Articles and Interviews

Let's Give X-Files 'Lite' a Chance

By Richard Preece, Rat Tail Productions

I accidentally discovered these articles during one of my long investigations of wading through X-Philes fan sites. I found Mr. Preece's point of view to be reasonable and refreshing, although I am aware that his opinions might raise the hackles of some X-Philes. Humor has always been an important element of the series and this article helps to correctly point that out.

DISCLAIMER: Every effort was made to reach Mr. Preece before publication of this article, but to no avail. The intent of re-printing this article is to continue dialogue as well as to save it for posterity. No copyright infringement is intended, if Mr. Preece discovers the Lexicon and would like to contact us, he is more than welcome to do so.

Not content with offending the vast majority of Philedom with my last little rant, I'm doing it all again. The premise of this new discussion can be summed up in three words:

"X-Files 'lite' rocks."

This is an obvious bone of contention with some Philes who prefer the more 'traditional' type of episode complete with big flashlights, dark forests and bad ties. Let me make one point clear from the very beginning - I love the old fashioned 'X-Files' episodes and some of the darkest and most disturbing episodes of the show - episodes such as 'Irresistible', 'Grotesque' and 'Orison' - are among my all time favourite episodes. 'The X-Files' deservedly has a reputation as one of the darkest shows on television and I wouldn't have it any other way. However, I think that occasionally we need episodes that are lighter in tone. Imagine if we had incredibly dark and depressing episodes every week, without any respite. We would end up facing a similar problem that 'Millennium' (the series) faced - viewers would end up turning away in droves because the series would become simply too dark, and as wonderful as 'Irresistible' is, nobody wants to watch that episode every week.

Please don't misunderstand me here, I loved 'Millennium' (despite only ever seeing the first season due to the reluctance of television companies here in the UK to buy a second season) but it was difficult viewing and few viewers could persevere with the bleakness of the show to realise how great it was. And yes I know that there were two 'lite' episodes ('Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense' and 'Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me') but it was too little too late.

Without 'lite' episodes could a similar fate have befallen 'The X-Files'? In all fairness it is highly unlikely, even before the first 'lite' episode 'Humbug', 'The X-Files' had a larger fanbase than 'Millennium'. Furthermore, despite occasional forays into extremely dark territory, 'The X-Files' has never been as dark as 'Millennium'. That is not to say, however, that without 'lite' episodes the show would not be much more difficult to watch.

Even more importantly than this, the episodes which are lighter in style act as an interesting juxtaposition with the darker episodes. By having starkly contrasting styles, the dark episodes seem darker because of the 'lite' episodes and the more humorous episodes seem funnier and lighter because of the darker episodes. Crucially however, while individual episodes may seem darker due to the presence of 'lite' episodes to compare them to, the tone of the series as a whole is prevented from becoming too sombre, a state which could be detrimental to the show.

One of the criticisms that is often aimed at the 'lite' episodes is that they tend to be of poor quality. In my opinion at least, this simply is not the case. When viewed individually and on their own merits, the 'lite' episodes tend to be of an extremely high standard, as the following breakdown will show.

Obviously opinions will vary, but in my opinion there have been seven outstanding 'lite' episodes:

'War of the Coprophages', 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space', 'Triangle', 'How The Ghosts Stole Christmas', 'The Unnatural', 'Hollywood AD' and 'X-Cops'.

seven great 'lite' episodes:

'Humbug', 'Small Potatoes', 'Bad Blood', 'The Goldberg Variation', 'The Amazing Maleeni', 'Hungry' and 'Je Souhaite.'

six entertaining 'lite' episodes:

'Syzygy', 'The Post-modern Prometheus', 'Dreamland', 'Dreamland II', and 'The Rain King.'

and one mediocre 'lite' episode 'Fight Club'.

