I’m hesitant to review this show, because anyone who tries to find it is in for a lot of frustration. It’s unbelievably obscure. I saw it on a Chicago television station when I was a kid. I spent years searching for it, and came up with nothing but a few tantalizing hints. I don’t remember the director, the actors, or what network it was on. I’m not even sure about the year. IMDb doesn’t list it at all.
It consists of 5 or 6 episodes, and possibly a few more that never aired. It’s somewhat similar to V, the TV series about reptilian invaders, which came out a few years later. I’ll try to describe the plot as I remember it.
The Earth is visited by a race of powerful aliens called Xenos. They hole up in an underground fortress and broadcast messages of peace and friendship. But they refuse to show themselves. In fact, they’re never seen for the duration of the series. The humans are divided in their reaction. The elites trust the Xenos and want to cooperate with them. The common people don’t trust them at all. Soon, the government starts suppressing any criticism of the Xenos.
There’s an ongoing guerilla war, between rebels armed with conventional weapons, and government forces armed with Xeno technology. The collaborators are called “Philes”; the rebels are called “Phobes.” The name of the show is actually a clever pun, which I didn’t figure out until years later.
The Xenos didn’t come from another planet, but another dimension. It’s a dimension of horror and madness. Humans perceive them as a constantly mutating, three-dimensional cross-section. Depicting something like this would be a challenge for modern CGI, let alone the primitive effects of the early 80’s. Wisely, they didn’t try to show it. We only see their shadows, and the horror on the faces of people who are unlucky enough to see their true form. It’s the last thing they ever see.
The Xenos conduct a campaign of psychological warfare against the populace. It consists of ugly music and ugly television shows, broadcast from their central transmission tower. There’s a scene where a group of pretentious intellectuals watch a pattern of shifting blobs on a television set, accompanied by hideous screeching, and try to outdo each other with fulsome praise. Other shows consist of expressionless actors delivering lines about nothing, punctuated by random bursts of canned laughter.
The Xenos recruit collaborators from the political and cultural elite, by tempting them with unimaginable luxury. But it’s all an illusion, created by the Xenos’ hypnotic powers. I vividly remember a scene where a group of collaborators sit down to a sumptuous feast. They devour the food with great enjoyment. Then the camera pans around, and it’s revealed that the food is rotten and crawling with vermin. They continue to stuff their faces, while raving about how delicious it is.
There’s another scene where a rebel infiltrates the Xeno fortress and sees their true form. The Xenos capture the rebel and debate what to do with him. One Xeno suggests burning out his eyes. Another Xeno suggests something far more horrible: burning out part of his brain, so that even the memory of sight is destroyed.
The Xenos take over the functions of the Federal Reserve, and release a “New Dollar” with the motto “Peace, Friendship, Cooperation.” From their underground fortress, armed with powerful computers, they engage in vast financial manipulations, relentlessly driving down the quality of consumer products. There are scenes of families eating unappetizing gruel from generic containers labeled MEAT, CEREAL, or BEVERAGE, playing a generic “Video Game” where the player moves a white dot around a blank screen, and watching “color” television sets with red, green, and blue cellophane taped over the screen.
What do the Xenos do with the billions of dollars they accumulate? This question is never answered, but there are rumors of a vast construction project in the uninhabited regions of Alaska.
This is a show that accomplishes a lot with a small budget. The props and visual effects are simple, but ingenious. It makes extensive use of narration and the power of suggestion. The visual style is abstract, more like a stage play than a television show. The BBC used to produce shows like this, but I know it wasn’t British.
I was surprised to learn that V started out as an adaptation of It Can’t Happen Here, the anti-fascist novel by Sinclair Lewis. The network thought it was too cerebral for TV viewers, so it was changed to a campy show about aliens. The Xeno Files borrows from an anti-fascist novel by the other Lewis. The themes are unmistakable, especially the pointed satire of postmodernism. There’s a bit of Flatland, H.P. Lovecraft, and Philip K. Dick in there as well.
When I tried to track down the show as an adult, I discovered that it had been memory-holed with a vengeance. It suffered the same fate as Amerika, the 1987 miniseries about a Soviet occupation of the United States, which has never been rebroadcast or released on DVD.
Most people didn’t have VCR’s in 1981. I’ve never seen a bootleg tape on Ebay or anywhere else. Once — once – I found a clip on YouTube. It was the intro sequence, with a montage of scenes and the original techno-rock theme song. Within hours, the clip was taken down. Instead of the usual copyright notice, there was only a blank screen, and the words, “This video does not exist.”
Somebody doesn’t want this show to be seen. I’m pretty sure the master tapes have been destroyed. That would make it one of the very few “lost television shows” made after 1980. So if you suspect that I’m pulling your leg and this show doesn’t really exist, you may be right.