The X-Files: X-Cops

Case: A woman reports a monster that is terrorising her neighbourhood to the police.

Destination: Los Angeles

"Mulder, have you noticed we're on television?"

I love this episode - it's one of my favourite cross-overs. That's especially surprising because I've never watched Cops, or anything like it - I watch very little reality TV, and what I do watch tends to be talent shows. But we're all aware of shows like Cops and what they are, we can get a sense of the filming style and so on from trailers and catching a few minutes here and there, and we can all get the gist of what the show is about from the concept, so I don't think that really matters.

What makes this particular crossover work so well is that it's such a perfect match of two shows. OK, Cops is a (presumably fairly cheap) reality show about real life crime and police work, and The X-Files is a high budget, special effects-filled fantasy show about FBI agents chasing aliens. On paper, they may not sound like natural companions. But underneath that, The X-Files is a show about FBI agents and Cops is a show about cops - it does actually make sense that these people (if they were real - and of course, the cops in this episode are fictional, though several real life members of the Cops crew are featured) might come across each other and work together.

The mockumentary nature of the episode also allows to show to take the Jaws approach to the monster, showing it by shadow and implication, which can often be more effective than any amount of special effects. The X-File itself is perhaps not that interesting in this case - it's a strange fear monster of some kind that just kind of disappears - but that's not really the point of this story. This is much more about throwing Mulder and Scully into a situation in which, rather than creeping down dark corridors with flashlights on their own, they are constantly watched from all angles (something Scully is hyper aware of, Mulder seemingly less concerned by). It also offers the audience a different perspective on the two agents, seeing them through the eyes of the cops and camera men, who are naturally fairly confused by the whole incident.

I'm probably a bit biased because I love mockumentaries, and mockumentary episodes of shows that don't usually use the format are one of my favourite things. They offer such a great opportunity to get a fresh perspective on the characters, to see them through someone else's eyes, to allow them an opportunity to speak out in a way they usually don't - you wouldn't necessarily want most shows to do this every week (great as The Office is) but it makes a really nice change of pace and shakes things up a bit.

This is also a great place to put this episode. It's always difficult to follow something like 'Closure' - how do you show that Mulder is still dealing with the huge emotional ramifications of that episode? How do you follow something so significant in the show's arc? How do you make sure the audience don't become fatigued by all the emotional drama? Placing 'X-Cops' here means that it makes sense that we don't have to spend a lot of time dealing with Mulder's emotional issues, because the Cops crew aren't remotely interested in that. Instead, the audience are able to get a break and take a breather with something more fun, and we can assume that Mulder is dealing with his issues off screen. After the intensity of the previous two-parter, this is a much needed breath of fresh air.

Other Thoughts

 - Like all mockumentary episodes, this episodes takes full, glorious advantage of the opportunity to have people swear and bleep it out.

 - This episode also plays out in real time, which is always fun to see every now and again.

 - The whole episode is filmed like an episode of Cops, on videotape, with no soundtrack in the background.

Quotes

Mulder: I don't think it's live television, Scully. She just said bleep!

Mulder: You don't want me looking foolish. I appreciate that.
Scully: I don't want me looking foolish, Mulder.

Wetzel: It's hard to have a fast-track career in law enforcement when everybody thinks you're nuts.
Mulder: Tell me about it.

I like it. Three out of four bleeped out swear words.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

2 comments:

Heather said...

I really like the way you talked about X-Cops, Juliette. Thank you for a great review. This episode was so far ahead if its time, it's still ahead of its time, many years later! I love watching two people who spends lots of time in the basement, on live TV. Brilliant on multiple layers!!

drnanamom said...

I didn't think I was going to like this episode. I don't like Cops but it was fun and your review explained exactly why it was a perfect break. Thanks as always for a great review.