The X-Files reboot came with a big bang, and ended with a “huh?” It was great to once again catch up with Mulder and Scully as they were once again drawn into the world of the paranormal that we all loved during the 90s. During the miniseries revival, some episodes were great, and some didn’t necessarily land as well as we wanted, but the show did give us (for the most part) what we’ve been longing for. We loved the world of government secrets, aliens, and the completely bizarre. What we didn’t realize is that we actually were getting just about the same quality of weird that we got in J.J. Abrams’ Fringe.
X-Files was revolutionary. This was one of the first shows I watched that was considered “appointment television.” After all, there were no DVRs, so unless you had a VCR that actually worked when you programmed it, you had to watch it! Week after week I followed FBI agents Mulder and Scully as they investigated the paranormal. The show usually centered on the overall mythology surrounding aliens and the colonization of the planet, but also dealt with their “Monster of the Week” episodes where they investigated vampires, Bigfoot, The Jersey Devil, and many other cases. As with many shows, there were filler episodes, but overall it was a very strong series. Towards the end, it felt like it lost its way, or was running out of steam. Then came the new miniseries, which turned much of the mythology on its head. There was no “alien colonization.” It was all a carefully orchestrated plan for a select group of humans to take over the planet in their own image using alien technology. For some fans this was a fresh take, others felt like they wasted 10 years of their lives, but it was great to see Mulder and Scully back together again.
Before the miniseries came, however, there have been many shows that tried to be like X-Files and deal with a paranormal in the same type of procedural. However, it is not easy to catch lightning in the bottle the way that show did. We had Millennium and The Lone Gunman, which were direct offsprings of X-Files. Supernatural, Warehouse 13, Torchwood, and The 4400 were other shows that centered on the supernatural/aliens, and the government agencies that investigated them. However, it just never felt like they were on the same level as The X-Files. However Fox did in fact successfully birth a baby for X-Files and it was Fringe.
Fringe was a fresh update on the paranormal, as it centered on a division of the FBI that investigated activities related to fringe science. Many episodes followed unexplained scientific phenomena, (mind control, nanotechnology, ESP, genetic engineering, and genetic experimentation), but there was the overall mythology that centered on alternate realities as well as the mysterious Observers. The series followed FBI special agent Olivia Dunham, as she investigates cases of fringe science with Peter and Walter Bishop. Her assistant Astrid and boss Broyles also helped solves cases with them and eventually helped save the world. Unlike the X-Files, there was no central mythology.
Each season had a self-contained arc. The first season centered on the investigation of The Pattern, the corporation Massive Dynamic and their contributions to fringe science and the discovery of a possible alternate reality, which Peter Bishop is from. The second season continued to learn about the alternate reality, shapeshifting warriors from that reality, and finally, the heroes went to that reality to rescue the captured Peter Bishop. The third season there was no longer a cold war between realities, but a full-on war between the two. With Olivia kidnapped and replaced with her counterpart from the alternate universe, the main Olivia had to stop the alternate Walter Bishop (dubbed “Walternate”) from destroying the main universe so his could survive. The season ended with Peter Bishop using a special machine to not only travel to a third reality, but to fix the fractures in both universes at the cost of erasing him from all of reality. In the fourth season with both universes saved, they would mutually cooperate with each other on Fringe cases, but somehow Peter Bishop was able to be willed back into existence, but no one had any memory of him being there. He had to get adjusted to a father and a lover who no longer remembered him. His memories of the team did not vibe with this current reality's memories. He works with the Fringe team to repair both universes and stop a threat from an older friend-turned-enemy who wanted to destroy all of reality. The final season jumped forward in time where mysterious Observers (advanced humans from the future) took over the planet and ruled with an iron fist and the Fringe team then worked to save the world.
Both shows had very well structured universes and beloved characters. Mulder is the one who literally made the audience “want to believe” and many became hooked on UFOs as a result. Both of the show’s male and female leads started first as “frenemies” that eventually ended up as lovers. Peter Bishop was brought in to reign in his brilliant-yet-insane father Walter Bishop and Olivia barely tolerated him. They ended up having a daughter together. Scully was assigned to the X-Files to debunk Mulder, with her scientific background so he could be labeled a quack. Most of the series she would scientifically rationalize why these theories did not work. The two also fell in love and had a child. Both had bald, no nonsense bosses that eventually became their most trusted allies in the form of Broyles (Fringe) and Skinner (X-Files). Both series dealt with an ultimate bad guy bent on world domination. In X-Files the Cigarette Smoking Man on numerous occasions was tied to a group (or himself) facilitating a global takeover. In Fringe, the Observers took over the planet. Both series had wacky sidekicks. Walter was a drug-taking scientific genius who delivered a great deal of comic relief for the show via the brilliant John Noble, and X-Files had The Lone Gunman, a group of people even more paranoid than Mulder was. Both shows were exceptionally well done and are highlights in in the science fiction lexicon.