Baz Greenland walks us through Darin Morgan’s comedy outings…
When you think of the great comedy episodes of The X Files, you generally think of Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose or Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’. Fans tend to remember each season of the show having a few comedy classics among the multi-episode mythology stories and the gruesome monster of the week tales. But while there was always an element of black humour, those comedy gems didn’t really appear before Darin Morgan wrote season two’s circus-freak episode Humbug (his first script and second story contribution to the show). What’s more, they stood out because there weren’t that many all-out comedy episodes. Season five’s Bad Blood is an obvious contender and season six’s body-swapping two-parter Dreamland another, but there were actually quite rare.
What’s even more interesting is that Darin Morgan, the master of The X Files comedy only wrote three more comedy episodes after Humbug, all in season three and – for me – some of the biggest highlights in an consistently great year. We’ve had many more monster stories, more dark and tragic serial killer episodes and numerous tales of alien abduction and human conspiracies and yet comedy episodes are still regarded as a subgenre on a similar level when anyone talks about the makeup of the show. It’s no surprise that when The X Files returned for six new episodes in 2016, there was a comedy episode (from Darin Morgan no less) amongst them.
So what was it about them that worked? Well with the classic formula of mythology, aliens, monsters and serial killers well-embedded and the popularity of the show increasing tenfold in season two, The X Files was allowed a moment to take a step back, reflect on itself and poke fun at its successful formula.
Humbug is the first gentle step towards this; there is a great moment where circus freak Dr. Blockhead rants to Scully about how the unique ands special people will be a thing of the past.
“Twenty-first century genetic engineering will not only eliminate the siamese twins and the alligator-skin people, but you’re gonna be hard-pressed to find a slight overbite, or a not-so-high cheekbone. You see, I’ve seen the future, and the future looks just like him. [points to Mulder] Imagine, going through your whole life looking like that!”
Mulder standing on the steps of trailer, hands on hips in the classic all-American pose is a great moment of poking fun of our hero. It is an episode filled with a raw fish-eating tattooed man in a loin cloth and nasty, deformed, parasitic siamese twin creature, detaching from Vincent Schiavelli’s Lenny and it starts to capture Darin Morgan’s unique style of storytelling. Humbug isn’t an outright comedy episode but it is the forerunner to the comedy episodes to come.
Season three delivered three fantastic comedy episodes or varying subtlety. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is a sublime story, a a perfectly timed comic tour de force that delivers one of the greatest guest spots in the show’s history; Peter Boyle’s Clyde Bruckman. It embraces and mocks the idea of psychic abilities, a theme across several episodes of The X Files. Bruckman is a world-weary guy who just happens to pick up psychic vibes as Mulder and Scully hunt a psychic killer; the joke of course is that all those psychics fail to predict their own death. Contrasting him is the marvelous, over the top Stupendous Yappi (Jaap Broeker) who rants that Mulder is filled with negative energy in his non-beliefs, one of the most hilarious sequences in the show’s history. The fun of Darin Morgan’s script – and Boyle’s delivery – is the way the episode plays with the visions of the future as the agents and Bruckman close in on the killer.
Clyde has a vision of Mulder chasing the killer through a kitchen, stepping on a cream pie and having his throat slashed from behind; the tension is broken as Bruckman switches between coconut cream pie and banana cream pie. And then in a clever twist, as Mulder steps on that pie later in the episode he turns to confront the killer only for his knowledge of that action to almost kill him as the killer strikes from the front instead. It’s a wonderful play on what we think will happen and how knowledge of future events can have adverse consequences. It is easy to see why this ranks as one of the greatest episodes the show has ever done.
I have a very deep soft spot for Darin Morgan’s next season three entry War of the Coprophages, an episode that sees Mulder team up with the sexy Doctor Bambi to solve the mystery of cockroaches rampaging through a small town. Morgan claimed this was his least favourite and that might be true, but given his standard it still ranks high on my list of favourite episodes. The juxtaposition of Scully talking to Mulder while at home, washing her dog, cleaning her gun and trying to live a normal life while debating one ludicrous theory after another really sells this episode Add in some truly horrific, gruesome scenes and sheer panic running through the town and it shows yet again why Morgan is the master of comedy.
His final entry in the show’s original run is my all time favourite comedy episode of The X Files. Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” is as over the top as the show ever got (well at least until 2016’s Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster). Morgan’s script plays on what is real through Chung’s recounting to Scully the events detailing in his book by several eyewitnesses. It is an episode that takes great delight in poking fun at the show – and Mulder and Scully…
“One of them was disguised as a woman, but wasn’t pulling it off. Like, her hair was red, but it was a little too red, y’know? And the other one, the tall, lanky one, his face was so blank and expressionless. He didn’t even seem human. I think he was a mandroid.”
The two central agents become caricatures of themselves in a stories of two teenagers encountering UFOs, grey aliens that smoke, mysterious men in black and the stop-motion cyclops that is Lord Kimbolt, who was there to save the planet, travel to inner space (the Earth’s molten core) and take part in an alien sex orgy. Its utterly bizarre, it’s The X Files on acid and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but the meta nature of this episode would lead to cult classics like Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s The Zeppo and Supernatural‘s The French Mistake.
After this, there would still be some great comedy episodes – season four’s Small Potatoes (featuring Darin Morgan in an acting role), Bad Blood in season five which was surely influenced by Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” theme of perception. Season six would have a lighter, comic tone that largely worked and allowed for experimental episodes like Mulder time travelling with Nazis in Triangle and the Groundhog Day-like exploits of Monday. They are all great episodes, but when fans remember that comedy classics on The X Files, it is Darin Morgan’s four entries that are most fondly remembered. Which out of 202 episodes, is quite an achievement.
When The X Files returned for its season 10 limited run of six episodes, Chris Carter wanted fans to have a buffet of different genres and themes to enjoy. We had two mythology episodes, a tale of military experimentation, a gruesome creature stalking the streets and a reflection on modern society (something the show often did extremely well, through the ‘War of Terror’ take that was Babylon was largely flawed). And we had a comedy episode. For the first time since 1996, Darin Morgan was back to write for the show and there was no other choice of writer in the the fans’ minds.
“We’ve been given another case, Mulder. It has a monster in it.”
Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster was viewed as the best of the entire run and one of the best TV episodes of 2016. It is almost as zany as Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” but it also has a lot of heart. After all the drama of The Truth through to My Struggle, this see our heroes letting loose and having fun. Mulder doesn’t believe in monsters anymore but he finds that passion again and Scully remarks that she loved this kind of cases. It has moments that made me laugh so much it hurt; Mulder trying to use the camera on his phone to capture the monster. If Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose showed that Morgan could deliver great twists in storytelling, he does it here again with the twist that the monster was bitten by a man and transformed into Rhys Darby’s Guy Mann (a great pun of a name).
Comedy is an essential part of The X Files mythos. Lord Kimbolt and Clyde Bruckman are just as key to the show’s success as Tooms and the Flukeman.Darin Morgan defined a special kind of craziness and hilarity in his episodes and that influenced all the comedy episodes to follow. When we get a season 11 (hopefully the official announcement is coming soon), the show would be missing a trick if we didn’t add another Darin Morgan comedy classic to the mix.
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Baz is currently working his way through The X Files, revisited classic episodes and reviewing them at http://www.Thedigitalfix.com