Mystery Science Theater 3000
Thanks for coming to my pages on the best show in the history of television, Mystery Science Theater 3000. Here you can find:
- This page: the premise and history of the program, what made it so great, and where to find out more about the show and its creators and actors
- My favorite MST moments
- Essential MST links
Now, turn down your lights (where applicable)...
"In the not too distant future..."
In 1989 America's TV-viewing public was blessed by the arrival of Mystery Science Theater 3000 ... the best show in the history of television.
MST was innovative, insightful, well written, well respected, on the cutting edge of literary theory,* and most of all, really, really funny. Mystery Science Theater's legions of fans ... MSTies ... were and are, well, maybe the best word is ... addicted.
*(I quote: "Newer models of the consumption of popular culture have a lot in common with a show such as Comedy Central's Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which wise-cracking characters watch B movies and provide running commentary. The characters in MST3K represent what's known in literary studies as 'resisting readers.' They don't merely soak up what they see, they actively process information, spin it to their own purposes, and critique it." [Nick Gillespie, "View Masters," Reason, February 1996].)
Hi. My name's Andrew, and I'm a MSTie. ("Hi Andrew!")
I stumbled onto MST by accident in 1991, fairly soon after they first went national. So I'm proud to say I've been a MSTie almost from as early as someone not from Minnesota could be. It was several more years before I joined the MST3K Info Club and got member number 39974. (Some fans seem to have a thing about how low their member numbers are. So I'll just note that had I joined the club as soon as I began watching the show, my number would be waaaaaay lower than yours, pal.)
"...there was a guy named Joel..."
If you're not familiar with the show, here's the premise.
Joel Robinson, a nice guy with a flair for clever inventions, is working as a janitor at Gizmonics Institute. Two evil scientists, Dr Forrester and Dr Erhardt, jealous of his inventive skills and in need of a test subject, smack him over the head and shoot him into space. There, aboard the Satellite of Love (or SOL), he's forced to watch bad movies, while the doctors observe the movies' effects upon him.
But Joel, being the resourceful type, builds some robot pals to keep him company. These include the (usually unseen) Cambot, Gypsy (a supporting character who runs the SOL's higher functions), and his two main companions, Crow T. Robot (the T stands for the), a gold-plated guy who looks vaguely bird-like, and Tom Servo, a fireplug-shaped robot with a big voice and even bigger attitude.
Together, Joel, Crow, and Tom sit in the SOL's theater, watching their really bad movies (did I mention they're really bad?) and making very, very funny comments (the "riffs"). At the time, some people apparently complained about "Why don't those guys in the corner just shut up so we can watch the movie?" The thing is, the funny comments are the point of the show!
Joel and the 'Bots (J&TB) crack jokes. They sing songs and write their own skits. They can be really insightful, and really lame, making bodily-function jokes and citing Foucalt or Stephen J. Cannell, high art or pop culture, all within the space of a few seconds.
"When we write a joke, we never ask who's going to get this?
We always say, The right people will get this."
— Joel Hodgson, series creator and the actor who played Joel Robinson,
slightly paraphrased, but that's pretty much what he said.
Early in the series, TV's Frank replaces Dr Erhardt. Later, Joel Robinson escapes from the Satellite of Love, and Mike Nelson becomes the new test subject (and the show's new host). Later still, TV's Frank ascends into Second Banana Heaven. New actors arrive, the show is cancelled on Comedy Central and picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel. And eventually, it ends.
Want to know more? Read the MST3K FAQ.
The show ran for ten years on two different networks. And then it went away, leaving us bereft and alone.
And we'll always have the CDs...
...and the book...and the websites...and the discussion groups...and people's massive sound and image collections (thanks for all the work, you guys)...and the post-MST books and essays on and various other things the former cast and crew members have done.
But it's not the same!
Update! It's still not the same, but maybe it's pretty darn similar?
Are you up to speed with Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax and even The Film Crew? (The latter has announced they have no plans to release further projects, but the four episodes they produced are now available free of charge on Hulu and YouTube.) I don't want you to miss out.
"...repeat to yourself: It's just a show, I should really just relax."
As with anything that people tend to feel really passionate about, mentioning individual likes and dislikes about MST3K can lead to heated discussions sometimes. Nevertheless (and keeping in mind that nothing I say here can be as inflammatory as pointing out that "government" is nothing but an organized criminal conspiracy), I'll state a few preferences.
As much as I liked all ten seasons, the early years (seasons 2-4, say) are my favorite. The cast seemed to have a real exuberance -- the sort of thing that I described elsewhere as a certain disbelief that they were getting paid to do this.
Later, certainly by the Sci-Fi years, much of that intial exuberance was lost. And while the show was still funny, I often got the sense the cast was tired. And so while I'm glad to find MSTies who became fans during the Sci-Fi seasons, I still think it's a little sad that they didn't really get a chance to see the show during the early Comedy Central years (when the show jumped from CC to Sci-Fi, CC stopped showing its MST reruns cold turkey).
As long as I'm grousing about things, I also never really got into the extended host-segment story lines we got in the final seasons. I'm sure the reason we had them was so the cast and crew could keep the show interesting for themselves (as well as us viewers, of course). But for me, it was mostly just a distraction from the movies.
Re the various hosts and actors: I loved Joel, and I loved Mike. They're both great. And while Mike is arguably more talented as an actor, I, like all MSTies, am deeply indebted to Joel for inventing the show in the first place, and for the big-heartedness he showed in letting the show continue even when he was ready to move on to other things. "If you love it, set it free..." (retch).
And Mother Forrester? Well, to quote Gypsy, "I don't get you." She was never as interesting, or as comic, as her son, whose goofy malevolence and incompetence seemed to fit the show's premise much better than Pearl's unnamed anger. This isn't a reflection on Mary Jo Pehl, who's a fine talent. But just like how for us Sherlockians "it is always 1895," for me — as, I suspect, for many MSTies — the classic MST bad guys will always be Dr Forrester and TV's Frank "way down in Deep 13."