| Orson Welles started his film Touch of Evil with one of the most famous sequences in movie history: a three-and-a-half-minute opening tracking shot where the camera swoops all over the place without a single cut. Robert Altman's The Player subsequently paid homage to Welles, naming the record for a tracking shot in an American motion picture (Touch of Evil!), while in the midst of an even longer tracking shot. All this art. All this aesthetic genius. It's hard to believe the inheritor of Welles and Altman is the syndicated gang-banger COPS.
But it's true. These days, when we think of extremely long takes, don't we instantly visualize a handheld video camera jiggling madly for minutes, while the flat feet of the fuzz flash furiously?
Chris Carter does. In next Sunday's X-Files (Fox, Feb. 20, 9 p.m.), Carter and the gang celebrate their 150th episode the best way they know how: they forge an alliance with their network brethren for an episode entitled "X-Cops." The conceit is this: a COPS crew is out on patrol in Los Angeles, following a sheriff's deputy as he investigates a violent intruder. Early in the investigation, they stumble across Agents Mulder and Scully, who happen to be in town investigating the same darn thing. Scully, uncomfortable with the camera coverage, phones Skinner, who reportedly says, "The FBI has nothing to hide." Thus does the episode unfold in its handheld, cookie-tossing glory, with innumerable "what's behind that door???" sequences and several minutes-long huffers up and down the L.A. streets.
As usual these days, Cancer Man, Krychek, Skinner and the little green men are all off having a sandwich (or is that a "Blairwitch") while Duchovny and Anderson hobnob with extras from Tango & Cash. But unlike several more recent episodes, "X-Cops" rises above the series' mounting mendacities ("Oh, boy! In this episode I'll bet Mulder correctly deduces that the killer is the Oozing Frogman of the Himalayas!"), and delivers both exhilaration and yucks.
The show's opening sequence, where the sheriff's deputy ventures into a dark alley, and comes out screaming for his cameraman to run away, is a barn-burner. And a later investigation through a crackhouse's confines will similarly leave you breathless; as the Blair-scare proved, there's something immediate and primal about handheld video. Meanwhile, the script lets the playful Duchovny have his requisite fun: he solves a domestic dispute between a raging gay married couple, and participates in the following exchange:
Cop: "With all due respect, what the f*** (expletive beeped) are you talking about?"
Scully: "Mulder, I think it's a really bad idea to be doing this on live television."
Mulder: "I don't think it's live television, she just said f***."
Yes, all the requisite COPS touches are here, from the cussing to the theme song, from the blobbed-out perp faces to the blobbed-out naked boobs. There's really only one thing wrong with "X-Cops": no one as good-looking as Gillian Anderson has ever been on COPS. Hell, no one as good looking as Harry Anderson has ever been on COPS.
Our recommendation? Hunker down Sunday night, don't blink too much, and enjoy a low-minded X-Files even Orson Welles would love.