5 Dynamic Duos That Remind Us of The X-Files
Since The X-Files first graced our small screens back in 1993, it’s been hard for a TV crime-solving couple of any kind to be introduced without first being compared to Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. That knee-jerk response is just one of the many indelible marks that Chris Carter’s iconic sci-fi series has left on pop culture.
Flashing forward 20(!) years, the comparisons haven’t always been well-received by audiences or critics, and they haven’t always been fair. However, the core of the pair in question’s attributes often fit in some respects. David Duchovny’s Mulder and Gillian Anderson’s Scully were a deliciously well-suited odd couple, often laced with a frustrating – yet scintillating – flare for romantic ambiguity. Individually, they were smart, quirky and kinda cute. They also challenged each other, fell on their proverbial swords for each other – even went to the ends of the Earth for each other. Literally.
If you’re an X-Phile, this is nothing new. Whether you “shipped” Mulder and Scully or not, they were an unbeatable combination. And for every TV pairing that followed, platonic and otherwise, they were indeed big shoes to fill. Here are the Top Five dynamic duos, plus one honorable mention, who remind us of The X-Files in lovely, nostalgic and even squee-worthy ways.
The Duo: Harmon “Harm” Rabb Jr. (Navy) & Sarah “Mac” MacKenzie (Marine Corps)
Series Lifespan: 1995-2005 (10 seasons)
Premise: Grounded in military law, this crime procedural followed the trials of Lieutenant Rabb Jr. (David James Elliott) and Major MacKenzie (Catherine Bell) – though Bell’s character didn’t join the series until after NBC’s cancellation and CBS’ mid-season pick-up in season two. The show certainly had its fair share of fanciful, outlandish and even supernatural cases over 227 episodes. However, JAG never really dealt with disgusting creatures or government conspiracies. Like The X-Files, the writers held off on cementing Harm and Mac’s romantic relationship until near the series’ end. (Yes, we likely have Moonlighting to thank for that decision and others like it.) Throughout its run, the series’ lead characters simultaneously pushed each other away and followed one another everywhere, often to the detriment of their personal lives, but always to the strengthening of their bond.
The Duo: Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan & FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth
Series Lifespan: 2005-???? (9 seasons and counting)
Premise: Focusing more on the sciences, from forensic anthropology and archaeology to entomology and biology, this D.C.-based drama is known for its body-of-the-week cases. Booth (David Boreanaz) still investigates the who, how and why, but the story is often advanced through the scientific clues found by Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and her team. Those minute details are often ignored on other crime shows. The cases are less extraterrestrial, but still squicky. With a well-developed cast of geeky characters, Brennan and Booth are not always the center of the storyline. However, their polar-opposite stances on everything from religion to romance, and their united front on seeking justice, are what drive the series forward. Unlike The X-Files and JAG, Bones’ two leads not only hooked up, but also had a kid together, thus annihilating the dreaded Moonlighting Curse. | Check out Bones’ homage to The X-Files: “The X in the File,” Season Five, Episode 11.
The Duo: Richard Castle & Detective Kate Beckett
Series Lifespan: 2009-???? (6 seasons and counting)
Premise: This rom-com procedural rarely deals with the unexplained, but could best be compared with The X-Files’ fifth and sixth seasons in its tongue-and-cheek take on bizarre weekly cases. Former bad-boy and famous mystery novelist Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion) uses his charm and quick wit to help Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) solve murders around New York City. With a healthy dose of Castle’s family and Beckett’s colleagues, the series has a well-rounded cast that, like Bones and JAG, outnumbers The X-Files in its earlier seasons. Castle narrowly beats out Bones and JAG on the Mulder/Scully Scale because on the quirkiest cases, without fail, Castle believes in everything mystical and magical, and Beckett believes in absolutely nothing. Like their FOX foils, this ABC couple turned crime-solving into coupling, further proving the notion that we shouldn’t tie superstitions to shows that aired nearly 30 years ago. | Check out Castle’s homage to The X-Files: “Close Encounters of the Murderous Kind,” Season Three, Episode Nine.
