The podcast of the hour is undoubtedly Sarah Koenig’s Serial – a compelling production from the creators of This American Life. However I have become addicted to something a little different: Kumail Nanjiani’s The X-Files Files, an analysis of (almost) all 203 episodes of the 90s TV cult-classic The X-Files.
My own obsession with The X-Files began at 11 years old, when a school friend came over one afternoon with a VHS tape of “Paper Clip”, the second part of a double episode that opened season three (read more about my experience growing up with the show here). The X-Files feels as much a part of my childhood as birthday cakes and after-school netball, and as an adult I find myself revisiting the series every few years in the same way I do old photo albums. I was surprised and delighted to discover, when I came across Nanjiani’s podcast last month, that I’m not the only one who feels this way about The X-Files.
The X-Files Files is released through Feral Audio, a collective based in LA that allows its podcasters full creative control. Host Kumail Nanjiani is an actor and comedian best known for his roles in Silicon Valley and Portlandia (he also co-hosts another podcast about video games – The Indoor Kids – with his wife Emily Gordon). Nanjiani fell in love with The X-Files growing up in Karachi, Pakistan. Watching the show as a kid Nanjiani “started to see the world as a much bigger and weirder place”, and as an adult he remains a huge fan. With The X-Files Files podcast Nanjiani hopes to introduce new viewers to the show (his timing is perfect, too, as The X-Files is now available on Netflix) while at the same time providing existing X-Philes (long-term fans) with a wealth of new commentary. Nanjiani initially intended to skip over his least favourite episodes, but he has now committed to covering all of them – a good decision, I think, given that his commentary on the less popular instalments often makes for the funniest podcasts.
In each podcast Nanjiani discusses one or two episodes (usually two) with a different guest. Many of the guests are friends of Nanjiani’s (Rhea Butcher, Devin Faraci, Dan Harmon), and his wife co-hosts a number of episodes (Emily’s X-Files Files are among my favourites). As the podcast grows in popularity, however, Nanjiani is attracting more high profile guests. He has interviewed the composer of The X-Files theme, as well as producer Steve Asbell, writers Glen and Darin Morgan, and Dean Haglund (Langly of The Lone Gunmen). There has even been a Tweet of interest from Gillian Anderson, and with six seasons still to comment on there is plenty of time for Nanjiani to get more ‘big names’ on his show.
The X-Files Files follows a fairly loose structure. There is a wonderfully relaxed feel to this podcast – Nanjiani records at home, often in his backyard, and visits from his cat (Bagel) are not uncommon. Conversations are allowed to meander, sometimes resulting in episodes that are more than two hours long. Both Nanjiani and his guest for the week watch the episode(s) beforehand and make notes to prepare for the podcast (Nanjiani suggests this is the best way to listen). Discussion starts out general, but Nanjiani has introduced a few regular segments, such as talking about how the writers/directors/actors felt about a particular episode, looking at the Nielson ratings from when the show first aired, and – my favourite – pulling comments and conversations from the original X-Files Internet message boards.
I think one of the reasons The X-Files Files works so well as a podcast is the nature of the show it is analysing. As writer Darin Morgan notes in episode 28, these days most TV series’ focus on just one continuing plotline. The X-Files, however, was different every week. One episode could be a deadly (pardon the pun) serious story about a serial killer, and the next could be a humorous take on a freak show. This was great for the writers of the show, but it is also good for Nanjiani’s podcast, allowing for varied and interesting discussion. The second reason The X-Files Files works is Nanjiani – he is very funny, obviously a huge fan of the show, and not afraid to talk about how the series has moved (as well as entertained) him. He is a perceptive critic, as well. While he often raves about the things he loves he also carefully analyses what doesn’t work.
Some of my favourite aspects of the podcast are the discussions of X-Files trivia (such as Mulder’s porn addiction and his penchant for sunflower seeds), and the comments on how very different the 1990s were (clothing, hairstyles, cell phones, the Internet). I also love it when Nanjiani talks to writers from The X-Files – my favourite podcast so far is Darin Morgan’s, where he and Nanjiani discuss “Humbug” and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” – two of the best episodes of the series.
I really have nothing negative to say about this: it is my perfect podcast. And though it’s taken a couple of weeks I’ve finally caught up with Nanjiani and have now started watching the episodes before listening. I began, as fate would have it, with “Paper Clip”, which has reminded me of just how much The X-Files has been a part of my life and has (probably more than I realise) influenced how I think. Now I wait for The X-Files Files every week the way I used to wait for a new X-Files episode. All I need now are some Mulder and Scully action figures, and my life will be complete…
The X-Files Files started in June 2014, and is currently up to episodes five and six of the third season. You can follow The X-Files Files on Twitter, and read the Sub-Reddit here. Kumail Nanjiani also co-hosts The Meltdown on Comedy Central with Jonah Ray.