Are Some Shows Poisoned by Nostalgia?


God help me, I’ve tried.

And I’ve tried.

And I’ve tried.

To get into the X-Files.

But I can’t.

I made it through two episodes. Then five. Then nine. And every time, I’ve given up. It’s supposedly one of the greatest science fiction shows ever made, and while I adore all the other “classics” from Twilight Zone to Firefly to Battlestar, I cannot for the life of me bring myself to get into the show.

My problems with it? At least in this string of opening episodes, it’s unbearably slow, it’s horribly procedural, and it’s often hokey. Not hokey in a fun Doctor Who way, but just plain hokey. I have literally fallen asleep during more than one episode of the show, as Mulder skulks around some dark sewer for the fifth time in six episodes. And the plot? “You’ve gotta believe me!” “You don’t have proof!” and so on, and so forth.

I’m perfectly willing to admit I might be at fault here. I have no patience, and I’m not able to understand the subtle mastery of the show. But usually everyone arguing with me about why the X-Files is so godly is biased. Not like, unreasonably or purposefully so, but they are biased because chances are, they watched the show when or around when it was actually airing, twenty years ago.


The thing is, I could understand why everyone loved it back then. For 1993, in a land of endless sitcoms and other unbearably cheesy low-budget sci-fi/fantasy, there probably wasn’t anything else like it. Back then, it would probably be a god-tier show among the wretched masses, but now?

TV is just too good.

We’re spoiled now by the amount of quality on TV. What would have been a revolutionary show twenty years ago might get cancelled at episode six this time around. Some shows I just don’t think can stand the test of time, and the X-Files is one of them.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and there are others who just started trying to watch the X-Files within the past few years and love it. But if so, I never hear from them. I only hear from die-hard fans who were watching from the start, or at least were watching live somewhere during its 1993-2002 run.

I find this happens a lot with the late ’80s/early-mid’90s, with both film and TV. Trying to go back and watch “cult classic” movies like The Lost Boys, The Crow, Escape from LA, just doesn’t work if you’re seeing them for the first time in say, 2014. They just sort of…suck, and the people that love them simply grew up with them.


Obviously lots of great movies and TV shows do stand the test of time, and are universally loved decades later from Star Wars to Star Trek, but I think a few shows are in this weird “quality limbo” where fans who grew up loving them will always love them, but those coming in cold will remain that way, cold. I’ve felt this with the X-Files three times now, and I’ve found it tough to get into a few other shows that everyone swears by, Buffy, Alias, and a couple others. I’m not ready to declare all of those “bad,” but something is simply impeding my enjoyment and ability to make progress with them.

Advice like “it gets better after season one,” is always rough to hear, because with these old shows, seasons are always 20+ forty minute episodes, as is network TV tradition. You can’t simply skip them or you miss too much build-up and backstory. But today? If you want to get into most “quality” shows, things like Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Dexter, House of Cards and so on are 8 episodes minimum, and only rarely 16 max per season. TV is more consumable now, and staring up at a wall of nine, 24-episode seasons of the X-Files to get through is daunting in and of itself.

I think I’ve lost my battle with that show once and for all. Am I to blame, or does nostalgia really produce this “you had to be there” effect which makes average shows amazing in people’s minds?


  • Steve

    When it comes to the old “stuck in it’s decade” line, no tv show takes the cake more than Miami Vice. I didn’t watch it as a kid, nor do I like it ironically the way I like a lot of “bad” 80’s stuff. I think it’s a genuinely well written, well acted, well paced, and entertaining show. The first few seasons anyway.

    As if my avatar didn’t say all this already lol.

  • Shawn

    To be honest this was always my wife’s “show”. I only watched it when I was bored with playing computer games and was feeling too lazy to walk to the local pub to have a beer. That being said, the few times I did watch it, I got lucky and the episodes where really good. I remember one with a shapechanger that I think absorbed people. And I saw the one where they made out the smoking man to be Kennedy’s assassin. I also saw one where a guys head would explode if he wasn’t driven at a certain speed which I remember thinking was a pretty cool idea ala “SPEED”.

    It wasn’t a bad show, but I could never understand the amount of rabid fandom it endued. The same goes for Buffy the Vampire Slayer IMO.

  • Beorn

    Paul, I agree 100%. I tried to watch X-Files on Netflix and punched out after two episodes. I have thought about giving it another chance, but your article has mercifully saved me from several hours of mind-numbing futility. Thank you!!

  • Indy Z

    I never watched it when it was on, and made one big attempt to get into it a few years ago. I’m right there with you on the issues. I will say that I very much enjoyed certain episodes and plot arcs around the middle, but I never got into that mentality where I was like “oh man, I can’t WAIT to watch another episode!”

  • goseebananafish

    You kids get off my lawn!

  • Daniel Rodriguez Diaz

    I think was a good show, and even bought the Mcfarlane action figures and went to the movie theater to watch the movie. But right now I cant go trought the whole thing again… maybe is idealized because nostalgia? I considered it something cool to watch once, twice is too much and lost interested.

    • Shawn

      I liked the movie, it was well done even for someone like me who didn’t know all the shows lore.

  • Mutant Turd

    See if you can find a list of all the “monster of the week” episodes and just watch those. I did watch it when the show was on in the 90’s but if I tuned in and it was one of the episodes dealing with Mulder’s abducted sister or finding the “Truth” I would change the channel. The BEST episodes were the monster of the week ones.

    Also, you at least owe it to yourself to watch the episode “Home” for one of THE most messed up episodes they ever filmed. In fact, Fox only ever aired it once and it wasn’t shown again until the show went into syndication. That episode is a Halloween staple for my wife and I. The X-Files is definitely her show, she’s watched the entire series 3 times since we got netflix, of course she uses the show to fall asleep so she’ll only really watch like 15 minutes before she crashes out, but she is such a fan that she can still remember which episodes were in certain seasons.