Thursday, April 10, 2008

In the not-too-distant future...

What do you get when you put a man and some robots on a satellite and force them to watch awful movies?

Only one of the greatest shows of all time, Mystery Science Theater 3000.

First airing on a Twin Cities UHF station in 1988, the show went through multiple channel and schedule changes, but still kept the original idea and spirit. In the beginning, a research facility janitor named Joel Robinson (played by series creator Joel Hodgson) is sent into space by his bosses. He is forced to watch terrible movies, and his reactions are studied. His only companions on the satellite are the robots he himself built. Two of them, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, join him in the theater to joke about the films. Hodgson eventually left the series in its fifth season, and the head writer, Mike Nelson, was brought in as the new host/victim. The evil mad scientists that ran the game were replaced by one of their mothers, along with an omniscient alien with his brain in a pan and a primate (literally) professor.

Though the outer space setting would definitely seem to firmly cement the show in the “science fiction” column, the connections often were somewhat tenuous. As the theme song says, “if you’re wondering how he eats and breathes, and other science facts, just repeat to yourself 'it’s just a show, I should really just relax'.” The characters constantly flouted the laws of science and physics, doing things like taking sharp left turns in space and venturing outside the satellite without any sort of protection from the vacuum of space. However, many of the movies they were forced to watch had science fiction, fantasy, or horror themes. (A rule from which they often deviated, even in the years on the SciFi channel, who were far more strict about it than Comedy Central had been.)

Part of what makes the show so significant to us is its postmodernist nature. The structure was mostly its own, but the jokes during the movies were PACKED with references. They range from the lowbrow (dish soap commercials and Hagar the Horrible) to the erudite (Mark Rothko and Archduke Ferdinand). It’s difficult to catch everything they say the first time. This makes the show ripe for rewatching multiple times. You always catch something you missed before. Attempts have been made to compile a sort of reference for the sources of all of the quotes, but these aren’t always very thorough.

MST3K was a bizarre concept that somehow caught on. It starred nobody famous or glamorous, had production values lower than some of the films they watched, and every episode is two hours long. However, the intelligence that clearly existed in the crew was able to show through in its own unique way. Unfortunately it ended in 1999, with reruns continuing only for a couple years more. However, its spirit lives on.

For more information, there are many comprehensive website dedicated to the show.
Satellite News
There are also many episodes available on DVD (or on YouTube).

1 comment:

Rebecca Roth said...

I absolutly loved this show. I use to watch a lot of it when I was yonger when they use to show repeats forever ago on Comedy Central. It's a brillant show and the writing really pushed the series to be something better than just a guy and his two robots watching crappy old movies. The MST300 movie was really funny too... now I have the theme song in my head: "The worst they could find.. na na na"