The subjects of this study, The X-Files (Carter, 1993-2002) and Supernatural (Kripke, 2005-), can be seen as innovative pioneers of ‘narrative complexity’ and of the ‘monster-of-the-week’ (MOTW) concept. Mittel identifies narrative complexity,
‘At its most basic level, narrative complexity is a redefinition of episodic forms under the influence of serial narration—not necessarily a complete merger of episodic and serial forms but a shifting balance. Rejecting the need for plot closure within every episode that typifies conventional episodic form, narrative complexity foregrounds ongoing stories across a range of genres. Additionally, narrative complexity moves serial form outside of the generic assumptions[.]’ (Mittel, 2006, p.32)
The monster-of-the-week concept is rather self-explanatory, but can be described as telling standalone stories that literally feature a monster, or enemy, every week however, The X-Files have challenged the serial, standalone nature of the concept (Kruse, 1997-8, p.110).
The X-Files stars FBI agents, Mulder and Scully, as they take charge in investigating the ‘X’ files (cases that occur through unknown phenomena). Mulder, the believer, and Scully, the sceptic, face corrupt government officials and monstrous mutants while trying to uncover the meaning to unknown phenomena that otherwise, cannot be explained. The episodic and formulaic series allow Mulder and Scully to face phenomena after phenomena while being spliced with an undercurrent of the more serial format of a greater ‘mytharc’ concerning government corruption and of the alien colonisation of earth. Supernatural tells the story of Dean and Sam Winchester, brothers-in-arms, who also, within formulaic and self-contained episodes, hunt monsters and creatures of folklore, urban legend and myth. Supernatural also features serial arcs every season that take Dean and Sam searching for their lost father, preventing a demon apocalypse and do battle with Satan and God’s Angels.
In a world where ideological, sociological and political views and values are changing then so must American television, ever-changing to cater to a contemporary audience (Mittel, 2007, p.162-163). Narratives, structural styles, special effects, characters and themes have developed and changed, been tested and tried. Mittel identifies the three notable structures of the television: the anthology, the serial and the series (2007, p. 163). For this study, we are more interested in the serial and the series for its crossover in narrative complexity. Mittel states that ‘narrative television offers ongoing storyworlds, presenting specific opportunities and limitations for creating compelling narratives’ (2007, p.163). The ‘episodic series’ is broken down to its key features, a style of narrative where each episode is independent from the other and where ‘plots stand on their own’ but making note that the show’s characters, settings and relationships carry on over the series (Mittel, 2007, p.163)....