You can’t be the genre-defining TV series of a decade and not spawn your fair share of imitators, well-meaning or otherwise, and The X-Files is no exception.
While FBI Agents Mulder and Scully first started looking for aliens in the attic in 1993, it wasn’t long before the airwaves teemed with otherworldly invaders, globe-spanning conspiracies, rampaging cryptozoological critters, and all manner of weirdness.
Some of them sank quickly and without trace, like a ship in the Bermuda Triangle. Does anyone harbour fond memories of Nowhere Man, The Pretender or the brief revival of The Night Stalker? Others are still worth a drive-by – at night, in the fog, on a lonely stretch of UFO-haunted country road. We’re talking series like…
Dark Skies (1996–1997)
This brisk, enjoyable one season wonder could have been a prequel to The X-Files. Taking the 1947 Roswell UFO crash as its jumping off point, the series posited a secret war against invading aliens taking place in the early 1960s. The show was wildly ambitious, planning to move the timeframe forward a decade or so every season until it reached its millennial climax. Sadly, low ratings sank the ship before the first season had even finished airing, and so the tale remains untold.
Project Blue Book (2019)
Somewhat loosely based on real events that partially inspired The X-Files, this historical drama sees Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen as Dr J Allen Hynek, who is tasked with investigating UFO sightings by the US Air Force. The series’ 1950s setting and serious tone are the big selling points, and it’ll be interesting to see whether it goes “off book” to provide an in-universe definitive answer as to the nature of those ever-present mysterious lights in the sky.
Creator of The X-Files Chris Carter took his cues from Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels for this dour series, which saw genre stalwart Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Near Dark) as gifted FBI profiler Frank Black, who used his investigative prowess at the behest of the mysterious Millennium Group to hunt down killers who eluded conventional law enforcement. As you might guess by the title, millennial angst played a big part in the show, which was building up to a turn-of-the-century apocalypse until diminished ratings saw the plug pulled. Frank’s story was finally concluded in the seventh season of The X-Files, which is more than what most cancelled series get, so we should probably be grateful.
Men in Black (1997–2019)
One of the more ominous elements of UFO lore gets repositioned as a symbol of heroism in this long-running franchise, which started as an obscure comic book before being transmogrified into a smash hit movie full of colour, imagination, verve and Big Willy Style. The premise is simple: the Men in Black are actually the good guys, with Agents Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) and Jay (Will Smith) policing the hidden alien population of Earth for three movies before passing the baton to n00bs Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson for this year’s Men in Black International.
The Lone Gunmen (2001)
Mulder’s three conspiracy-minded buddies, Byers (Bruce Harwood), Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Langly (Dean Haglund), who cropped up in The X-Files to help fight the power from time to time, proved popular enough to warrant their own spin-off series, but not popular enough to last more than one season on their own. Notably more comic in tone, the series is now infamous for seemingly predicting 9/11 in the pilot episode. Now that’s spooky.
Hugely popular, frequently baffling and ultimately disappointing, Lost was nonetheless a bona fide pop culture phenomenon that followed the fortunes of a disparate group of air crash survivors trapped on a mysterious island. The big lesson it took from The X-Files was the importance of an ominous canon, but took it perhaps a little too far. In Lost, everything is a mystery. Why did the plane crash? What’s the deal with the hatch? Why is there a bloody polar bear on a tropical island? What’s the story with the Smoke Monster? What, when you get right down to it, does it all mean? Don’t worry if none of those references makes sense – that’s part of the appeal. Apparently.
Easily the most commercially successful of The X-Files offspring, the adventures of Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester, fraternal monster hunters at large, are only now coming to an end after a whopping 15 seasons. If The X-Files is a ’90s alt-rock mixtape, Supernatural is a dad rock compilation, combining its progenitor’s monster-of-the-week format with an ever-growing and complex mythology, and spicing it up with brisk, ballsy action and arch, tongue-in-cheek humour.
The Middleman (2008)
Not the first series to put X-ian strangeness through a comedic lens, but certainly the best. This lovable oddity from Lost writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach saw under-employed millennial Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales) score a job as understudy to The Middleman (Matt Keeslar), a kind of top-secret, square-jawed superhero who battles weird threats that normal forces aren’t equipped to deal with. Cue vampire puppets, gorilla mafia and all sorts of ineffable weirdness. An absolute delight, this should have run for six seasons and a movie. It was cancelled after one year.
The X-Files is now airing weeknights at 8:35pm on SBS VICELAND, Digital 31. Seasons 1 - 5 of The X-Files are now available to stream as box sets at SBS On Demand.
0:36 Us, the new horror/comedy movie from writer/director Jordan Peele (Get Out)
15:45 Project Blue Book, a series now on SBS and SBS On Demand, based on real UFO sightings in 1950s America
19:40 Interview with Project Blue Book star, Aidan Gillen
25:55 What Have You Been Watching? Hollow Man, Room 237 and Dumbo