Naturally not everybody will agree with this assessment and the exact classification of episodes as 'lite' is not an exact science (for instance some people may classify 'Three Of A Kind' and 'Arcadia' as 'lite' episodes, personally I view these episodes (both of which I love) as relatively 'straight' episodes with comedic elements) but I still feel that the above is a fair assessment from a personal viewpoint. Given the inconsistent quality of 'The X-Files' veering from wonderful to disappointing (although even the worst episodes of 'The X-Files' tend to be better than most other television programmes), often in the space of one week, we can already see that 'lite' episodes tend to be consistently of a higher quality than 'ordinary' episodes. Of course there have been far fewer 'lite' episodes. Maybe we've just been relatively lucky so far...

Interestingly though, most of the complaints regarding 'lite' episodes occurred during season six, the reason for this is fairly obvious. The season contained more 'lite' episodes than any other and contained a succession of five 'lite' episodes ('Triangle', 'Dreamland', 'Dreamland II', 'How The Ghosts Stole Christmas', and 'The Rain King.') with only one serious episode ('Terms of Endearment') to separate them.

To be fair, this really is a legitimate complaint. 'Lite' episodes work best as an occasional relief from 'ordinary' episodes and I for one would hate to see 'lite' episodes every week - they work far better in moderation. Having said that, nobody disparaged season four (which contained the Scully 'cancer arc') because it was too depressing and after six years I don't begrudge the writers the chance to have a little fun with their characters.

If you have videotaped any of the above episodes and haven't seen a 'lite' episode for a while I would advise you to rewatch the episode. You will probably enjoy it more than the first time that you saw it. After weeks of 'lite' episodes, the majority of fans (myself included) were desperate for episodes with a little more substance and darkness.

However, just because there was a glut of 'lite' episodes which ensured that the vast majority of fans became tired of them, there is no reason to dismiss these exceptional episodes which often turn out to be far funnier than any comedy show on television.

Perhaps the reason why these shows tend to be so funny is because they intelligently parody the show without being detrimental to it; all of the characters that we have come to know and love maintain their integrity. Indeed much of the humour in these shows comes from giving us an outside perspective on our favourite characters. Take for instance Federman's comments on Mulder and Scully's investigative technique in 'Hollywood AD'; "I like the way you guys work - no warrants, no permission, no research. You're like studio executives with guns" or the constant assumptions in 'The Rain King' that Mulder and Scully are a married couple. Things we have accepted for years because of the constraints of dramatic television are suddenly hilarious when we see an outside perspective. Of course many people would assume that two people as close as Mulder and Scully are would be married and of course no real FBI agent would get away with operating like our dynamic duo does. Yet this never really strikes us because we have been watching the show for so long.

Where else can you find such intelligent satire of any TV series or film? Most parody suffers due to demeaning its inspiration. 'The X-Files' version of parody, by contrast, is pure genius - recognising its own foibles and idiosyncrasies and making a joke out of them without making the show itself seem ridiculous is no easy task, yet it is a task that the 'lite' episodes excel in.

Going back to my rather simplistic earlier statement, this is one of the reasons why "X-Files lite Rocks". 'The X-Files' has a much touted reputation as the most intelligent drama series on television. Nowhere is this more apparent than in 'lite' episodes. Of course the prime example of this is 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space' but the majority of the 'lite' episodes are full of extremely clever and innovative in-jokes and references. Indeed perhaps in the case of episodes such as 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space' and 'Hollywood AD' the term 'lite' is a misdemeanour as the show is intellectually heavy and only the most cerebral of viewers would be able to appreciate all of its jokes.

Sadly, truly intelligent comedy is extremely rare. 'The X-Files' is one of the few television series that offers this elusive quality. This taken in conjunction with the benefits humorous episodes add to the diversity and tone of 'The X-Files' and the sheer entertainment value of the 'lite' episodes leads me to the conclusion that we should all give X-Files 'lite' another chance. Dig out your 'X-Files lite' videotapes that have been gathering dust in your closet and watch them once more without preconceptions and most importantly evaluate each episode individually and I really do not think that you will be disappointed.

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