THE X-FILES was definitely groundbreaking when it first aired 1993. It presented horror and science fiction in the context and budget of a TV budget police procedural. It presented itself as a show with an ongoing mythology with fans urgently combing through ancient texts from cultures across the globe to uncover Chris Carter's secret code. It delved into shadow government conspiracy theories that were often too bizarre for the mainstream and presented them in the familiar cop show context. It made ideas that were too fantasy-oriented and too peculiar seem accessible.
However, it quickly became a follower rather than a leader. BABYLON 5 debuted in 1994 and began an ongoing arc. BUFFY debuted in 1997 and showed that you could do ongoing continuity as well. BABYLON 5 and BUFFY would hint at cataclysmic events... and show them. And move onto something new.
Meanwhile, THE X-FILES, even by its ninth season, was still teasing a future alien invasion story that it could never actually show onscreen with a TV budget.
Of course, BABYLON 5 and BUFFY were niche shows for sci-fi and fantasy fans. THE X-FILES, however, was a major network show courting a general audience, and THE X-FILES had a viewership and a fanbase and a legacy that BABYLON 5 and BUFFY can never hope to match. And THE X-FILES could have absolutely achieved the same pop cultural immortality as STAR TREK if it had reinvented and updated itself.
But unfortunately, it came back in 2016 and was hilariously dated. The idea of federal government masterminding a secret shadow government was laughable in an age where conspiracies are obvious and open in the capitalistic gluttony of the military industrial complex. The idea that aliens could be hidden from the public in an age of YouTube was absurd.
THE X-FILES revival mythology was toxic: a lot of the X-FILES shadow government conspiracy concepts had become based in fraudulent health misinformation where essential and life-saving vaccines were falsely called toxic by pseudoscientists and fakes.
THE X-FILES revival doubled-down on this anti-vaccine, anti-health misinformation that was eccentric in the 90s but outrageously foolish and harmful in 2016. It was truly misguided for Chris Carter to present polio vaccines as the delivery system for the Spartan Virus, especially when Carter himself is absolutely not an anti-vaxxer and just wanted the dangerous vaccines as a plot device.
It's funny: when comparing the 2018 season of SUPERNATURAL and the 2018 season of THE X-FILES: SUPERNATURAL's 2018 season (its 14th) was a strong combination of ongoing arcs and standalones. The season premiere established the threat of a rogue archangel. Character relationships progressed each week even if individual cases were wrapped up, the rogue archangel story expanded the show's mythos with new developments and revelations.
In contrast, THE X-FILES' 2018 season seemed deeply confused. The Season 10 cliffhanger was dismissed as a dream. The Season 11 premiere established that Mulder and Scully were searching for their son; it isn't mentioned again until Episode 5, doesn't come back until Episode 10. Episode 2 has Mulder and Scully living in the same house in a romantic relationship; Episode 7 has Mulder visiting Scully's separate house and saying he's never been there. Episode 1 has Mulder driving a Mustang; Episode 7 has Scully driving an SUV that Scully drove in the 2017 season.
Episode 3 has Mulder and Scully romantically involved; Episode 4 has Mulder disappearing for days and not bothering to tell Scully. Episode 1 has Mulder and Scully losing all trust in Skinner; Episode 6 has them helping Skinner without confronting him. Season 11 had some great episodes ("This", "Lost Art of Forehead Sweat", "Ghouli", "Followers", "Nothing Lasts Forever"), but against the incoherent continuity, the characters seemed like different people in different lives from week to week. It was alienating and confusing.
I'm not saying that the continuity of SUPERNATURAL was ever perfect, but SUPERNATURAL never lost track of where the characters were living, who they were dating and what they were driving.
Looking at the 2018 series finales for SUPERNATURAL and THE X-FILES: SUPERNATURAL's season finale asked some difficult questions about why evil and injustice exist, featured some strong comedy and compelling action, and had a shocking climax where Sam and Dean confront their enemy: God.
In contrast, THE X-FILES' season finale had a shootout, a car chase, a run around a dark warehouse... and had nothing much to say about conspiracy, legacy, family, faith or science. THE X-FILES finale had nothing to say about anything.
This sort of time-slot filling, statement-free mediocrity is no longer enough for a TV show to become a global phenomenon.
There is a lot of good work in TV. QUANTUM LEAP is a heartfelt treatise on empathy augmented by technology, STRANGER THINGS is a haunting period piece, and even low stakes comedies like the SAVED BY THE BELL and iCARLY revivals were able to revisit former storylines with care, introduce ongoing arcs, and keep track of where everyone lived and who was dating whom from week to week.
It's absurd that Mulder and Scully were not receiving ongoing character arcs in 2018 when that same year featured Archie Andrews, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the Ninja Turtles with season-long development. If THE X-FILES can't meet the standard of Archie, Sabrina and the Turtles, then THE X-FILES has no business being on TV.
I hope THE X-FILES will come back someday with a showrunner who can keep track of where everyone lives and who is dating whom from week to week.