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What's Ailing The X-Files
By Jo-Ann Parks

special to

posted: 06:08 pm ET
20 January 2000

What's Ailing The X-Files

After nearly seven years, The X-Files still draws millions of viewers every Sunday night, but not everything is rosy for the hit series.

"If Duchovny doesn't like the rain, get him an umbrella."

-- Mark Hayes, Seattle

"I can't make heads or tails out of the story anymore."

-- Aaron Levy, Trenton, NJ

I want to see them go out on their own terms."

-- Nicole Wu, San Francisco

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The X-Files

Philes Against X-Files Light

Ratings have slipped steadily since the show's fifth season. Over 2 million viewers have left, and the show's current ratings are at levels not seen since season two, when the program was still technically a "cult" hit.

So why are people tuning out? Is it frustration over the storyline? Character developments? Scully and Mulder's changing hairstyles?

Blame it on the smog

"The show doesn't feel the same anymore," says Jess Miller from Rochester, NY.

Many fans echo this sentiment, pinpointing the show's move from Vancouver to Los Angeles after season five as the moment when The X-Files changed.

Some accuse the producers of "Hollywood-izing" the show, peppering it with "name" guest stars and telling simpler stories meant to appeal to casual viewers.

Despite David Duchovny's complaints about the rain, fans loved the moody ambiance filming around Vancouver lent the series. Neither Mother Nature nor the directors have cooperated in bringing this look to sunny California.

"[The producers] made a big mistake when they moved the series to L.A.," says Mark Hayes of Seattle. "They should take the show back to Vancouver."

"If Duchovny doesn't like the rain, get him an umbrella."

You call that an X-File?

The stories have changed too, prompting complaints that the stand-alone episodes -- those with no connection to the overall conspiracy story -- aired since the beginning of season six are "lightweight."

One group of online fans has dubbed the sixth season "X-Files Lite," and maintains a website with commentaries explaining and defending the designation.

Other long-time viewers complain that recent episodes aren't scary enough, weird enough, intelligent enough or "X-Files -y" enough. Some even object to the increase in humor during season six.

There are even those who simply think the show has too many stand-alone episodes. These fans find the sudden shifts between Mulder and Scully almost uncovering the great government-consortium-alien conspiracy and then chasing after random monsters distressing.

These viewers don't necessarily want a continuous story arc, but only ask to see more cohesion between the arc episodes and the standalone "monsters of the week."

How about some truth?

When fans talk about being rewarded for their viewer loyalty, they don't mean in terms of another movie, even though most fans do want to see Mulder and Scully hit the big screen again.

Fans want payoffs -- the Truth that's supposedly out there -- from the story now.

They wonder why Mulder and Scully are "running in place" after six years. The agents have pursued answers for a long time, and viewers want them to get some.

"Let Scully and Mulder win one," says Hayes.

It's an opinion shared by others who believe they deserve the satisfaction and pay-off from a win against the bad guys as much as their heroes do.

Got a plan, Mr. Carter?

Meanwhile, viewers are concerned and frustrated over what Sara Mackenzie from Toronto calls "the aimless meandering of the mythology story."

Many speculate that Chris Carter, the show's creator, has no long-term plan in place and is just "making it all up as he goes along."

Some fans complain the story arc has become so convoluted that there is no sense to be made out of any of it. They believe it's the growing sense of bafflement over where the mythology is headed that is driving viewers away.

"I can't make heads or tails out of the story anymore," Aaron Levy of Trenton, NJ, complains. "I have no idea what's going on."

While most fans still have faith in Carter's storytelling skills, they are worried he will be unable to wrap up all the loose ends should this be the show's final season.

Admittedly, not every stone has to be turned over by the last episode. Secrets and unsolved mysteries are what The X-Files is all about, but, given the sheer number of sub-plots and twists existing in the show's mythology, it may no longer be possible to answer every question.

Damned if they do, damned if they don't

There is no more contentious issue amongst fans than the question of a romantic pairing between Special Agents Mulder and Scully, which has sparked heated debates both online and off.

Many fans love the idea of a romance, believing it would be the logical next step in the evolution of the pair's relationship. However, others view the concept with contempt, believing it would undermine the duo's partnership dynamic and ultimately hurt the show's credibility.

One point fans on both sides of the issue do agree on is that, like it or not, a Mulder and Scully romance seems inevitable, but that certainty doesn't seem to be making anyone happy.

Some viewers insist they will stop watching The X-Files if Mulder and Scully become romantically entangled, but others say they will tune out if they don't end up together. Even the threat of either outcome has already caused long-time fans on both sides to stop watching the show.

Age of retirement

There is little agreement about when the show should call it quits.

Some believe the show has run its course and should end this year, as is still officially the plan.

"I don't want to see the show get yanked because of bad ratings. I want to see them go out on their own terms," says Nicole Wu from San Francisco.

Others, taking a cue from Fox and Chris Carter's newfound willingness to explore an eighth season, think The X-Files is good for at least one more year.

"It's still the best show on TV," says Kristen McKay of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. "I'm not ready to let it go yet. I don't think any of the die-hard fans are willing to give it up at this point."

One thing is certain: whether they're fed up or still enamored with it, The X-Files is still igniting passion among its fans. The discussions that passion provokes are likely to continue long after the final veil lifts for television's favorite agents.

What do you think? Send comments to the author or editor.

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