Kumail Nanjiani’s 'X-Files' Marathon Was a Nerd Paradise

With excitement for Fox's upcoming <i>X-Files</i> revival at a fever pitch, we took in a day's worth of episodes curated by Kumail Nanjiani with special guests showrunner Chris Carter and writers Darin and Glen Morgan.

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Jan 19 2016, 8:15pm

The crowd leading up to the X-Files marathon. Image via Fox

Once upon a time, sitting through a marathon event for a cult TV show was an endurance sport. Like a sci-fi convention or an all-night LAN party, they were designed by and for true fans, those who were willing to spend long hours consuming the art they loved, despite having already seen it, often many (many) times over.

But in the age of binge-watching, something like an X-Files marathon—one of which was hosted at LA's Cinefamily Silent Movie Theater over the weekend, as part of a live taping of comedian/actor Kumail Nanjiani's X-Files Files podcast—takes on a new identity. It's not about barreling through as many episodes as possible any more: services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have made mainlining entire seasons of shows, even ones we don't really like that much, as routine an activity as walking your dog.

And so, Cinefamily's X-Files marathon was less about volume and more about curation—the draw was that the six episodes shown were curated by Nanjiani and were broken up by interviews with appearances from series creator Chris Carter, and writers Darin and Glen Morgan, as well a screening of an episode from the forthcoming X-Files miniseries, which guest-stars Nanjiani as an animal control employee.

X-Files series creator Chris Carter and Kumail Nanjiani at Saturday's event. Image via Cinefamily on Instagram

The world in 2016 has become a radically different place, and our cultural appetites have shifted accordingly; when the show ended the spring following the September 11 attacks, as show creator and executive producer Chris Carter explained to Nanjiani and the crowd Saturday (after shepherding his crowd-shy dog Zelda off the stage), "No one wanted to know about government conspiracies in 2002, so that's when we left the stage." Plenty have speculated on the show's ability to return now, 15 years after the tragedy, and it's not just about the public's feelings regarding government conspiracies. Science itself has advanced considerably, which means a lot of the paranormal phenomena that mystified us in the 1990s—human cloning, for example—have literally become scientific fact in the intervening decades. "The unexplainable has become explainable," Carter said, when asked about the challenges of bringing The X-Files into the 21st century.

The small, sold-out crowd was made up of devout fans. One person was able to (nearly) recite Fox Mulder's phone number on the spot; another, 30-year-old Andrianna D'Sant Angelo, arrived at 3 a.m., just in case; another fan came at 7:30 p.m. the day before, buying tickets to the theater's horror movie marathon that night and sleeping outside afterward. (He got a signed poster for this dedication.) Cheers erupted within seconds of each episode's beginning, half the theater instantly recognizing them.

Episodes were screened out of chronological order, instead: first "Folie à Deux" (season 5); then the infamous "Home" (4); the Duchovny-directed baseball-'n'-KKK yarn "The Unnatural" (6); then the legendary "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (3); the Bryan Cranston-starring "Drive" (6); and finally, the Frankenstein-inspired "The Postmodern Prometheus" (5). Trivia shared in interviews between episodes were nerd catnip, of course. "Home," show writers Glen Morgan and James Wong's chilling deformed-confederate-incest story, was "farted out" ("picture Jim eating pork chops going, 'It's the mother under the bed,'" Morgan told the audience); the audience audibly gasped at the reveal that one of the new episodes is titled "Home Again." Morgan remembered how writers used to insert jokes about Mulder's love of Elvis Presley into scripts to annoy Duchovny; "Bruckman" writer Darin Morgan said that, so far, no one has ever questioned his mid-episode joke wherein the deadpan psychic Bruckman (played exquisitely by Peter Boyle, a.k.a. the monster in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein) tells Mulder he'll die of auto-erotic asphyxiation.

The X-Files can't fade into obscurity, and that's by design. The paranormal show has persisted in pop culture imagination not just for its contributions to TV history (not to mention Dana Scully as a role model for young women pursuing STEM careers) but also because, in a world where reality looks more and more like science fiction every day, The X-Files must always stay one step ahead of us, in the land of the inexplicable. No matter how much knowledge we amass about the ways of the universe, there will always be more concepts and phenomena to demystify. Carter, discussing the show's absence, confessed that he keeps a running list in a note on his smartphone of articles he reads in newspapers that "would be a good X-File."

When the show returns on Sunday, don't expect rosy nostalgia: while the new episodes take the format of their predecessors and are as self-aware and tongue-in-cheek as they've been in the past, the show will definitely reckon with all it's missed in the intervening years, scientifically and beyond. Early reviews of the revival have been uncharitable: Variety's Brian Lowry called the show "joyless" and hinted the revival was simply a cash grab, while Cutprint Film was more frank, running its review with the headline, "The X-Files Should've Remained Closed."

"The 21st century has not been kind to Fox Mulder," Carter joked during the event, citing addiction but mostly depression, considering how many X-Files have been debunked, thanks to the Internet and its bounty (smartphones, in particular, are a special hell for a guy who wants to believe).

"The show lives in the present," Carter said when asked whether the show will continue after the miniseries ends in March. "This is a really exciting time to be telling X-Files stories."

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