Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for January 19th, 2015

Loving the alien

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Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in The X-Files

A few months ago, I opened a post here by saying: “I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that no other piece of pop culture news could have caused me as much happiness as the announcement of a continuation of Twin Peaks.” Since then, I’ve tried to keep my anticipation at a manageable level—after all, we still have over a year to go—but every now and then, I’ll read an update that reminds me that, yes, this is really happening. Kyle MacLachlan has been confirmed to return; so have Sheryl Lee, Dana Ashbrook, and maybe Sherilyn Fenn; and David Nevins, the president of Showtime, has said that David Lynch and Mark Frost have been “very specific in promising closure.” Yet Twin Peaks was both a procedural, which teases us with the possibility of closure, and a dream, which is predicated on denying it. The timing of its cancellation was an accident, but it always seemed oddly appropriate that it ended without any resolution, like a dream interrupted on waking. The prospect of closure is all well and good, but it isn’t the reason that I’ll be tuning in again: it’s more of a convenient pretext for the revival of a show that was more about the journey than the destination.

Over the weekend, we also saw the release of a startling report revealing that Fox is thinking seriously about a reboot of The X-Files, with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reprising their leading roles. This particular development is much less further along than it is on the Twin Peaks side; at this point, talks have focused primarily on the logistics of getting Duchovny, Anderson, and creator Chris Carter together in one room at the same time. (Although I have a hunch that Carter’s schedule is relatively clear these days.) But I find myself surprisingly ambivalent about the news, despite the fact that The X-Files played such an enormous role in my life as a writer and viewer. There’s the fact, for instance, that Twin Peaks went out on a relative high, with a fantastic pair of final episodes and a flawed but mesmerizing movie, while The X-Files endured a long decline and a second film that most of us would prefer to forget. One show has unfinished business; the other had nine seasons and countless ancillary spinoffs to work through every story it could possibly have wanted to tell. And while the thought of seeing these two characters in action again carries an undeniable charge, it’s hard to tell what really remains to be said.

Gillian Anderson in War of the Coprophages

There’s a sense, of course, that the world has changed in ways that could point a revived series in interesting directions. As critics have often pointed out, the original run of The X-Files gained much of its appeal from its mood of isolation: Mulder and Scully had cell phones and rudimentary access to the Internet, but countless episodes began with the image of a long drive to a town in the middle of nowhere, a vision of an America that consisted of many balkanized pockets of weirdness. I don’t necessarily want to see a story that begins with Mulder following up a tip on Twitter—although it’s hard to imagine the show not doing something along those lines—but there’s no question that our current cultural landscape demands new kinds of storytelling. The X-Files was always a show about information and its interpretation, omission, or distortion. It rarely had to deal with its overabundance. And there’s a version of the series that could get a lot of narrative mileage from the problems that confront contemporary paranoids and skeptics alike. The amount of conceptual noise in our lives limits the certainty of the readings that we can impose, unless we’re ruthlessly selective; it’s no longer a question of wanting to believe, but of deciding what we want to believe in.

That said, this is the first thing that would occur to any smart writer or producer. What I’d like to propose, if only as a thought experiment, is something a little more fundamental. One of the curious aspects of The X-Files was how diligently it resisted any kind of overarching pattern. It had its monsters of the week and its ongoing conspiracy arc, and there was never attempt to reconcile the two: it was a world large enough to accommodate lake monsters, werewolves, ghosts, pyrokinetics, telepaths, and miscellaneous boogiemen, and Mulder and Scully’s experience of any one anomaly never affected the way they approached any other. For an ongoing series, that was a shrewd narrative choice; trying to explain each week’s casefile in terms of the ones that came before would have severely restricted the kinds of stories the show could tell. But as long as we’re talking about closure—or a limited run, which amounts to much the same thing—I’d love to see a version of The X-Files in which the strangeness accumulated, rather than being dispersed from one episode to the next. It would be a show, in short, with a memory. I don’t know how that would look or feel. But at a time when we’re all working to deal with the contradictions that information and its persistence creates, it would be fascinating to see it honestly confront, even for ten episodes, what it meant to both explore the unknown and remember it.

Written by nevalalee

January 19, 2015 at 10:15 am

Quote of the Day

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David Lorne Parnas

The bad news is that…we will never find a process that allows us to design software in a perfectly rational way. The good news is that we can fake it.

David Lorge Parnas and Paul C. Clements

Written by nevalalee

January 19, 2015 at 7:30 am

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