X-Files: A Retrospective

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“The X-Files.” Most everyone is at least familiar with the long-running, sci-fi classic TV series. Whether you’re a devoted fan who trudged through all nine seasons, or a casual viewer who caught a few 1 am reruns on the Syfy channel you’ve probably seen a few episodes.

My obsession with the franchise began in the days of VCRs and predated our purchase of cable or satellite. Luckily a few tweaks of the bunny ears sent Mark Snow’s warbling theme song blasting over out tinny Zenith speakers.

With a whopping nine seasons and two feature films, I’m often asked about the audience appeal which established the series as longest running sci-fi television franchise until that title was ursurped by “Stargate Sg-1.” The x-factor, shall we call it, was multifaceted. For starters, the 1993 debut of “The X-Files,” captured the paranoia and dark, brooding elements of the early 90’s perfectly. Season one overflows with conspiracies of all sorts. Sure the show had plenty of extraterrestrial episodes, but a better descriptor for content is “supernatural.” The protagonists, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) covered an array of cases dealing with topics including aliens, religion, mythical creatures, and overall government mistrust.

Viewing flexibility afforded by the structure of the show also helped the show gain popularity. While there were continuous story arcs which required audiences to follow the series closely, each season contained mostly standalone “monster-of-the-week” shows. These were basically unrelated cases Mulder and Scully investigated, and allowed viewers to casually drop in and out without missing much. You could, for the most part, follow the main storyline by just watching story arc episodes. That being said, some of the best entries in the series were monster-of-the-week episodes, so you’ll probably want to check those out as well.

What really brought “The X-Files” together, on top of the varying subject matter and episodic content was the chemistry between Mulder and Scully. From season one, their opposing personalities and fields of expertise foster a love-hate relationship. Scully’s work is grounded in scientific fact, while “Spooky” Mulder as he is called behind his back operates in the supernatural realm. It isn’t until the later seasons (eight and nine) that the pair really express and acknowledge their mutual romantic feelings.

As with most TV series’, early seasons of the show were superior to later ones. Particularly, seasons eight and nine bothered me mainly because of Mulder’s replacement by John Doggett, portrayed by Robert Patrick (famous for his role as the shape-shifting Terminator in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”). I admit Doggett grew on me after a while, but he wasn’t nearly as well-rounded a character as Mulder. David Duchovny, couldn’t you have waited until the conclusion of ‘The X-Files” to enter into sex addiction therapy?

“The X-Files” is available on dvd in individual season sets, mythology (story arc) packs, and a complete series set which includes the first film and a bundle of other goodies. For those who prefer digital distribution, you can purchase the show on iTunes, Amazon, and a handful of other sites. And Netflix was kind enough to add the entire set to its streaming catalog, which is a fantastic deal for anyone looking to delve into the series. You can look up the mythology episodes and just watch those, but if you’re considering starting “The X-Files,” I really recommend watching the whole thing. I’ve listed my top 10 episodes below:

1. Little Green Men

2. The Host

3. Duane Barry/Ascension

4. Colony/End Game

5. Blood

6. Die Hand Die Verletzt

7. Paper Clip

8. 731

9. Home

10. Arcadia

A word of advice on the films: The first feature film, set between seasons five and six, is great. It plays out like an extended TV episode. Avoid the second X-Files movie. I admit I couldn’t suffer through more than 20 minutes of the painfully slow, clichéd box office bomb. Stick to the show and the first film.

Happy watching!

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Teenage Mutant NinjaTurtles 2012 Series

When I first heard about the new Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, I was admittedly skeptical. Watching a small sneak peek on YouTube my initial reaction was that the show looked like a video game, and graphically resembled the abomination 2007 film release, TMNT. I prefer not to acknowledge its existence in the Ninja Turtles canon.

Regardless of my initial impression, watching the re-boot was inevitable. “Eh, what the shell,” I thought. Might as well DVR the first episode at least. So I threw on my Donatello Snuggie, poured myself a cup of French press coffee, and dusted off my 1987 Ninja Turtles TV tray. Since then, as when I was a kid, watching “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” has become an integral part of my Saturday morning routine.

The first differences you’ll notice are undoubtedly the theme song and animation. While watching, try to keep in mind that the show is an update, not a replica of the original. The new theme song is a hip-hop piece with slightly different lyrics. Presumably they altered it to fit an era when pop-rap is more popular than rock power ballads. It still goes through each of the turtles, explaining what each specializes in, and even preserves the original intro of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Heroes in a half shell, Turtle Power!”

As to the animation, hand-drawn cartoons are such a rarity these days that the CGI shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Sure, I’d have preferred hand-drawn graphics, but I’m willing to concede changing times. After all, the most important part isn’t presentation, it is on-screen portrayal. Thankfully, the turtles are pretty much the same as in the original series. They devour pizza, make corny jokes, have the same distinct personalities, and stumble through the episodes true to their goofy, fun-loving roots.

If you’re familiar with the original storyline, there are some slight alterations. Splinter’s history is a little different, while generally staying the same. His mortal enemy is still Oroku Saki, aka The Shredder. As in the original series, Shredder controls a group of ninjas, the Foot Clan, which he sends to hunt down the turtles and Splinter. It seems like most of the memorable heroes and villains will at least make an appearance, albeit in altered roles. Unlike the 1987 series, April O’Neil is not a news anchor, but the teenage daughter of a scientist. Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of this change, but I don’t really dislike it either. I guess I’m kind of neutral. Krang, the brain, is not one character but now an alien race which resides in robot bodies. Although the Krang lack Pat Fraley’s distinct high-pitched voice from the 1987 iteration, the new series compensates for this by lending the race an automated, computer-like speech pattern.

Other villains crop up, both old and new. Baxter Stockman makes a re-appearance, alongside several new malicious mutants. The new series adds Snakeweed and Spider Bytez, a plant and spider respectively. Each of their episodes shows the transformation from human to mutant, and features the Ninja Turtles providing a nickname.

Voice actor Rob Paulsen’s return to the franchise kind of sums up the new show as well as lends it some credence. On the 1987 series, Paulsen voiced Raphael and while he doesn’t appear in his original turtle form, he does grace the screen as Donatello. Same turtles, different audience and times. Overall, the show isn’t as good as the original series, but if we are honest with ourselves, nothing will ever be. This comes about as close as any re-boot. If you want to relive some totally radical awesomeness from your childhood, check out this worthy series. I mean, if is good enough for one of the original turtle voice actors, is good enough for any fan. And if you’re jonesing for your fix of the original series, you can pick up every season on dvd separately or the soon to be released complete collector’s set which comes packaged in the Turtle Van.