After tracking down everything from a humanoid flukeworm to a sentient pile of coffee grounds, it was only a matter of time before Agents Mulder and Scully found themselves tangling with the lowest life-form imaginable: the Cops perp.
Raising the creative bar for The X-Files’ 150th episode, creator Chris Carter and Co. teamed up with Fox’s 11-year-old lights-camera-handcuffs reality show. So when you tune in Feb. 20, don’t be shocked to find bleeped-out profanity, the digitally blurred faces of pushers and hookers, camera-rattling foot chases — and, of course, that trademark “Bad Boys” theme song. “The commitment — frightening as it is — is to be Cops no matter what,” says episode director Michael Watkins. “We’ve needed to strip away our show’s exotic beats and go more with visceral instinct.”
That’s why David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and the X-Files crew are spending this January night in a dicey, pack-your-pepper-spray section of Venice, Calif. In their quest to replicate the cinema vérité look of Cops, they’ve staked out a shabby bungalow, armed with a simple BVW-700B video camera — to capture that classic lighting-be-damned, run-and-gun feel. And the new aesthetic is paying nifty dividends: Not only has shooting time been reduced dramatically, but Carter estimates the move lopped $500,000 off the reported $3 million-per-episode average. “I’m sure Fox would love it if we did every episode on video,” he says.
The guy Fox can thank for this cost-cutting concept is X-Files writer and die-hard Cops-head Vince Gilligan, who’d championed the crossover for years. “I’d broach the subject now and then,” he says. “Everyone was interested, but a little reluctant.”
Carter says the series’ move from Vancouver to L.A. (i.e., Cops central) helped make Gilligan’s idea more feasible. But ultimately, he says, “it was just a question of finding the story to tell.”
Gilligan certainly solved that problem: The episode finds Mulder and Scully running into the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (and the requisite Cops camera crew) as they investigate bizarre murders in South Central, where eyewitness accounts implicate everything from a werewolf to a real-life Freddy Krueger.
The scene filming tonight finds Mulder and Scully checking up on Steve and Edy, a pair of bickering queens who are in danger of being the next victims. In classic Cops style, the agents get caught in the cross fire of a dish-smashing catfight. “He treats me with disrespect!” Edy wails. “We’re not here to get involved in personal problems,” says Mulder. As Edy continues to let loose with the histrionics, Duchovny can barely suppress a laugh.
Although they’re not straying far from Gilligan’s script, the moment has a definite improv feel. And since this is being shot — à la Cops — in continuous takes, if anyone screws up — or cracks up — it’s back to line 1. Still, Anderson says, “after you’ve rehearsed a couple of times, you start remembering what it’s like to do live theater, and it can get very fun and creative.” And, she adds, you can’t beat the result: “When you watch a scene on playback, it looks like Cops.”