Let’s give X-FILES: ALBUQUERQUE the benefit of the Truth

Fox threw fans of legendary 1990s pop-culture phenomenon The X-Files a curve ball last week by announcing the development of a brand new, spin-off series.

X-Files: Albuquerque, which is currently being worked up for the network (and by extension their overlords, Disney), is planned to be an animated comedy revolving around a collection of “misfit agents who investigate X-Files cases too wacky, ridiculous or downright dopey for Mulder and Scully to bother with.” as described by TV Line’s Michael Ausellio. The project has a ‘script and presentation commitment’ from Fox (translated: if they like the script, they’ll let them make it) and is being developed by Rocky Russo & Jeremy Sosenko, with X-Files creator Chris Carter and his former PA/Season 11 scribe Gabe Rotter overseeing as executive producers. The old and the new joining forces, essentially, for a new chapter in the history of the series.

I say series because The X-Files will, if this does come to fruition, take the first steps to becoming a franchise; not just one singular, iconic series any longer, but rather part of a broader tapestry that could expand beyond the adventures of Fox Mulder & Dana Scully, who with David Duchovny & Gillian Anderson in the roles investigated America’s paranormal secrets between 1993-2002, across two movies, and then between 2016-2018 for what will, almost certainly, be a swan song for the traditional era of that show. Fans don’t want to admit it (I run an X-Files podcast so, trust me, I know), but the original series of The X-Files is done. Anderson doesn’t want to revive Scully again. Season 11 wrote the show into a corner, effectively, and it’s hard to imagine just what else you could do with the middle aged Mulder & Scully now that hasn’t been done.

In other words, this might be the right time for Albuquerque, if you subscribe to the idea The X-Files should even become a franchise at all.

There are, admittedly, two schools of thought about this, both of them equally quite valid and they speak to the broader idea of how popular culture is evolving in the 21st century.

One thought process is that The X-Files is only The X-Files because of Mulder & Scully or, more specifically, Duchovny and Anderson. Both actors have a particular fanbase built heavily from The X-Files that is primarily 30+ (of the age group to have enjoyed the series when it first aired, in other words), and devoted either to each individual actor’s life beyond the show (especially in Anderson’s case – she has a real cult of personality) or the ‘ship’ of Mulder & Scully as characters, i.e. the pursuit of the FBI agents as a romantic pairing.

By the end of Season 11, this has arguably come to pass again – after they first slept together back in Season 7 and (maybe) conceived a son (though given he’s basically a body-exploding psychic half alien space God who could be the genetically created spawn of Mulder’s own biological father then… well, maybe not…). By the end of Season 11, Scully is pregnant once again and Mulder is accepted as the father, with the characters having essentially sundered their original son William and been provided with an open door to the kind of safe family existence they couldn’t have by the end of the original run, or second movie I Want to Believe where they co-habited before splitting up.

Anyway! This all goes to show that The X-Files in its later years became entangled as much in murky family soap opera, just with a world destroying conspiracy as the wrapping, as it did actual FBI or paranormal investigation. As early as Season 3, arguably, the show’s mythology angled the series in the direction of a personal, family-centric quest for Mulder & Scully, and as the characters became beloved as ‘90s icons, so did they both become for many an essential part of the X-Files DNA.

When Duchovny chose to leave at the end of Season 7, many fans refused to countenance a show not constructed around their partnership, friendship and possible romance. Many fans consider Season 7 finale Requiem the ‘official’ end point of the show, until Season 10 when the original dynamic was reasserted. So, as the school of thought goes, Mulder and Scully are The X-Files, and Duchovny & Anderson are Mulder & Scully. Accept no substitutes, sequels or spin-offs.

I’ve never subscribed to this thought process for a multitude of reasons.

Firstly, The X-Files is more than Mulder & Scully, at least to me. Granted, I love those characters (and the actors who play them) and I enjoy the show for the most part in greater fashion when their dynamic is at its peak, but I’ve never been a shipper. I’m not a ‘no-romo’ (there’s more of them than you might think too), I have no issue with them being a couple or having children, but the ‘will they/won’t they’ intrigue was never what I watched The X-Files for.

The show enraptured me and became my favourite TV series (it still is) because of its imagination, boldness, narrative intricacy, depth, meaning and subtext, coupled with truly thrilling production values and sharp scripting which helped shape modern TV just as heartily as seminal series such as The Sopranos or The Wire did. The show is more than just Mulder & Scully; indeed Season 8, the first year with Mulder as a supporting player, is one of the strongest seasons and Robert Patrick’s replacement John Doggett thoroughly helped reinvigorate the show when it had, for all intents and purposes, become a pastiche of itself.

