Sunday, July 27, 2008

It takes two - X-Files Season One

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Sometimes your memory of a film or TV show can be colored by so many things that when you go back and see it again you just shake your head and say "What was I thinking?" It makes the possibility of seeing old favorites in a new light a very scary thing. This time I got lucky and found that my memories of the show were pretty much right on. Yes the X-files still holds up.

I ended up re-watching the first season. We picked it up on DVD a few years ago (back when it was still in the huge boxes) but never really got around to watching all the episodes, mostly revisited our favorites. This time around I wanted to get a feel for the series in the order it was shown on TV and see how things developed. Sure time has affected some aspects of the series. The lack of cellphones and the size of the few you do see actually makes you wonder how this show would have played out if Mulder and Scully had tiny little phones to use at a moments notice with a handy camera to get pics of all those lovely spaceships, EBEs and monsters.

However everything else remained enjoyable and effectively moody. I realized how much shows like CSI borrowed their look from this series. The X-file was one of the first cinematic television series, bringing the look of the theatrical thriller to a small screen on a TV sized budget. The music is very atmospheric and atonal. It may not work well separated from the images on the screen, but while you are watching it really adds to the experience. The plots are usually very well written, balancing the supernatural, scientific, horrifying and paranoid very well. Even in this first season where things are just starting out, the threads that would drive the show later are laid out with enough depth to keep you interested but also keep you guessing.

However the linchpin for the show was the dynamic between Mulder and Scully. This was something that grew out of the writing, the acting and the chemistry between the leads. Without this chemistry the X-files wouldn't have survived more than a couple of seasons if it was lucky. The first season gives us these two characters, defines them and then starts screwing with them. Because the characters are defined well and the actors understood the characters, the writers are able to present situations that really explore the two agents and cause them to question and keep questioning. Tie this into the overall conspiracy plot and suddenly you have magic.

If I learned anything from rewatching this first season it was how important a good character dynamic is for a successful story. If you have partners they need to have some kind of difference to create conflict (Scully won't believe without proof, Mulder wants to believe it all). They need to have something that unites them (They both want to find the truth). They need to have strengths and weaknesses that compliment each other (Scully's analytical mind both blinds and aids the team). As a writer this is a great way to make a good team.
Do you think Scully and Mulder were a good team? From a writer's perspective would you have changed anything about their character dynamics? What other partner characters (in TV, film, books) do you think serve as good models of great character writing?

No comments: