Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mystery Science Theater 3000 = TV dynamite

I can distinctly remember the moment when I was introduced to Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show so perfectly suited for yours truly's wavelength that I couldn't believe my pupils. Terrible genre movies, torn to shreds by movie-savvy comedians, some in the guise of robots? Set on a spaceship? How had I not heard of the shit before?


The episode-that-christened-me was anchored by I Was a Teenage Werewolf, a Michael Landon-starring, darker-tinged precursor (of indirect sorts) to the '80s Teen Wolf. The odd thing was, for me, that I kinda already loved I Was a Teenage Werewolf, thought it was the "bees-knees," to salute the 1957-era the film was made in. The notion of it being regarded as a "bad movie" seemed blasphemic at first; No way, not that lycanthropic gem I re-watch on dubbed VHS weekly. The scene where Landon, having morphed into the hairy son-of-a-bitch, hunts a pretty co-ed in the school's gym, revealing his snarling self from behind a stage curtain....the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew, however, turned this and every other moment in the film into lampoon-fodder, roasting Teenage Werewolf for its inept script, chuckle-worthy dialogue, and overall mediocrity. And watching them go to town on my beloved wolf-show, I couldn't help but giggle along, in a revelatory "wow, they're right, this movie is pretty crappy" way. And from that point on, I made it a point-of-action to catch as many Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes as humanly possible. It had me, hook, line, and sinker.

Some greatest hits

[Worth saying here....I've had some friends and family watch MST3K with me in the past, and I've been met with mixed enthusiasm; some laughed, some were bored, others were angry at me. Whatever, shit's hilarious to me.]

Even to this day, I must admit, I'm not the walking-cinema-encyclopedia that I wish I could be, though I'm on a one-man mission to come as close to such classification as Netflix and $11-two-times-a-week-being-raped-by-AMC-and-or-Loews will bring me. But I am more knowledgeable than those around me, I can proudly state, and egghead-y to the point of holding my own amongst full-fledged film-drinkers. Which means, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is comedy tongue-wagging in my kinky ears. The amount of obscure and at-first-head-scratching movie trivia and references they toss at the putrid films they're watching is astonishing, and when I watch the episodes today, I find myself laughing even harder than my earlier viewer years. Back then, in early high school when I initially turned MST3K fanboy, I caught enough of the punchlines t0 very-much enjoy, but not as much as I felt I should've.

I should give a brief what-it-is here, though, for those surprisingly still reading this even though they don't know what the fuck I'm talking about...Joel Hodgson (later replaced by Mike Nelson) is a prisoner on spacecraft S.O.L. (Satellite of Love), held captive alongside two robot companions: Crow T. Robot, a bird-like machine, and Tom Servo, who resembles a R2D2-ish gumball dispenser. Their eternal punishment, to watch endless amounts of Z-grade films, the worst movies ever to see just how much horrible-movie-watching it'd take to turn a man insane. Like, when you'd say those snarky lines about music artists you can't stand, alonng the lines of "I'd rather sit in a locked closet with nothing but Soulja Boy songs playing on loop than go to work today." But Joel/Mike and the 'bots make the best of this damnation, firing insult-after-cynical-dart at the screen (we see them seated at the bottom of the screen as the film plays).


It's an insanely genius idea, first sprung into the pop culture landscape quietly back in 1988 on a Minneapolis public access TV station. In late-'89, Comedy Central picked it up, providing the backbone for MST3K's cult-status-uprising, which continued as the show switched to Sci-Fi Channel in 1997. Every now and then, I'll revisit one of the four DVD volumes I own (there's like 20-something total volumes, so clearly I need to step my game up some), and not a bad-movie passes by without me watching and thinking, "If I had a couple friends with me, we could easily go MST3K on this shit." Now, thanks to a 20th Anniversary DVD Box Set released last Tuesday, it's front and center. I've yet to buy this new goodness, sadly, though I plan on doing so once the holidays pass by and I've dropped my last coin on gifts.

Even when the writers were on the B-game-job, the show was still leaps and bounds funnier than anything else on TV, if you were (or are) a flick-head. Cinephile. Movie-obsessor. The films they'd watch---from the now-infamous Manos, The Hands of Fate to The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and The Leech Woman---were hilarious in and of themselves, so sprinkling razor-sharp and rapid-fire, perfectly timed wit atop the movies elevated festivities into manic entertainment.

Manos, the Hands of Fate episode clip


Hands down, one of my all-time favorite television programs, holding up beautifully over time and inspiring me just as much now as then. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is something I use a "nerdy rite of passage," an immediate source of cool-points-earned to those who recognize the name and profess their love upon my mentioning.

All I need now is for Comedy Central and/or Sci-Fi Channel to put repeats back into heavy rotation. Then, all y'all would finally see whhy the hell I'm laughing like a marijuana-filled youngster whenever a gumball dispenser treats poorly-crafted scenes like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

**Bonus Video: Some of the MST3K folks laucnched a new site called Rifftrax last year, where you can buy audio commentary tracks that sync up fluidly with new, popular films. Basically, cut-and-paste versions of MST3K, edited by the viewer....check this gem of a clip from their roasting of M. Night Shyamalan's most recent debacle The Happening, which firmly holds it's place amongst the worst movies I've ever seen. Here's one where, as I sat in the theater open-mouthed and awe of the film's utter shit-ness, I wished I was in a MST3K episode. Would've been too easy.

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