Equally, I don’t subscribe to the idea that only Duchovny & Anderson can play Mulder & Scully either. They will one day be replaced when in time those characters are rebooted. It will happen. It’s a matter of when rather than if, and the precedent has been set by J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Twenty years ago, people would have laughed at the idea that anyone other than William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy could inhabit the roles of Kirk & Spock, but now Chris Pine & Zachary Quinto are those characters for an entire generation. They’ll never be quite as iconic in those roles but they work, and they’ve proven strong characters can be reinterpreted well. Mulder & Scully will, and indeed should, outlive Duchovny & Anderson, and this brings me to the second school of thought…

Letting The X-Files evolve beyond what it once was and what it has always been.

This one is, to a degree, more complicated.

Purists would suggest that The X-Files is too niche and quirky and weird to sustain a franchise as Star Wars or Marvel etc… have and, in many ways, they’re right. The X-Files started as a cult series in the trail of Twin Peaks, filmed in cold and rainy Vancouver, featuring two sexy but dysfunctional people who investigated strange and unnerving cases. While it grew in popularity, reached the big screen and Duchovny & Anderson even got on the cover of Rolling Stone, at its heart The X-Files remained that quirky, weird little show that could, and was at its best when filmed in choppy Canada with characters rocking up in odd little towns to uncover a dark secret.

There was always a strange intimacy about The X-Files which doesn’t translate to a broad canvas, hence why it never successfully evolved into a big budget film series, and arguably spiralled back from TV phenomenon to cult curiosity by the 2000’s and upon its 2010’s return. It initially did well but viewing figures eventually nosedived, in part because to his credit Carter refused to make a show of the modern day; his reboot seasons were entirely in step with the kind of TV he was making in 1996, let alone 2016.

In other words, I totally appreciate the argument that The X-Files should be left alone as opposed to becoming franchised, simply for the fact by doing so you could change the perception of what the show is and remove the dark, oddball appeal of the original, successful run.

Albuquerque threatens to do just that, given how fundamentally different the series could be as an approach. Star Trek has recently faced a similar schism with Lower Decks, a comedic animated series which lampoons the basic precepts of a classic Star Trek series. Some love it, some don’t get it, some resent it for refusing to take seriously a product they’ve invested in. Albuquerque is clearly inspired by Lower Decks in concept, featuring as it will an assortment of misfits who will be looking at the X-Files as a concept through their own lens of inadequacy.

What fans perhaps forget is that The X-Files has a long standing basis in comedic mockery, with Darin Morgan’s legendary episodes across Seasons 2, 3, 10 and 11 particularly looking at the straight-laced idea of Mulder & Scully’s investigations with a skewed, self-aware perspective. Most X-Files fans love one or more of these comedic outings, or indeed runs such as Season 6 which heavily invests in light-hearted comedic romps. Many fans of the show love The X-Files when it lampoons itself, so on that basis Albuquerque should face no issues in terms of content.

The problem lies on two fronts: firstly, that it won’t feature either Mulder or Scully (or the voices of Duchovny & Anderson) and secondly that it is animated. We have never seen The X-Files presented in either of these ways. It is uncharted territory. To many, that’s scary and borderline heretical. To others, myself included, it’s exciting. To consider a future in which The X-Files evolves as a concept and embraces different styles of storytelling across alternative mediums, and investigates the possibility that we could love different characters, is thrilling.

Just because Carter’s original vision was low-key and offbeat (even though the series ended up far more populist and mainstream as it went on) does not mean the idea behind The X-Files does not have elasticity. Doggett proved you could introduce a strong character who wasn’t Mulder & Scully. The scope of what the series could do in terms of tone or reach or narrative diversity was huge – it could be an international conspiracy thriller one week and a romantic comedy about love and weather the next. The X-Files was never just one thing and to protect it as such, and to be afraid of the possibilities of what it could become, to me would be a wasted opportunity.

In the end, Albuquerque might never even happen. There’s an equal chance of that. But regardless, I would hope it makes X-Files fans genuinely think beyond what the show they love is, and what the world it created could be. The truth is out there, and it’s that The X-Files will never stay the way it always was forever.

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Author of books: Myth-Building in Modern Media / Star Trek, History and Us | Writer of words on film/TV/culture | Rotten Tomatoes approved critic: Twitter: @ajblackwriter | Podcast chief: @wmadethis | Occasionally go outside.

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    • This is true, indeed you can count Millennium too (retroactively). But the difference is that Lone Gunmen spun-off characters who were well established and didn’t revolve around X-Files. This new idea is much more connected to the concept of the original show, so while it won’t technically be the first spin-off by definition, it’s the first true extension of the series into a franchise.

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