The Great X-Files Rewatch X-Tra: “The Springfield Files” (1997)
I mentioned in a previous write-up that in season four, The X-Files was begin to pierce the country’s collective consciousness. Even if you didn’t watch the show, you were increasingly aware of it. There is no better way to illustrate this observation than by the fact that, in 1997, Mulder and Scully made a well-publicized visit to Springfield (state unknown).
I hadn’t watched The Simpsons—from any era—in ages, but rewatching this episode (and all the other ones on the disc) I’m reminded quickly how much hilarity they used to pack into their 22 minutes. “The Springfield Files” begins with Homer’s not-at-all-X-Files-related, but still hilariously confused recollection of Speed. “I think it was called The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down.”
The real plot begins when Homer walks home from a drunk evening at Moe’s. The X-Files references are creeping in already, with the background music a carefully disguised version of Mark Snow’s classic theme. (Later scenes will open with the classic X-Files location tag.) Homer sees a glowing green figure in the woods, but he can’t get anybody to believe him. Lisa is just embarrassed. She quotes data from Junior Skeptic magazine and then:
Lisa: The people who claim they’ve seen aliens are always pathetic low-lifes with boring jobs. Oh, and you, Dad.
At least within the universe of the X-Files, she’s kind of right (Duane Barry? Cassandra Spender? come on, now). By the way, did you know that MUFON is real? I totally thought The X-Files made that up until just now.
Anyway, Homer tries the local police force next.
Chief Wiggum: Well, your story is very compelling, Mr. Jackass. I mean, uh, Simpson. So I’ll just type it up on my invisible typewriter! [mimes typing in the air, makes ‘la la la’ sounds]
And then the FBI get involved! The entire conceit of FBI agents chasing aliens is set up in Mulder and Scully’s first scene.
Mulder: There’s been another unsubstantiated UFO sighting in the heartland of America. We’ve gotta get there right away.
Scully: Well, gee, Mulder, there’s also this report of a shipment of drugs and illegal weapons coming into New Jersey tonight.
Mulder: I hardly think the FBI is concerned with matters like that.
Can you even imagine Mulder and Scully tracking down a shipment of drugs and illegal weapons? They never did anything like that, ever! Even when they were doing that, it immediately turned into something else entirely. (See “Tunguska” where an investigation into illegal weapons becomes an investigation into a mysteriously valuable rock becomes an inexplicably comatose geologist and Mulder on a gurney in rural Russia with black worms crawling into his eyes.)
So, Mulder and Scully question Homer (Smoking Man lurking in the background).
Scully: This is a simple lie detector. I’ll as you a few yes or no questions and you just answer truthfully. Do you understand?
Later, the pair join Homer at Moe’s, where he attempts to retrace his steps by getting shit-faced again. He hits on Scully while Mulder unconcernedly eats pretzels.
Following Homer around dead-ends pretty quickly, and Scully declares it the worst assignment they’ve ever been on. Worse than the time she got kidnapped by Donnie Pfaster? Worse than the time Tooms came up out of her shower drain and tried to eat her liver? Worse than the time Mulder almost shot her because he was under Pusher’s mind control?
Mulder: Worse than the time we were attacked by the flesh-eating virus?
Scully: No, this is much more irritating.
So, the dynamic duo call it a day. However, Homer keeps to it, manages to get the alien on video, and the following Friday a whole media circus has sprung up in the woods. The likenesses of Mulder and Scully do return for that, Scully sporting a “Homer is a dope,” T-shirt.
Also, we discover that the alien was Mr. Burns. But not before my favorite exchange of the episode:
Alien: I bring you…loooooove.
Lenny: It’s bringing love! Don’t let it get away!
Carl: Break its legs!
The show makes affectionate and enjoyable fun of everything The X-Files is built on. Mulder’s cocky persona: remember the sight gag of Mulder holding up his FBI badge, which contained a photo of himself in a Speedo?
And Mulder’s mythological mumbo-jumbo is sent up divinely when he delivers his dramatic closing speech about the things we as a culture still don’t know or understand:
Mulder: The voodoo priests of Haiti—the Tibetan numerologists of Appalachia—the unsolved mysteries of Unsolved Mysteries… The truth is OUT THERE!
It wasn’t until I actually transcribed that speech here that I realized that the numerologists are from both Tibet and Appalachia. That’s a hilarious bit, and it’s gone in a split second. The Simpsons at this point in their output were truly throwing away better jokes than any other show could hold up as their best work.
There are some great references to classic thrillers and sci-fi beyond The X-Files, too. Leonard Nimoy, as himself, narrates the episode. There’s a great moment when a vendor asks him, “Mr. Nimoy, what do you want on your hot dog?” and Nimoy says, with all the gravitas of an elder statesman of sci-fi, “Surprise me.” As Homer takes his chilling walk through the woods, he hears the Psycho theme, which balloons into a brilliant gag wherein a bus pulls up next to him with “Springfield Philharmonic” on it. The bus is full of violinists playing the theme. (IMDb tells me this gag was ripped off from a Mel Brooks movie, which I can neither confirm nor deny. Still, ha.) Later, Homer is asked to identify the alien he saw in a lineup, which consists of Marvin the Martian, Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still, Chewbacca, Alf, and Simpsons-universe-specific Kang (or Kodos).Vodpod videos no longer available.
Finally, when the entire town of Springfield has gathered to welcome the alien, band teacher Mr. Largo directs the students in what sounded to me like a series of basic tuning chords back in ‘97, but which I now recognize as the 5-note theme from Close Encounters.
There were also a lot of great gags re: Fox. This was around the time that the network was cashing in on X-Files mania by airing all these “real-life” UFO and alien autopsy stories.
Bart and Homer, trying to catch the alien on video, joke that if they don’t see anything they’ll just doctor something up and sell it to Fox.
Bart: “Yeah, they’ll buy anything!”
Homer: “Now, son, they do some quality programming, too.”
[Riotous laughter from both.]
Also—and I may be totally misreading this, but I don’t think so—the episode opens on a Friday, and “Friday,” is referred to over and over again. Homer and his pals want to leave work early because it’s Friday. Bart and Lisa are watching the old TGIF lineup on ABC, and Homer compares the alien he saw with Urkel, because they both appear every Friday night. This has to be a reference to the fact that at the time (Fall 1996) The X-Files aired on Friday nights. Perhaps the network wanted to place subliminal reminders for people who had interest in the show but never thought to turn it on on Friday. (For my part, I didn’t watch the show regularly until it moved to Sundays in the second half of this season.)
Anderson and Duchovny had already shown a flair for self-parody with episodes like “Humbug,” but their Simpsons appearance set them up for the comedic heights of later X-Files episodes like “Small Potatoes,” and “Bad Blood.” It also let some of the air out of what was setting itself up to be an extremely self-serious season of The X-Files, what with cancer and the KGB and cultists with past lives. I don’t remember what I thought of “The Springfield Files” at the time, but The X-Files became appointment TV for me almost immediately afterwards, that I remember for sure. (My first episode was “Kaddish,” February ’97. My friend Jamie and I discussed it in driver’s ed. the next day.) For sure the crossover was meant to bring some love (so to speak) from one high-rated critical darling to a less high-rated one. If people had been on the fence about whether they wanted to try the show or not, “The Springfield Files” surely swung a few votes.