Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
One of my fondest memories was of the time my daughter Emma, not yet quite one was sitting on my lap, as together we watched TV. It was Saturday night and The Sci-Fi channel (Note back then it had not changed its name to the hashtag friendly Sy-Fy), was presenting the first run of Mystery science Three-Thousand’s send up of the Finial Sacrifice a movie about Canadian Ninjas. And my little girl laughed so loud it was bring people in form the other rooms. She roared with such delightful glee, I thought I had somehow broken the toddler.
I had been a MYST3K fan since a friend first showed me a VCR bootlegged copy of the Magic Sword episode. Since during that time I lived in Oxnard California and the local cable company Jones, kind of ran things like its own little fiefdom we didn’t get the episodes until it was moved on to the Sci-Fi network. But I have tried to catch up with as many of the episodes as possible.
So let’s explore the history of a uniquely American geeky show.
In 1988 a small Minneapolis TV station produced a show that would become a cult Phenomenon. That show was Mystery Science 3000. The show which premiered on KTMA, centered on a normal guy who was kidnapped by his employers two mad scientist and was launched in to a space station. Once he was there they forced him to watch the world’s cheesiest movies to see how long it would take to drive him crazy. To prevent him from going completely nutso he created a group of robots to help him make fun of the movies.
The shows that were watched were absolutely terrible. Few of them would ever get much air time just by themselves. What set Mystery Theater apart is the schlocky public domain movies was the ‘smart astronaut’ comments the trio of main characters made about huge steaming pieces of cinematic ooze.
The show was the brainchild of writer and prop comic Joel Hodgson. He played the role of space castaway Joel Robinson, where Trace Beaulieu played the evil mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forester, and the original voice of Crow T Robert. J Elvis Weinstein played provided the voice for Tom Servo for the first year.
The show ran for twenty-one episodes but was then picked up by the Comedy Channel (The forerunner of Comedy Central) as one of its two first shows. At this time Weinstein left the show and Kevin Murphy took over the voice of Servo. Frank Coniff signed on as Dr. Forester’s side kick TV’s Frank. During this time the series went form a thirteen episodes season to twenty-four. The show went form a regional phenomenon to a national cult following.
Eventually Joel Hodgson left the show. He said that it was because he had other projects. Joel was lying. He and his creative partner J. Mallon if he didn’t quit he felt the show would be torn apart. He was replaced by Mike Nelson, the shows head writer/TGIF waiter. In some places the Joel Vs Mike debate is as hotly argued ass the Kirk Vs Picard debate.
Under Mike the weekly invention gag was taken off the show. It was more Joel’s thing as he had started out as a prop comic. Replaced were recurring story lines about how Dr. Forester’s mother was chasing Mike and the bots across the universe. Encountering Brain Guy who kept his brain in a Petrie dish and Bo-Bo a planet of the apes reject. All the time keeping the mocking of bad movie formats.
In 1997 Bill Corbett took over the voice of Crow, re-christening the robot as Crow 2.0. he also played the part of the dimwitted super genius Brain Guy. He also co-wrote the Eddie Murphy comedy Meet Dave and has a new comic book coming out called Super-Powered Revenge Christmas.
The canned awesomeness that was MYST3K ended on August 8th 1998. With the polished piece of schlock that is Danger: Diabolik. During the original airing I was less concerned about what would happen to amoral spy Diabolik and his sexy partner Eva Kant, as to the ultimate fate of Mike and his robot friends. I won’t spoil it but the ending is this perfect little epilog that still makes me smile to this day.
So what is the gang doing now a days? Well would you be surprised if I told you mocking movies? Joel, Trace, and Frank, have a project where they rip on public domain movies, just like in the good old days. Called Cinematic Titanic. The crew is forced to watch bad movies sent to them by some unknown mysterious government agency for an unknown reason.
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, went a slightly different way with RifTraxs. What they do is record a running commentary on present day pop culture movies you can run while watching movies like star wars and The Twilight saga. You can’t be sued if you are not using the movie right? Sometimes they buy the rights to ridicule movies like the 1990’s suckfest Starship Troopers. There is this moment in the movie where Denise Richards is supposed to be flying a spaceship and she has this befuddled look that she goes through life with, and one of the Rifters shouts out “I like cupcakes.” Classic.
Tonight is of course the reason that the world was created in the first place is going to happen. RiffTrax live showing of Sharknado. (I gleefully tap my pre-bought ticks and laugh in anticipation.) Next month we have Riftraxs original Godzilla, and the month after that is Anaconda. See Minnesotans mock Angelina Jolie’s momma’s baby daddy being eaten by a giant snake!
Last month Bill Corbett made (according to him at least) his first visit to Portland. Where he joined on stage Portland geek band the Double Clicks and Internet singer Molly Lewis. He did a QA mainly about his misshaped head. Then explained to Bat Man that these where tough psychopathic thugs they weren’t going to be afraid of a flying rodent. Then he read off a list of 2014 movies titles from IMDB like The Confessions of a Portuguese Nun, And the Killer Bunny Thing. Then he pulled out a guitar and did a rendition of the actual words form the Star Trek TV show and a song about how everything is better with melted cheese on it, including America and democracy.
So why is it harder and harder to find fans of this amazing and funny show?
One thing is I think Rhino blew it big time in their release of the DVD’s. Unlike other series that release box sets for a whole season at a time, they released them in packages of four at a time. Sure there was some cool swag, mini-posters, and toy figures, but at $39.99 to $45.99 a pop it was hard to collect the whole series.
And well as much as I love the show some of their gags are dated. Riffing on actors who would have been old back in the nineties that the next gen of movie goers have never heard of. Let’s face even some of their jokes go over my head. About twenty percent of their jokes are set for a specific target audience, or are based on previous shows they have done. MST3k target audience is an unemployed Minnesota theater major who has a minor in 70’s and 80’s political events, who has an obsession for B movies. There is also the fact a lot of people would rather make their own ‘smart astronaut’ remarks about the movies.
But despite the fact that they can be dated, I still love MST3K, and sometimes laugh as hard as my one year old daughter when I see robot puppets or Canadian Ninjas.