Science-fiction humor and parody from the 90s – where can you go wrong?

Home Arts and Entertainment Science-fiction humor and parody from the 90s – where can you go wrong?

Mystery Science Theater 3000

Classic TV has long been one of my loves, including this gem, which is available both on DVD and through Netflix! The story goes like this: Begun in 1988 on a local cable-access channel in Minnesota by writer and comedian Joel Hodgson, and friends Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Patrick Brantseg and Jim Mallon, this humble little show was originally designed to poke fun at really bad and obscure public-domain movies. It’s grown into much more than that in the eyes of its fans, resulting in a cult phenomenon!

The back-story of the show is spelled out in the opening sequence: a worker in a shuttle loading bay at Gizmonic Institute (Hodgson, using his stage name of Robinson), and later a janitor of Deep 13 (named and played by Mike Nelson starting in 1993), is sent up into space in a strange bone-shaped contraption called the Satellite of Love, and is forced to watch horrible movies for all eternity! Fortunately he had the common sense to build companions to keep him sane (Tom Servo played by Murphy, Crow by Beaulieu, and Gypsy by Mallon and Brantseg), and with them he enters the theater on the command of the Mad Scientists, Dr. Clayton Forrester (Beaulieu), Dr. Erhardt (Weinstein) or TV’s Frank (Frank Conniff), and riffs (makes fun of quite efficiently and humorously) the material he’s being shown.

The format has a framing element as well, in the form of Host Segments which occur at specific intervals in the movie. In the early years this would comprise an Invention Exchange with Joel (and Mike at the beginning of his run) and the Bots (hereafter referred to as “subjects”) revealing a weird and wacky invention they’d prepared for that episode. This would be followed by the Mads revealing one of their own, more often cruel and unusual than the subjects’. After a brief introduction to the film, it’s sent to the subjects via an unknown means, and the subjects are coerced by tremors and flashing lights (“WE’VE GOT MOVIE SIGN!”) to enter the theater, and the experiment begins…

The format changed in later times, with a misadventurous drama playing out among the Mads, including a new addition, Pearl Forrester, Clayton’s mother, played by writer Mary Jo Pehl. She picks up a couple of movie characters and keeps them with her for similar reasons of sanity that the bots were created: Bobo (Murphy), a monkey straight out of a Planet of the Apes movie, and Observer (Bill Corbett), also known as Brainguy for his habit of carrying his brain outside his body, and who also has telekinetic powers.

Pearl’s sanity is quite suspect, however, and for no particular reason keeps hounding Mike and the Bots in her VW bus/rocketship throughout the galaxy; wormholes, strange planets and time itself are no barriers to her pursuit.

A movie was released in 1996 (starring only Dr. Forrester as a Mad) and featuring Mike and the Bots watching a better-than-average film, This Island Earth. There was still no shortage of snark from our heroes, and while they got no closer to home, they finally returned in 1999 with their last episode, parodying Danger: Diabolik!

I highly recommend checking this series out! Highlights include a contender for the worst movie ever made, “Manos” The Hands of Fate; a very ham-fisted Christmas episode, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians; proof that bad B-movies are not entirely without star power in Donald Pleasence’s performance in Puma Man; and even more bad movies await your perusal!

Remember, “if you’re wondering how he eats and breathes, and other science facts, then repeat to yourself it’s just a show; I should really just relax!”

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