of The X-Files? Spot on. It is absolutely gorgeous. The first four years of the show were shot in Vancouver so there's this omnipresent grayness that hovers over the proceedings setting an impeccable tone for the stories they are telling. The other thing that made me gape in horror was something that, again, I thought would be more jarring in L&C is the wardrobe. And again, it's the cartoonish nature of L&C that is served by the costumes on the actors. I think guys are always easier anyway, but the very sleek and stylized, almost 1940s lines of everything Teri Hatcher wore in the pilot were silly, but they looked good. Which brings us to The X-Files, where the aforementioned idea that guys are just generally more generic fashion-wise when looked at through a lens of 20 years is painfully obvious. I don't know how much of it is that women's fashion circa 1993 was just plain godawful (and it was. I have picture galore from my freshman year of college that serve as proof) and how much of it is that obviously the wardrobe people had not the faintest, foggiest, ghost of a clue how to dress someone of Gillian Anderson's stature. Which by the way is TINY. She's not wispy skinny, but she's petite. It's entirely possible that every single suit worn by ladies under 5'4" in the early 90s was awful. It's also possible that they made her look dowdy on purpose--it fits into the idea of the character and I guess, in fairness, Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D. isn't going to look like a fashion plate. It was still distracting. Mainly because all I could think was that was exactly how I must have looked when I wore a suit in the 90s.

So, now that I got that out of my system...this pilot is AH-MAH-ZING. Okay, that may be too strong a word. But it just ticked every box of what the show would end up being. The plot is...well, hell, y'all...The X-Files (spoiler alert) is about ALIENS. Logical, scientific Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D is sent by the high ups at the FBI to provide scientific analysis of cases in a division referred to as the X-Files, which are cases that involve unexplained phenomena. The whole scene where she's assigned this task...so smart. It perfectly introduces her character, the central premise of the show, the X-Files as an entity AND (although we don't realize it) the central antagonist of the entire series. We proceed to her first meeting with her new partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder (So. So. Cute. I'm not kidding when I say that to this day, the first time we see Mulder with his floppy bangs and wire-rimmed glasses makes my girlish heart flutter. For that matter, Gillian Anderson is absolutely angelic, too. So attractive, these two.) which is also practically perfect. He's just far enough "out there" to be amusing and immediately trundles Scully off on their first case which involves the mysterious death of several young people, all of whom graduated from the local high school in the same year. There are things in this case that will be relevant in the larger myth-arc of the entire show. The case itself is re-visited in the Season 7 finale. Concepts are introduced that provide the groundwork for central plotlines for the 8th and 9th Seasons. It makes for very cool retrospective watching. Especially when you start seeing things like how a scene in the pilot--it's the one where Mulder tells Scully about his sister (ALSO a central and long-running plot point)--is directly mirrored in the final scene of the series finale, nine years later. There's shady government guys interfering in the case, disappearing evidence, Mulder seeing with his own eyes evidence of the existence EBEs while Scully juuuuuust misses it and no real answer at the end of the case. In other words, it's exactly what happens in pretty much ALL mytharc episodes.

OMGWTFBBQ Guest Stars--Strangely, none. The show will prove a goldmine of almost and used to be famous. But other than actors who later play the same character on the show--The Cigarette Smoking Man and Billy Miles are the two biggest--it's just a few character actor types that you've seen in other stuff.

Grade: Solid A. Not The West Wing pilot good, but still pretty great.

The Good: Mulder's glasses, spook-factor, excellence as representative episode of the show as a whole, off-the-charts sexual tension between Mulder and Scully from the get-go, ESPECIALLY when she strips down to let him check her for alien implant marks (not a euphemism-he's ACTUALLY looking for alien implant marks--and if you think these two are hitting the sheets anytime soon. Well, I laugh at your optimism.); ability to make something that could be silly--like looking for aliens--decidedly UNsilly; intriguing enough to make someone want to watch more; beautifully introduces TONS of things that will be important to the show, both in general and specific to this thread of the alien/myth umbrella plot

The Bad: Hokey special effects, especially the Alien Light Tornado that carries away the abductees; tacky pilot sets for the stuff that happens at the FBI; couple of minor misses in the acting department from the supporting cast

The Ugly: The atrocity of a brown plaid suit jacket perpetrated upon Scully's person in her first scene.