“Mulder, have you noticed that we’re on television?” — Dana Scully
“I don’t think it’s live television, Scully. She just said [bleep].” — Fox Mulder
In which Mulder and Scully try to answer the eternal question: “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?”
Radhika: Unpopular opinion time: Despite the majority of X-Philes and critics fawning over “X-Cops,” a parody of long-running reality TV show, Cops, I have never really been able to warm up to this episode. And not much has changed for me this time around either. Rewatching the episode allowed me to appreciate aspects of it from a critical lens, so I will at least give credit to some clever elements. But the weak monster story, my general dislike of Cops and some pacing issues in the middle still make me feel like this episode really isn’t all that. (Don’t worry if you’re a fan — I’m pretty sure Max is fond of this one, so you’re not just going to get a giant whine-fest here).
In the episode, a camera crew for Cops is following around a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Keith Wetzel. Wetzel is investigating reports of a monster and before we know it, an unseen force has flipped his police car, and The X-Files credits roll. When we return (with this episode of Cops continuing on), Mulder and Scully are also at the scene, which results in the two agents getting filmed for the show.
People are attacked. The neighborhood misfits offer their points of view about what’s going on. And of course, Mulder eventually makes the leap from “werewolf” to “monster that feeds itself on people’s fear.” The episode ends with no concrete evidence of the paranormal being captured on film — though Mulder remains hopeful, pointing out that it all comes down to how the crew ends up editing the footage.
I’ll start with what I don’t enjoy about the episode, and I think most of it has to do with what I don’t care about on Cops itself: The show focuses on the “trashy, poor” misfits of society and not necessarily in a way that is sympathetic. I’m not an entirely humorless person, even though I’m the one making arguments about misogyny and feminism while watching certain X-Files episodes. I do laugh at plenty of off-color things too.
But for me, Cops is too much about portraying certain folks — not just the criminals — in a bad light. There’s a little of that in “X-Cops” as a result, and I find myself mostly tired when I see the hysterical Hispanic lady and the fairly stereotypical gay couple (even though their storyline ends up being somewhat sweet). I just wish we wound up seeing more characters like these without all the dumb stereotypes on The X-Files — a thought that never really bothered me back in the day, but does sometimes bother me now.
I also vaguely hate the pacing of the episode, which again, is a conceit of what Cops is all about. You’re going to see law enforcement wandering around aimlessly, occasionally busting down a door or apprehending someone for questioning. The middle twenty minutes of this episode always get me staring at my watch. I can appreciate why the episode is this way, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
But all that said, I do appreciate the detail that went into making this parody — from the filming techniques to the theme song, to lights flashing over The X-Files logo in Cops fashion before the commercial break. And there are a few moments that really made me laugh, including Scully’s shit-eating grin at the camera when she repeats a line Skinner told her earlier about why it’s okay to be filmed: “Because the FBI has nothing to hide.” I also deeply enjoy her general dissatisfaction with the camera crew’s presence, as well as Mulder yelling at the deputy (with a “bleep” over his language for good measure) to “cowboy up” on national television. It’s a gimmicky episode, but at least The X-Files was still trying at this point?
Max: My partner is indeed correct, I am a fan of “X-Cops,” one of those episodes that I like to go to when I’m in the mood for a random X-Files episode over the years. In fact, I mentioned to her that I was looking forward to finally being able to watch it again, as I have wanted to pop it in several times over the last year and a half that we’ve been doing the blog — but didn’t so I did not spoil the rewatch experience. But I can definitely see all of her points as it pertains to the episode and particularly the way our show brings the Cops framework to the table.
Growing up, I would catch Cops every now and then for laughs, seeking out those incidents where you would invariably run into some larger than life petty offender, drunkards, dumb kids with contraband, and dramatic domestic disturbances. However, into adulthood, it became clear to me that none of what that program does is in the service of law enforcement, justice, or educating the public about the nature of police work. It is a reality show, creating dramatic and so-called humorous situations (using the “low hanging fruit” of the disadvantageous and disenfranchised among us) to gain ratings and advertising revenue. Mulder himself even said that the outcome of their long strange night in Los Angeles is dependent on how the Cops crew edits together the footage they shot, and I don’t have to remind you of the many instances where reality shows have used manipulative editing to craft the story that the producers wanted to tell.
Does this affect how I approach “X-Cops” for the purposes of this post? I would have to say very much so, yes. The episode does drag at times, and the jokes do not land as well as they once did. The story of Steve and Edy, though ending on a nice note, does come off as a bad case of dinner theatre. I still think it is a fun episode to watch, and I wouldn’t hesitate to pop it in if the mood suited me in the future. There are enough moments (particularly Scully’s intense exasperation with the camera crews) that continue to entertain and make this late entry into the X-Files oeuvre stand out amongst other episodes of lesser, dubious quality.
What I like about the episode is its use of the videotape medium as a playground of experimentation. It helped in this case to have actual Cops cameramen and crew members be a part of the production and shooting of “X-Cops,” as it lends the Cops house style to the episode. It was around this time that experimenting with video was very much en vogue, with everything from The Blair Witch Project to Mike Figgis’ four-screen film experiment Timecode using the language of video to expand the vocabulary of the cinematic experience. The X-Files is no different, as it afforded the cast and crew the ability to be a little looser and improvise based on how a particular take played out. This allowed the crew to shoot about four pages in a couple of hours, as opposed to the norm of an entire day.
In the end, it is a fun episode of not much import on the rest of the series, but it does have an interesting monster of the week, and for the time that it was made, the crossover with Cops was an inspired stroke of postmodernism. Cops may manipulate events to show society at its very worst, but “X-Cops” uses that template to turn out one of the better entries of The X-Files’ seventh season.