It’s hard to imagine today given the huge amount of great genre television gracing our small screens, but at one point the TV landscape didn’t look that way… until The X-Files.
A handful of shows unlike any others seen on primetime at the time, including Twin Peaks, landed in the early 1990s and almost immediately jumpstarted a slew of scifi, fantasy and supernatural storytelling for television, in a way not seen since the heyday of The Twilight Zone – or maybe ever. But The X-Files quickly emerged at the forefront of this wave, introducing longer story arcs woven in between its monster-of-the-week episodes and setting the template for so many great shows to come. For our Friday Five this week, we’re singling out a few of our favorites which definitely owe a lot to the DNA of Mulder and Scully’s adventures…
The X-Files was only a couple of years into its original run when CBS launched this unrepentantly – yet also, very appealingly – dark slice of Southern gothic from producers Shaun Cassidy and Sam Raimi. Gary Cole is best known to many for his comedy work in stuff like Office Space and the Brady Bunch films, but he’s terrifying here as Lucas Buck, a small town sheriff who is as charming as he is murderous and who secretly harbors tremendous supernatural powers. Young Caleb (the exceptional Lucas Black, in his first role) has a secret connection to Buck, who seeks to corrupt him; the great Sarah Paulson, also in one of her first major roles, plays Caleb’s sister Merlyn, who was murdered by the sheriff but her ghost continues to guide the boy toward the light.
Here’s the most direct influence on this list – also from X-Files creator Chris Carter, also on Fox, even featuring a theme song by X-Files composer Mark Snow. It also delivered a much-deserved leading man vehicle for Lance Henriksen, who had become a real fan-favorite character actor in genre films including, most notably, Aliens. As Frank Black, a former FBI agent who has gone freelance as a consultant thanks to his unique ability to “see” into the mind of serial killers – though he swears it’s not a supernatural gift, there’s awful lot to indicate otherwise – Henriksen brought the eerieness weekly for three seasons. To give fans closure, Carter brought Black into an X-Files episode in Season 7 for a cross-over event that also served as the Millennium series finale.
Boy these opening titles are so early-2000’s it hurts! Though it only ran for 13 episodes, Freakylinks’ teen-oriented take on conspiracy theorists (they were a bit like Archie meets The Lone Gunmen) has its fair share of fans who remember it fondly. Star Ethan Embry – cast as Derek, who takes over the Freakylinks.com website when his twin brother dies under a cloud of mystery – brought his own fandom from films like That Thing You Do and Empire Records. The show was also selective in the influences that it brought to the table; The X-Files obviously looms large in its inspiration, but there was a strong streak of found-footage claustrophobia that was all the rage after The Blair Witch Project, too.
Fringe hit the airwaves with more than a whiff of “is it the new X-Files?” around it, but the supernatural/procedural similarity would be blown out of the water by the end of Season 1. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t see it right away, and despite an incredible cast – John Noble was robbed of awards time and time again as gentle, mental, tragic Walter Bishop, while Anna Torv and Josh Jackson were also great – Fringe did take most of its first season to really get going. By the time the overarching mythology of the show is revealed (SPOILER ALERT!: Most paranormal happenings are caused due to a rift in space/time, and the show takes place in multiple parallel universes), good luck not getting hooked.
Where most of these shows had occasional humorous injections, by far the lightest of fare on this list is Syfy’s Warehouse 13, which landed in 2009 just as the network had rebranded from SciFi Channel. Like the similarly-toned Eureka, this was essentially a comedy/drama with a fantastical premise, seeing two Secret Service agents played by Joanne Kelly and Eddie McClintock assigned to the eponymous facility which houses supernatural artifacts which – as you might imagine, ’cause then you have a show! – go missing often. The result was tons of fun, with Kelly and McClintock’s chemistry and banter being a lot closer to that of Moonlighting than Mulder and Scully.
We love these shows, and we’re sure there are more we forgot that you love too – tell us over on Twitter which X-Files-like TV shows are your faves!