“You don’t fool me, Mulder. That bowl is your Holy Grail. Encoded in its ancient ceramic grooves are the words Jesus spake when he raised Lazarus from the dead– still capable of raising the dead 2,000 years later. Proof positive of the paranormal. You could no sooner destroy that than let the redhead die.” — Cigarette Smoking Pontiff
When our heroes get assigned to a case with mystical-slash-spiritual possibilities, their Assistant Director pairs them up with a college roommate looking for movie material.
Max: “Hollywood A.D.” is Duchovny’s second time around in the writer-slash-director’s chair, and while it doesn’t hold the same kind of magic that “The Unnatural” did last season, the peculiar way in which fact and fiction collide keeps me entertained throughout the episode.
What starts as a pretty typical case for the employees of the X-Files division becomes anything but when Walter Skinner foists his college pal Wayne Federman on Mulder and Scully. Federman, a writer-slash-producer in Hollywood, is jonesing for some real FBI flavor for his “Silence of the Lambs meets Greatest Story Ever Told type thing” that he has cooking. To this end, he tags along as our agents investigate the bombing of a crypt of a local DC church. The church’s leader, Cardinal O’Fallon, is a powerful man with Vatican-size ambitions, and takes Mulder and Federman on a tour of the wreckage. The moment they find a body allegedly of famed counterculture icon Micah Hoffman and the remains of some apocryphal relics (including a bowl that apparently has an etching of Christ’s voice), things begin to get (in Federman’s words) a little fahkakte.
When Hoffman himself appears after the agents arrest O’Fallon for his murder, Skinman takes it quite badly and suspends the agents for their investigative haste. Seeing as they have four weeks of free time, they take Federman up on his offer to come out to Los Angeles to meet up with the renowned actors Garry Shandling and Tea Leoni, who will be playing “composites” of them on the big screen.
At this point, taking into account the complete pop culture landscape, I think it is safe to say we are all a little fatigued by all the meta-this and postmodern-that (though something like Birdman still comes along to pleasantly surprise us). The kind of Da Vinci Code-esque material which provides the core of the case has long become a victim of overexposure, but there are still a good deal of things to attract Philes watching the episode for the umpteenth time. While the conceit of a movie being made about characters within a television show has been worked over quite a bit, it is refreshing to have the added angle of all of the Ed Wood-slash-Plan 9 from Outer Space analogies. If Hollywood is indeed a dream factory, then Ed Wood is that legendary creature who indulged those dreams to the point of being blinded by everything else. Hell, even Skinman gets cushy to the whole scene, possibly at the expense of his agents’ reputations.
The casting of Shandling and Leoni is still a bit of inspired stunt casting, given both stars’ history and reputation with Duchovny. On the HBO series The Larry Sanders Show, Shandling’s late night talk show host character Larry Sanders is the victim of unwanted sexual advances and overtures from Duchovny (playing an exaggerated “composite” of himself), and of course Tea Leoni was then the real life wife of Duchovny, the woman who earned the ire of Philes when David set into motion the events that would shift production from Vancouver. It is really in this way that Leoni gets a chance to poke fun at herself and endear herself to fans of her husband’s show, asking Scully how the hell she manages to run in those heels (which becomes a bit of excellent background physical comedy for Leoni and Anderson).
It’s not exactly the most biting satire of show-business, but “Hollywood A.D.,” gets some nice digs in at the superficiality and narcissism of playing the game on the west coast. And there may be one too many times by now where The X-Files deconstructs itself, but if that results in some of the moments we get here, who am I to argue?
Radhika: I really like “Hollywood A.D.” It’s one of the few episodes in a rough season that is a joy for me to watch, so I can live with the fact that it’s also somewhat flawed with all kinds of crazy ideas jammed together. It’s certainly self indulgent with the casting, which includes blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances from Minnie Driver and David Alan Grier (Duchovny’s fellow cast members in the film Return to Me). It’s also plenty self indulgent with academic and pop culture references, which one could argue make Duchovny seem like a bit of a show-off (and he just might be). But the man can write, as one who once studied literature extensively should be able to write, which makes the results mostly charming.
First, I just love Mulder and Scully in this episode — Mulder is almost downright sensible here, perpetually irritated with Federman and telling him to shut up. Getting to witness his embarrassment at the film, as well as his very self-aware, “Sir, have I pissed you off in a way that’s more than normal?” to Skinner when the agents are paired up with Federman, is really fun. With Mulder’s tendency for enthusiastic obliviousness, getting to see him be the less “zany” character of the bunch is a nice change. And meanwhile, Scully — much like in “The Unnatural” — seems to be in a giddy cheerful mood throughout, cracking jokes and basically being the antithesis of everything in “all things,” a similarly self-indulgent but ultimately humorless episode.
There are plenty of gags, like the Scully/Leoni running-in-heels bit that Max mentions, and I personally love the split screen of Mulder, Scully and Skinner in their individual hotel bubble baths. The fact that Skinner’s the only one willing to admit what he’s up to, coupled with Mulder’s joy at telling Scully about it, only to find out that he’s still talking to his boss, gives us a chance to view these otherwise serious characters as silly, normal people who enjoy idiotic indulgences and poking fun at each other from time to time. Skinner has some great lines too: “Agent Scully, if I’m carrying Marilyn Monroe’s purse, do you assume that I slept with JFK?”
The monster-of-the-week aspect of things is a little weak and messy, frankly, but I don’t even care. The actors seem alive in the episode. And the amount of self-referential humor here, while not necessarily as polished as that of “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” is well deserved for fans seven seasons into the show. The inside jokes — at least to me — indicate what an intimate (though large) community surrounded this show, which makes the episode a very pleasant one for me to revisit.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
For an episode poking fun at Hollywood, it’s natural that this outing be packed with guest stars. Garry Shandling is of course known for his The Larry Sanders Show on HBO, and has recently been seen as a corrupt senator in a couple of Marvel superhero films. Tea Leoni, now divorced from David Duchovny, got her big break with the television show The Naked Truth as well as the film Deep Impact. She can currently be seen on CBS’ Madam Secretary. Wayne Federman is longtime stand-up comedian who has had bit parts in the shows NewsRadio and Curb Your Enthusiasm as well as the films Legally Blonde and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Harris Yulin (playing O’Fallon) has a ton of film credits including Ghostbusters II, Training Day, Scarface, and recently A Most Violent Year. Tony Amendola, riffing on the CSM, guested on The West Wing as well as playing terrorist Edouard Kagame in Continuum. David Alan Grier is best known for his stint on In Living Color, and Minnie Driver has been in everything from Good Will Hunting to Goldeneye.