The Duo: Sam & Dean Winchester
Series Lifespan: 2005-???? (9 seasons and counting)
Premise: More than any other show on this list, The WB/CW’s Supernatural tinkers with the concepts of God, heaven, hell and destiny through wounded brothers, Sam (Jared Padelecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles). Seasoned TV veteran and longtime X-Files director/producer Kim Manners went on to direct and produce Vancouver-based Supernatural before he passed away in 2009, which might explain some of the monster parallels and creepy storytelling. Always searching, whether for answers to childhood mysteries, their true identities, solace or the next baddie, the rogue Winchester Bros are great at finding trouble. They’re also really great at dying. And being resurrected. And dying again. It could be argued that no pair of crime-fighters has ever been shipped as fervently as these sexy demon/ghost/vampire-hunters have been. You just have to ignore the fact that they’re brothers. Or, you know… not. (Let’s go with not.)
The Duo: FBI Agent Olivia Dunham & Peter Bishop
Series Lifespan: 2008-2013 (5 seasons)
Premise: Shapeshifters, government conspiracies and parallel universes. FOX’s Fringe could easily be The X-Files’ flashy, and slightly more ambitious, younger sibling. With a worldwide cult following, this dark and cinematic sci-fi series never quite popped with mainstream audiences. Following the terrifying and sometimes gruesome investigations of Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and wounded, Jack-of-all-Trades Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), the series had a complex mythology that was rewarding for longtime fans, but may have been too confounding for the average viewer. Despite Fringe’s grim color and texture, there was a general undertone of light, freedom and hope – particularly among the show’s ensemble cast and, of course, in the platonic and romantic love between Peter and Olivia. The writers had the luxury of knowing the series’ end date well in advance of its fifth season and planned accordingly, providing proper closure for the beloved characters and their journey.
Honorable Mention goes to NBC’s Law & Order: SVU, if only because fans were (and still are) just as ardent for Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) to get together as every other couple listed above. Romance aside, they had a tight bond and loyalty on par with Mulder and Scully’s.
Together, and before Meloni left the series in 2011, Benson and Stabler never dealt with anything even remotely science-fiction; just with horrific and all-too-realistic sexual assault cases. This L&O spin-off, now in its 15th season, is arguably the most popular of all Dick Wolf’s creations, and that could easily be attributed to Hargitay and Meloni’s chemistry.
INTERESTING ASIDE: I can’t help but point out that EVERY character listed above has some kind of damage attributed to one or both of their parents.
- Mulder had his father’s betrayal, and Scully was never sure if her father was proud of her.
- Rabb’s career choices were likely based on his father’s MIA status in Vietnam, and Mac followed in her alcoholic father’s footsteps.
- Brennan was once haunted by her mother’s death and estranged from her scoundrel of a father; and Booth, estranged from his neglectful mother, has always feared becoming like his abusive father.
- Castle, raised by his single, struggling actress mother, didn’t meet his mysterious CIA agent father until his daughter was kidnapped by international villains; and Beckett’s adult life has centered on the conspiracy that led to her mother’s murder, which also drove her father to alcoholism.
- Death seems to follow the Winchester family, starting with Sam and Dean’s mother as children and later their father, whose quest they took on as their own.
- Peter went from despising his father to sympathizing and relating to his father, with one of the most fulfilling series-long story arcs; and Olivia always struggled since she was a young teenager with her once-abused mother’s death.
- Finally, Benson, a child of rape, began her lengthy career in sex crimes to fiercely avenge victims like her deceased alcoholic mother; and Stabler’s own career and family life were undoubtedly forged by his abusive father and his mother, who suffered from bipolar disorder.
So, what does this all mean? Do TV characters wounded by their parents make for more compelling storylines (and pairings)? Have Mommy and Daddy Issues just been too played-out on even the most popular and compelling television dramas? Or is that simply an issue that’s too common in real life to avoid?
Whatever you decide and whomever you “ship,” feel free to add your suggestions of other worthy dynamic duos in the comments section below. Who did we miss?