Remote Patrol: 'JAG' and 'The X-Files'
We explore the strange similarities between the military drama and the creepy sci-fi show
I admit it: I missed the boat on JAG. I was unimpressed by the military drama’s initial 1995-96 NBC incarnation, loaded as it was with action footage recycled from movies like Clear and Present Danger. And I paid little attention when CBS picked it up the following season (sure, I’m a TV critic, but I can’t watch everything). After it soared into the top 20 this season, I gave JAG another look, and I’ve figured out the secret of its success: It’s the anti-X-Files.
The parallels are, shall we say, spooky. Let’s start with the leading men. The X-Files‘ Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) is a hunky loner whose quest is motivated by the abduction of a relative (his sis was kidnapped by aliens). JAG‘s Harmon ”Harm” Rabb Jr. (David James Elliott) is a hunky loner whose quest is motivated by the abduction of a relative (his father was held hostage by the Russians after the Vietnam War). Both work for the government — Mulder for the FBI, Harm for the Judge Advocate General corps of military lawyers — and both reside in the D.C. area. Each series flashes locations and times in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.
Both men are partnered with attractive women with whom they have a charged yet ultimately platonic relationship. On The X-Files, of course, it’s Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). On JAG it’s Maj. Sarah ”Mac” MacKenzie (Catherine Bell), a Marine attorney. X-Philes, see if the CBS website’s description of Harm and Mac’s bond doesn’t ring a few bells: ”The unmistakable chemistry between them must be held at bay as they travel the globe together with a single mission: to search for and discover the truth.” Each team seems to enjoy unlimited travel budgets; I’d love to see their expense reports.
Both duos report to a bald, broad-shouldered supervisor: The X-Files‘ assistant director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) and JAG’s Adm. A.J. Chegwidden (John M. Jackson). I know, Skinner’s not technically Mulder and Scully’s boss anymore. But he still provides cover for them with the higher-ups and backs their sometimes far-flung investigations with a steely confidence — just like Admiral Chegwidden does with Harm and Mac.
The enemy, in each case, is aliens. That’s meant in the little-green-men sense on The X-Files. On JAG it’s read as non-Americans. It doesn’t matter who they are — Serbian extremists, Italian terrorists, Japanese civilians — you just can’t trust ’em.
And here’s where the anti part of my anti-X-Files theory comes in. Whereas The X-Files is one of the most antigovernment shows in TV history, JAG is TV’s most jingoistic series. The U.S. military is seen as a force fighting for good around the world. Even the paralyzed, institutionalized Vietnam vet played by Kevin Conway in a recent episode died with an American flag clenched in his teeth.
The shows’ political differences seem appropriate given their respective networks’ target audiences. The X-Files‘ antiauthoritarian cynicism makes for a perfect fit for Fox’s young, hip, urban viewers, while JAG‘s red-white-and-blue patriotism is aimed squarely at CBS’ older, middle-American crowd. Not for nothing is the Eye network’s motto ”Welcome home.”