- Posted by Giaco Furino
- On August 20, 2015
- 0 Comments
- mst3k, rifftrax
Take cheesy old movies, throw in robot puppets and a mild-mannered host, set them up in movie seats in front of said cheesy movie, and let them riff and crack jokes as the film plays out. Now take all that and air it in the middle of the night on cable. Sound good? It does? Then you must be a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan!
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K for short) is the kind of show that, if you’ve never gotten into it, can seem daunting! Even though the format is non-serialized—meaning you can jump in whenever you want—there are still movements to the show. Are you a Joel fan? Are you a Mike fan? Do you prefer the Comedy Central episodes? or the Sci-Fi Channel eps? How about the current offerings from the riffers? I’m going to walk you through a brief history of this cult phenomenon, from the early KTMA days to Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic. If you’re wondering: What the hell is he talking about? Just repeat to yourself, “it’s just a show, I should really just relax.”
The Early Days 1988-1989
Originally created by comedian/magician Joel Hodgson, Mystery Science Theater 3000 got its start on a Minneapolis UHF channel named KTMA. It’s strange to start a “history of…” article with a section I suggest new fans should skip. But that’s how I’m starting this feature! If you’ve never watched a single episode of the show, I suggest you jump a little further into the show’s progression. Here, with KTMA, Joel Hodgson and the crew are still working out just what it means to make a show like MST3K. And besides, getting your hands on an episode from the KTMA days requires plenty of trading and haggling with old-school collectors.
Recommended Viewing from this era: Episode K06 – Gamera Vs. Gaos, Episode K10 – Cosmic Princess
Comedy Central – The Joel Years 1989-1993
The main thrust of the show, the Comedy Central years (which started out on The Comedy Channel) chart the beginning of what we know and love to be MST3K. Here’s the story: Joel Hodgson worked as a janitor at Gizmonics Institute, and his mad scientist bosses (known as “the mads”) threw him on a spaceship named The Satellite of Love where they subjected him to terrible movies. Lonely on the ship, he built some robots to keep him company. Together, Joel and the bots make fun of the terrible movies they have to see, thereby thwarts the “mads” attempts at driving Joel insane. With amazing riffing, Joel’s sleepy affectation, and plenty of “invention exchanges,” this was some of the best comedy programming around. When Joel left the show halfway through season five, some fans were stunned. And even though it was the end of an era, the introduction of a new host helped smooth the transition.
Recommended Viewing from this era: Episode 301 – The Cave Dwellers, Episode 424 – ‘Manos’ The Hands of Fate, Episode 512 – Mitchell (Joel’s Final Episode)
Comedy Central – The Mike Years 1993-1997
When Joel Hodgson left the show, series writer Mike Nelson took over hosting duties in the middle of the fifth season. A regular on the show by playing bit parts, Nelson brought a new look, feel, and tone to the show. He wasn’t the sleepy host that Joel was, he was energetic, enthusiastic, and snarky. These episodes, which ran until the show was cancelled in 1997, are like watching a machine in peak working order. After years of putting on this show, they had the formula down.
Recommended Viewing from this era: Episode 513 – The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (Mike’s first episode), Episode 619 – Red Zone Cuba, Episode 706 – Laserblast (the final Comedy Central episode).
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie – 1996
Though oddly promoted and hard for people to actually see in the theaters, this theatrical movie, where Mike and the bots riff on This Island Earth is hilarious. And it’s fun to see different parts of the spaceship and a higher production value.
The Sci Fi Channel 1997-1999
Back before it was SyFy, the Sci Fi Channel quickly picked up the rights to MST3K after the Comedy Central cancellation. These new episodes featured different “Mads” in Pearl Forrester, Professor Bobo (who was sort of an idiotic Dr. Zauis), and the ever-watchful Brain Guy. The sets were spruced up, production values increased (a little), and the show went on with a few new faces and new voices.
Recommended Viewing from this era: Episode 907 – Hobgoblins, Episode 908 – The Touch of Satan, Episode 1013 – Diabolik (the final episode).
Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic
Just because the show’s off the air doesn’t mean the riffing has to stop! While some of the original crew (including Joel Hodgson) went on to form direct-to-dvd riffs on crappy movies titled Cinematic Titanic, Mike Nelson and co. now host Rifftrax!
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