The X-Files: I had been a fan of The X-Files till the bitter end. I didn’t start watching it from the beginning. I had really loved VR5 (someone please get this out on DVD or Blu-Ray!), which had starred Lori Singer—costarring Louise Fletcher, as her now mostly catatonic mother, and Anthony Heald, as one of her quasi-mentors—as a young woman trying to find answers about her past and her missing father and twin sister, working her way into a virtual-reality network that she charmingly jacked into by way of an old-fashioned acoustic-coupling modem. It was often visually stunning and never the same twice, but it was canceled after a single season.
The X-Files was on after VR5, or just before it, or something, and I kept the TV on once, or maybe there was a delay from preemption, and saw most of the episode on the Norwegian oil rig, but never bothered to watch it regularly until VR5 had gone away. What pulled me in was the chemistry between Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny as Scully and Mulder, and the way the show overall evoked a feeling from my childhood adolescence, which I connected with science fiction movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Wargames, and which I’d felt I’d long outgrown (especially in its less than equal vision of gender relations—I’d somehow never noticed that Ally Sheedy actually doesn’t really get to do anything cool). I stuck it out to, I think, even the second movie (not sure about that), but I started to lose faith in the show around the time Scully’s cancer was hinted to be metaphysical in significance, and the showrunners didn’t really seem to know how it ought to end.
So I watched the first hour, so far, of the new series mostly out of curiosity. It is interesting, I suppose, that it puts Mulder’s paranoia in a larger context than it ever did before, showing the connections to rightwing lunacy that might have been there all along. I’m not sure how much the visual sense the show had was based on its not being broadcast in digital HD, and on its being the first and only story of its kind. Even in its having a certain kind of continuing storyline, it was groundbreaking in its day but has now arguably been surpassed. I, for one, would have loved to see an in-depth exploration of Mulder or Scully as a character, something more like what you’d later see in The Sopranos or Breaking Bad, but that’s what you never quite got from The X-Files. Six hours isn’t a very big investment, and I’ll probably keep watching it, but I feel like the credit lost from the way the previous run ended is going to be difficult to earn back.
The Magicians: So, I’ve watched the second hour of this, and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll watch more. I really don’t watch much TV these days. I’ll watch some prestige drama if my husband wants to see it—the last series I watched on my own was The Tudors, which I loved for the political intrigue, but we don’t get Showtime anymore—or we’ll stream something like The Hour, but I find it hard to focus on TV. It’s rarely as visually compelling as film is. I used to be able to knit or work out while I watched, but fifteen or twenty years ago I trained myself to try to pay attention to the visuals, and now I can’t do that, but I don’t feel I’m getting much from it. If it’s talky, you can’t slow it down and think about it, like you can do with a book, and the dialogue usually isn’t that good anyway. I’m a lot less likely to just have random stuff on the TV now that I have a child, and anyway the last time I regularly watched was Thursdays on NBC, when I stopped in part because I got tired of 30 Rock and in part because my husband joined a sports league that met that night, and I didn’t want to watch alone. Now that I’ve got hundreds of channels I tend to scan the listings looking for movies, and ignore everything else.
I’ve tried a couple of times to watch the new science fiction shows on SyFy or BBC, and haven’t been able to. I mostly don’t find the look or the writing or the acting, the whole mise-en-scène of the twenty-first century TV SF show, especially compelling. And it’s still television, intelligent or not. And clearly this isn’t a show I’m going to be able to knit during—I’m going to want to keep my eyes on the screen.
But. It is definitely not bad. It’s definitely not the novel. What Julia’s story is going to become, is becoming more clear; and it seems to have very little whatsoever to do with the way it happened in the books. Which is fine. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can get on with the way the showrunners want to tell it.
What Quentin’s story is going to become, I still don’t know. It seems to me the first two hours compressed a lot of pages into what seems like a couple of weeks, though I don’t have a copy of the first book handy and can’t say for sure. It seems to me these first two episodes have a feeling of having disposed of something that might have lingered a little longer in the books, but I can’t say what that is, or how it might affect the story going forward. It’s true that this part of the book had a sometimes plodding, going through the years one by one, month by month, sort of feel, but also that most of what we learned about Quentin’s friends, and about what the school ultimately means to them, came from this section. We really aren’t finding out much about those friends yet at all.
It still feels like it’s moving a little quickly. I don’t always know what’s going on, sometimes until I remember how it worked out in the original, sometimes not at all. I’m not sure I’m happy about the way the “different worlds” thing is being foregrounded, so far, in the series, as it was not (that I recall) in the books. I’m hoping we’ll see more of Julia’s storyline, because so far that seems to be the more interesting and eventful one. I can live with the fact that the creators of the TV show have a different vision of the story than the novel has, I think. What worries me a little is that, going forward, a certain kind of reader or viewer may take this to be an actual comment on the novel, when to my mind it’s shaping up to be something different altogether. There’s a certain idea, in some SF circles, that there’s a kind of globally shared Zeitgeist that all works of SF or fantasy comment on, and I think that could be misleading here. What we’re shown of the way magic is connected with the outside world is, here, quite different from what we’re shown in Lev Grossman’s books. I’d like to leave open the possibilities that Grossman did, not take Sera Gamble’s interpretations (however admirable and interesting in themselves) as limiting his.