By Joe Ribton
Musings On The X Files
I’m a broke ass bitch, therefore each morning I try and get up around half six in order to get the bus all the way from my place near Kingston to the top of Brixton Hill. This ride takes about an hour and 15 minutes, or 1 and 2 thirds of an episode of the seminal science-fiction behemoth that is The X Files. Bezos has bestowed unto me the power of downloading and consuming all 202 episodes, 151.5 hours of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully searching for the truth. The storytelling present within the weekly and more overarching plotlines are just staggering to comprehend when reviewed at the end of a roughly 22 episode long season. Because I choose to be parsimonious when travelling I don’t really have a lot of time in the mornings or evenings, and more often than not I confuse my bus time with time I should probably spend just relaxing. What buses lack in comfort they make up for in length, I didn’t fully accept before SCA that a journey to work could be ‘too short’ – but I often find myself relishing red lights and praising the dense rush hour traffic if I’m engrossed in an episode that I would otherwise would have to press pause on. But what secrets does this show hold for us as creatives, storytellers and ad people?
Firstly, to communicate with people on a human level. It is rather extraordinary that we live in a time where Blade Runner 2049 bombs at the box office, but The X Files drew a viewership of nearly 20 million people an episode. This is because the stories that are told week after week never seek to overwhelm the viewer; we are never transported to another world where illustrious cyberpunk visuals and neon clad prostitutes await us, but instead are enthralled by fleeting characters that the producers work tirelessly to give substance to. One of the show producers Vince Gilligan, would later go on to prove his ability to create characters that an audience can empathise with when he created and ran ‘Breaking Bad’ – he made us empathise with Walter White, anyone who can do that holds some kind of power that advertising should either definitely have or definitely never ever be allowed to have.
Secondly, to find safety in the formula. A good amount of X Files episodes follow a recognisable plot formula, this not only allows for them to set their own parameters and really push their creativity, but makes the episodes even more potent when they break that formula. It is as if they worked to a tight brief, which i’m sure in many ways they did, and executed off of a central idea that was so succinct and powerful the well is still not dry even 26 years after its inception.