When Fox revealed this week who exactly would be writing the next season of “The X-Files,” the reaction was relatively polarized: excitement over the return of fan favorites versus dismay that creator Chris Carter had passed up the opportunity to bring new voices into the mix. The creator brought in three former assistants to join returning Season 10 writers Glen Morgan, Darin Morgan and James Wong.
For anyone who believes a variety of diverse voices can do a lot to improve the quality of a show’s writing, this move came as a real blow. But it wasn’t really anything new for “The X-Files.” As noted by Carly Lane at Nerdist, over the course of the show’s original nine seasons, only six women in 202 episodes ever received a writing credit:
- Marilyn Osborn (“Shapes”)
- Sara B. Charno (“Aubrey,” “The Calusari”)
- Kim Newton (“Revelations,” “Quagmire”)
- Valerie Mayhew & Vivian Mayhew (“Sanguinarium”)
- Jessica Scott (“Schizogeny,” co-written with Mike Wollaeger)
- Gillian Anderson (“All Things,” also directed)
In the tenth season, Carter did also share a story credit with Dr. Anne Simon and Dr. Margaret Fearon, who consulted on the science of the season finale, “My Struggle II.” As noted yesterday, the fact that Carter was able to hire three writers with exactly one credit between them (Benjamin Van Allen wrote the short film “Foreclosed,” according to IMDB) is an indication that the veteran showrunner had a great deal of power in the selection process and could have used those slots to promote other young writers who might not be company men, but are able to add something new to a series that many have been worried has become stale.
And yes, this was also an opportunity to bring some women into the fold, which might have been nice given the importance of Scully to an entire generation of female fans. While Scully has been a feminist icon for decades, this almost feels like something that happened in spite of the show’s writing. The Season 6 episode “Milagro” is a fascinating installment in the context of studying how a male writing staff approaches its central female character: Scully becomes the object of fascination for a novelist (played by John Hawkes), making the episode the platonic ideal of the male gaze.
With a story by key show writers John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz and a teleplay by Chris Carter, it’s a love letter to the character, if your definition of love is based on the notion that a woman can be understood simply by gazing creepily at her in an elevator. Much is projected onto Scully, without ever really showing genuine interest in understanding who she actually is; compare it to the Anderson-written/directed installment “All Things,” which made a real effort to give Scully a history and an internal life of her own. (It’s almost as if, after seven years on this show, Anderson had something to say about this.)
It goes beyond issues of sexism to the basic fact that different points of view in a writers’ room can contribute new ideas, especially when it comes to issues that might be way outside the understanding of its staff.
Even the best episode of Season 10, “Mulder and Scully Meet The Weremonster,” blundered through an attempt to acknowledge trans issues in the year 2016 — something that, say, the writers’ room of “Transparent,” would never let happen. (Admittedly, “The X-Files” in general would be a very different show if it was written by the writers of “Transparent.”)
And maybe if a Muslim writer was involved last season, the show might have sidestepped the cliched and offensive cold open of Episode 5, “Babylon”; a sequence so bad that even “X-Files” super-fan Kumail Nanjiani, who had just guest-starred in the series two episodes prior, called it out on Twitter.
Pitch: A Movie/ TV ep that starts w a Muslim guy praying & then it turns out he's a normal guy & the story has nothing to do with terrorism.
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) February 17, 2016
When “The X-Files” was originally airing, diversity wasn’t quite the issue it is today, but not only have things changed, but there’s almost an organic quality to that change, as more and more showrunners discover that having different voices in their writers’ rooms makes the show better.
“I don’t want to attribute our success to our gender blindness, but it’s definitely a better place to work… All of it helps the show. Everybody does their different thing. And if you’re a writer, it’s your job to look at everybody. You can’t just write about yourself,” Matthew Weiner noted during an interview with Elle about the female-heavy writers’ room for “Mad Men” (a very good show).
Things have now gotten to the point where uber-producer Ryan Murphy has created a whole foundation devoted to equality behind the camera. He relishes the opportunity to give women and people of color real chances as writers and directors.
“I think it was an interesting evolution, not just for my company, but for them as actors to be surrounded by women, and empowered women,” he told IndieWire about the season finale of “Feud: Bette and Joan,” in which stars Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange worked with a female writer and a female director. “They were proud and thrilled to be a part of it, at least that’s what they told me because that doesn’t happen very much in this town.”
Meanwhile, in the lead-up to Season 10 Carter used the excuse that he didn’t want to disappoint the fanbase by delivering a show which didn’t feel like the original series. But even the original series lost its luster by the end because it failed to evolve with the times.
Carter’s hiring choices for Season 11 indicate that Season 10 is how he sees the show functioning in the modern era; that he sees no real reason to deviate from the course established by those six episodes.
We watched those six episodes. And now we’re very worried about the next 10 and about the fact that the man running the show seems uninterested in embracing change.
To paraphrase Woody Allen, TV shows are like sharks: They swim or they die. IndieWire has been watching “The X-Files” so long, we have interns who weren’t born when it premiered. The very last thing we want is for “The X-Files” to be a dead shark. But right now, we’re not feeling optimistic.