Among the many hilarious meta-gags that writer/director Darin Morgan slipped into “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” the third episode of this revived season of The X-Files and an instant Hall of Fame classic, is the outfit that the titular lizard creature (played by Rhys Darby) sports when he’s in his human form as Guy Mann. Guy’s natty suit and straw hat is a direct nod to another paranormal investigator, Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin), who pounded the pavement peering into supernatural-laced crimes in the early ‘70s, when Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were both still in mired in that alien world of adolescence.
Created by Jeff Rice, Kolchak: The Night Stalker aired only 20 episodes between 1974 and 1975 (preceded by two TV movies, which premiered in 1972 and 1973, respectively), but they left a big impression on Chris Carter, who, decades later, would openly credit the series as one of the guiding influences on The X-Files. In fact, McGavin eventually guest starred on two late ‘90s episodes as retired agent, Arthur Dales. And three years after the show’s supposed series finale in 2002, ABC enlisted several X-Files veterans — among them executive producer Frank Spotnitz, director Rob Bowman and a pre-Breaking Bad Vince Gilligan — for a Kolchak revival titled simply Night Stalker that petered out after 10 episodes. The original series, on the other hand, remains a syndication staple ever since it left the network airwaves, and is currently streaming on Netflix. If you’re an X-Files disciple, but a Kolchak newbie, here are the four ways you’ll notice that good ol’ Carl inspired your favorite paranormal duo.
1) He Was the Lone Believer in a Sea of Skeptics
Unlike Mulder and Scully, Kolchak didn’t carry out his investigations from within a law enforcement agency. Instead, his beat was the crime pages of a major Chicago newspaper. His job as a journalist frequently brought him into contact with lawmen, though, particularly jaded police officers who didn’t want to hear his yammering about vampires, aliens and centuries-old serial killers. Although he had an open mind to the supernatural, Kolchak’s paranormal obsession never approached Fox Mulder levels. Then again, he never had a personal stake in uncovering the “truth” the way his descendent did; there was no Samantha Mulder in his childhood. He just reported the news as he saw it…and the way he saw it frequently involved monsters, extraterrestrials and things that went bump in the night.
2) He Tackled Heavy Issues
During its run, The X-Files occasionally took a time out from the purely paranormal to address socially relevant issues. For example, the 1996 episode “The Field Where I Died” made deliberate allusions to the Waco siege, which occurred three years earlier. And the fifth episode of Season 10, “Babylon,” addressed the subject of suicide bombing, albeit in a manner that was too clumsy for some. In his 11th case, “Horror in the Heights,” Carl Kolchak confronted the evil forces of anti-Semitism and urban decay, investigating a rash of deaths in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. While the solution still involved a supernatural baddie — in this case, a Hindu demon — the problems the episode addressed were all too real.
3) He Wasn’t Afraid to Laugh
“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” proved how funny The X-Files can be, but it took some time before the series dabbled in comedy. The first season-and-a-half was deadly serious, until “Were-Monster” mastermind Darin Morgan penned the hilarious 1995 hour, “Humbug.” Vince Gilligan, for one, credits that episode with showing the writing staff what a potent weapon humor could be for Mulder and Scully. Kolchack, on the other hand, always attacked his investigations with a wry wit, allowing McGavin to alleviate the tense mood with a well-timed joke or an amusing reaction. And when you’ve got actors as skilled in deadpan comedy as Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, it’s a good idea to let them loose whenever possible.
4) He Had Some Amazing Writers
Kolchak was creator Jeff Rice’s first, and as it turned out, only crack at running a TV series (he passed away in 2015), but he clearly recognized young talent when he saw it. The list of writers who contributed episodes to the show’s single season boasted such future luminaries as David Chase (who also served as the show’s story editor), Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. Chris Carter brought the same care to assembling his X-Files writing staff, bringing aboard eager scribes like Gilligan, Spotnitz, James Wong and Glen Morgan, almost all of whom have gone onto big careers. When you’ve got talent like that writing your adventures, cult immortality is virtually assured.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker is currently streaming on Netflix