Young at Heart: Introducing The X-Files to a younger generation

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Carl Sweeney talks about immersing the next generation in his favourite show…

I only fully realised how little sense The X-Files episode ‘Space’ makes when I tried to answer questions about its plot asked by my eight-year-old son.

The period of my life since I became a fan of The X-Files is much longer than the period before it. I can hardly remember a time when this show wasn’t a part of my life in some way. Like many fans, I suppose, my interest was dramatically rekindled in the weeks and months following the announcement of the revival. It was so nice to dust off the DVD boxsets, re-watch the series and share in some of the enthusiasm online ahead of the new episodes. As fun as it was, though, it could never be quite the same as it was first time around. And I knew that the revival, at a mere six episodes, was likely to be all-too-fleeting for my liking.

For Halloween, my son asked me if he could watch something scary. We ended up watching ‘Squeeze’, though I can’t remember exactly how we decided. I wasn’t sure how he’d respond to it but he’s an intelligent boy, sensible and wise beyond his years (in my view, anyway), so I figured he’d be alright.

He really liked what he saw, despite understandably finding Tooms very creepy. He asked to watch more immediately and I was pleased that he wanted to but for a while I said no. When Christmas Eve came around I was feeling generous and I let him watch ‘How The Ghosts Stole Christmas’, which he absolutely adored. Since then, we’ve gone back to the beginning of the series and watched an episode together every Friday night.

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I do understand that many people would consider The X-Files unsuitable viewing for someone so young. I’m fairly liberal about these things and I think that ultimately it depends on the child. I also think that parents have a role to play in discussing and contextualising the things their children see. There are a number of episodes that I think he isn’t ready for just yet so I am skipping a few here and there as we work our way through. If forced to defend letting him watch there are quite a few justifications I might offer (“Scully is such a strong female lead! The show presents science in an interesting, literate way! It’s no more violent than many films marketed at young children today! I was his age when I became a fan!” etc.). However, I guess the main reason I continue to allow him to watch is actually a bit more selfish. I find that I love the experience of watching it with him.

I’ve seen every episode of The X-Files at least twice. The first six seasons I’ve seen many more times. I still love watching them but to say that it’s very familiar to me is an understatement. I can think of a couple of reasons why watching with my son gives me an appreciably different experience.

It’s fascinating to watch this show and see how it helps to fill in gaps in his knowledge. We had an interesting discussion following one episode about what, exactly, a psychic is. Other things we’ve talked about are bile, artificial intelligence and how the FBI differs from the British police. I’m never entirely sure what’s going to pique his curiosity each week, but there’s usually something.

960His wider knowledge of The X-Files is almost entirely limited to what he’s seen so far. He doesn’t have any vague sense that the show may have run for too long originally, he hasn’t heard that the second film was disappointing, he isn’t bothered by any notions that the mythology may end up unresolved. He also has no idea which episodes are generally considered fan favourites, and it’s interesting that the ones he responds to the most are not always the ones I’d expect (he liked ‘Ghost In The Machine’ a lot more than I’d anticipated, for example). He’s seeing everything through fresh eyes.

I can’t see these episodes through fresh eyes again, I know them too well. This is the closest I’m going to get though. It’s so nice to listen to my son’s speculation about what each episode may be about, based on the title alone. I’d forgotten that a lot of Mulder’s quips are laugh-out-loud funny when you can’t recite them in advance. I’d become inured to the fact that there are many times when this show is really, properly scary.

I wonder how he’ll respond to the rest of the show. Will he gasp when Deep Throat dies? What will he make of some of the great characters coming up, like Skinner & Krycek? Will he laugh as much at ‘Bad Blood’ as I expect? What will his favourite episodes be? Can The X-Files find a place in his heart in anything like the same way it has in mine? Will our Friday night ritual get quietly dropped at some point due to lack of interest on his part?

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Not only do I not know the answer to any of these questions, I’m still unable to adequately explain the plot of ‘Space’. I had a lot of fun trying, though.

Carl can be followed on Twitter @csweeney758.

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