Sunday, June 29, 2014

Funny episodes of "The X-Files"

It's hard to believe that Fox's "The X-Files" has been off the air for over a decade now. Of course, it's been even longer since it was good, despite the valiant efforts of Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish as the ostensible replacements for David Duchovny. It makes me wonder how well even early "X-Files" episodes hold up today.

Recently, I went for a long run on the treadmill and didn't feel like watching my current binge-fest ("The Wire"), and for some reason I was inspired to stream "The X-Files: Fight the Future." It was better than I remembered, although exhibiting much of the same flaws as the TV show: excellent on the mood and atmosphere, and better at setting up the conspiracy angle than at resolving it, and disastrously weak at the end.

Still, it was a positive enough (re)experience that when I had only 45 minutes for a treadmill session, and hence not enough time for a full episode of "The Wire," I opted for "The X-Files"' season 5 comic vampire episode "Bad Blood."

This is really a brilliant - and funny - episode, with the first and second third of the episode being told from Scully's and Mulder's points of view, respectively, and then an objective/omniscent view for the last third that follows the events of their earlier narration. The acting performances that each gives in the other's viewpoint are appropriately exaggerated versions of their character foibles (Scully comes across as a bit of a whiny and annoying skeptical; and Mulder comes across as manic and dismissive). The clues are all there to figure out the mystery, and in retrospect you can see how cleverly and meticulously writer Vince Gilligan (who would go on to create "Breaking Bad") was about getting all the details right.

It got me thinking about the other funny episodes of "The X-Files," which ran long enough and had enough creativity on the part of the writers to put together a number of intentionally comic efforts. Here are my rankings on the best:

"War of the Coprophages" (season 3): This is the "cockroach" episode and finds Mulder on a solo mission in a small town with a mysterious rash of cockroach-related deaths. Each time he describes the fatality to Scully on the phone, she has a plausible scientific explanation. Eventually, Mulder meets a federal scientist named Dr. Bambi Berenbaum, leading to Scully's repetition of "Her name is Bambi?" when she learns of the other doctor.

"Three of a Kind" (season 6): I've always liked the appearances of the Lone Gunmen, the three conspiracy geeks who help Mulder out from time to time; this is the second time they get what is essentially their own episode. Mulder's not even in this one (only Duchovny's voice in the beginning, supposedly synthesized by the Gunmen to trick Scully into coming to Vegas to help them). There's a sci-fi convention going on, government spooks, "suicides" that are really murders, and a mind control drug that gets injected into people. Ever wonder what Scully is like when she's drunk? You get a good sense of it.

"Jose Chung's From Outer Space" (season 3): A very strange episode told in pieces by a sci-fi writer (played by Charles Nelson Reilly) to Scully, with guest appearances by Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura (as men in black), and full of all kinds of tropes about government cover-ups of alien abductions. It's hilarious, especially in the way in which it conveys how foul-mouthed one detective is: he says "blankety-blank" on screen, after which Scully explains, "Well, he didn't really say 'blankety-blank'; he actually said ...." at which point the writer cuts her off and says he's familiar with the detective's colorful language. For the rest of the episode, the detective keeps shouting "blankety-blank!"

"Je Souhaite" (season 7): Mulder gets three wishes from a genie. Yeah, that's going to work out well.

"Small Potatoes" (season 4): A town has a strange number of babies born with the same birth defect, with all the mothers having been treated by the same fertility doctor. The janitor turns out to have the defect (a vestigal tail), and also the ability to shapeshift. Hilarity results when he impersonates Mulder and attempts to seduce Scully....

"Hollywood, A.D." (season 7): Hard to describe this one, other than that the backdrop involves an "X-Files" movie in the show, where Mulder is played by Garry Shandling and Scully by Tea Leoni, with Hollywood doing its predictable best to mold the "real" story into the Hollywood version. Best line is Leoni asking Scully, "How do you run in those heels?"

"Humbug" (season 2): This was probably the first intentionally funny episode, with Mulder and Scully encountering one of those human bizarro circuses with people who pierce themselves, eat bugs, etc. This didn't do that much for me as far as episodes go, but if it opened the door to funnier episodes, it was worth it.

Not surprisingly, most of these were written by just two people: Darin Morgan ("War of the Coprophages," "Jose Chung," and "Humbug") and Vince Gilligan (all the others except "Hollywood, A.D.," which was by Duchovny). It makes me think I probably should give "Breaking Bad" a chance when it becomes available for streaming.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this list. I was looking for colorful X-Files episodes to watch, and you helped me.