Fox's 'X-Files' may hit the spot for Generation Xers TELEVISION PREVIEW

September 10, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

On paper, "The X-Files" sounds like the worst new TV series this side of "The Trouble With Larry."

"The one-hour drama features a pair of FBI agents who investigate cases involving the paranormal," the synopsis from Fox Broadcasting says.

Based on that, file "The X-Files" in the circular file.

But TV series don't play on paper. They play on videotape. And what producer Chris Carter got on tape in the pilot for "The X-Files" just might make for one of the most unexpected ratings winners of the new season. It's a clever show that teen-age viewers especially ought to love.

"The X-Files," which airs at 9 tonight on WBFF (Channel 45), is about two FBI agents who investigate the paranormal, such as UFO sightings. But the paranormal is not what counts. It's the FBI agents who matter -- they're one of TV's most interesting twentysomething couples.

Fox Mulder is a whiz-kid of an agent with advanced degrees in psychology. The agency loved him when he specialized in psychological profiles of serial killers and such.

But, lately, he's become deeply involved in studying cases involving the paranormal, which the agency had been dumping in the X-Files and mainly ignoring. Mulder's new interest is

making the gray-headed higher-ups nervous. In fact, there's the suggestion that someone high up in the government is trying to block his investigations as part of a cover-up.

Sound goofy? Maybe if you're over 25. But Mulder plugs into lots of hot circuits for young viewers -- alienation from authority, the feeling that you're smarter than your boss, a mistrust of institutions.

And the casting of this maverick agent is brilliant. Mulder is played by David Duchovny, who played the transvestite detective in "Twin Peaks." Oh, yeah, there's lot of "Twin Peaks" here.

But before we talk about that, first, a bit about Mulder's partner, agent Dana Scully.

She's a medical doctor who joined the agency right out of med school. She's all science, skepticism and follow the rules.

We initially meet her as she's in training at the FBI Academy. That's right, just like Jodie Foster in "Silence of the Lambs." In fact Gillian Anderson, who plays Agent Scully, is made up to look a lot like Foster in "Silence of the Lambs."

Agent Scully is initially assigned as Mulder's partner by the gray-hairs so that she can spy on him.And, of course, the two agents seem to take an instant dislike to each other.

But it's also instantly apparent to anyone who's reached adolescence that there's something quite urgent going on underneath all the bicker-bicker, snipe-snipe between the two. She calls him Mulder, he calls her Scully, and it's hello-young-lovers-wherever-you-are.

Tonight's case takes them to the woods of Oregon where it's "Twin Peaks" redux right down to the opening shot of the dead high school girl and the spooky music.

They're investigating the mysterious deaths of several members the same high school class. All died mysteriously late at night in the woods. As Mulder puts it in the language of horror films, "They were each called to the woods."

High school kids, dark woods, darker secrets, horrible deaths, sexual undercurrents. Yes, indeed, it's the gothic stuff of horror movies. And that element is another reason teen-agers should ++ like "The X-Files."

Is it a sure-fire hit, then? No, teen tastes are too hard to predict with such certainty. And the tone of this series could be very difficult to sustain week to week.

But give Fox credit for taking some risks, and trying to make a show that will bring more young viewers to TV on Friday nights.

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