html> Salon Entertainment | Joyce Millman On Television: The Xerox Files

A L S O_.T O D A Y

Blue Glow
Teens under a microscope; history of female athletes


Want to read more about the X-Files? The truth is out at


"Analyze This"
Reviewed by Stephanie Zacharek
Robert De Niro gets the lion's share of laughs in Harold Ramis' mob comedy

"Cruel Intentions"
Reviewed by Charles Taylor
Retro morality makes for a pleasurably nasty update of "Les liaisons dangereuses"

"Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels"
Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Williams
A hit English crime caper arrives in America jetlagged

R E C E N T_.

Working stiffs
By Joyce Millman
Why are "Dilbert" and "Sports Night" like a day at the office? Because watching them is a grind

Doc Hollywood
By Joyce Millman
On "ER," George Clooney was more than just a pretty face in the crowd

Get an afterlife
By Joyce Millman
Chris Elliott's long-lost cult sitcom is born again on home video

Movin' on down
By Joyce Millman
Eddie Murphy's "The PJs" puts TV's underrepresented blacks back in the ghetto

Chasing TV
By Robin Dougherty
No longer television's unsung hero, "Sopranos" creator David Chase talks about his mother, American entertainment and the mob mentality of the networks


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The alien-colonization-of-Earth framework of "First Wave" is pretty familiar, too, but writer Brancato leaves darkness and obscurity to the likes of Gordon (and Carter). "First Wave" is almost quaintly straightforward; there's no conspiracy, no layered mystery, because, as the first episode spells out for us, the aliens are already here. Disguised as humans, they've been conducting experiments on the pain threshold and will power of unsuspecting earthlings to see how much of a fight we'd put up if the planet were invaded. Only one test subject couldn't be broken, former burglar Cade Foster (Sebastian Spence). Foster escapes from captivity and goes searching for someone who'll believe his story, but he can't be sure who's human and who's an alien in disguise, so he can Trust No One. Foster's quest is complicated by the fact that he's wanted for the murder of his wife (it was an alien frame job), so he keeps running (quite handsomely, I might add) from town to town, outwitting the incredibly stupid aliens at every turn.

"First Wave" is a diverting enough sci-fi chase show, but it's not in "The X-Files'" league. I mean, the plot revolves around the predictions of Nostradamus, for heaven's sake, the supermarket tabloids' favorite gloom-and-doom guy. Foster turns to Nostradamus' infamous (and scientifically discredited) quatrains for literal clues about how and where the aliens are going to strike next and, I'm sorry, that's just a tad too cheesy for us sophisticated X-Philes.

X-Philes also will have no trouble spotting what's missing from both "First Wave" and "Strange World" -- they're utterly humorless. After all this time, "The X-Files" still understands the crucial connection between fear and the funny bone better than any show on TV (except for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," of course). "The X-Files" is having a good season, and if it's tilting a little more toward the funny bone than some fans would like, well, at least David Duchovny is getting ample opportunity to prove that he's one of the sneakiest comic actors around.

Carter more than made up for the lighter stuff, though, with February's pivotal "Two Fathers" and "One Son," two of the most coherent, yet still almost unbearably tense, hours in the series' run. In these episodes, Carter delivered some long-overdue answers about the alien colonization threat and the Syndicate's part in it, but left enough questions (Where's Mulder's sister? When will the aliens strike? What's the Smoking Man's next move?) to keep the saga going for as long as Carter wants it to keep going (last week, Fox announced the show's renewal for another season, which Carter has said will be its last).

But, major revelations aside, "The X-Files" of late has really been about more intimate mysteries. Is there such a thing as fate? And, if so, were Mulder and Scully fated to be together? All season, the show has been playing with space and time -- the episode where Mulder exchanges bodies with a loutish Army information officer (played by Michael McKean); the episode where Mulder is caught in a time warp in the Bermuda Triangle and finds himself (with a Scully doppelgänger) aboard a British luxury liner overrun with Nazis; the episode where Mulder and Scully spend Christmas Eve in a haunted house being tormented by ghosts (Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner) who try to break their trust in one another.

But Mulder and Scully's (platonic) bond transcends all. Just as there will always be evil in the world, there will always be Mulder and Scully. Not only are they the force of good in Carter's fable, they're his vision of a perfect union, proof of the concept of soul mates. Mulder and Scully's pulsating dynamic -- not to mention Duchovny and Gillian Anderson's -- is what "The X-Files" has that no series created in its image can touch. Some things, after all, can't be cloned.
SALON | March 8, 1999

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