|By Matt Jones||Saturday, 24 Mar 2007|
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) is my favorite television show of all time. Not even close. Not only is it really a perfect formula for sarcastic bastards like myself (take bad movies and make fun of them), but I think it also helped shape my humor and sarcasm over the years.
However, reviewing something you love so much is a hard thing to do. A recurring theme among MSTies (fans of MST3K) is that “even the worst episode is better than 98% of what else is on television these days.” But amongst the 197 episodes of MST3K that were produced (21 on local access TV, 176 on various cable networks), there certainly is a hierarchy of good episodes, great episodes, classic episodes, and, yes, even some pretty poor episodes. So when you read one of the reviews and see a “Poor” or “Okay”, remember that is a Poor or Okay in terms of MST3K quality, not overall quality compared to other television shows.
Okay, so now that I’ve got that out of the way, here are the guidelines for how I will review each show.
First, the shows are numbered by Season first, then episode number within that season. Example: Manos, The Hands of Fate is episode 424. That means it is Season 4, episode 24. Final Justice is 1008, so Season 10, episode 8. You’re all smart, you’ll get it.
There will be three sections, based on the three major parts of the show that there is to criticize.
1. The movie – Possibly one of the most underrated sources of whether an episode will be good or bad. If you think that MST3K can make any movie bearable, you haven’t seen some of the worst movies on MST3K. Don’t let the myth of “Manos” fool you: there are much worse movies that even MST3K can’t save. In the movie section, I will do my best to do a quick rundown of the “plot” of the movie (sometimes, it seems like there is no plot) and will use the old Leone method of rating: “Good”, “Bad” or “Ugly”.
“Good” will mean that the episode is either silly enough to be just goofy or is actually not too poor of a plot line. You will notice a very biased trend towards poorly dubbed films in this rating system. I LOVE it when movies are dubbed so poorly that they make the writing for the show really easy. Fair warning: most, if not all, of my favorite episodes will be in this category (aka Season 3).
“Bad” will mean that while the movie isn’t a detractor from the episode, it doesn’t really do very much for the episode either. There will be a LOT of episodes from Season 4 in this category, as I like a lot of the riffing in that season, but find the movies to be dull or at the very least mundane.
“Ugly” is a category which will probably have the fewest episodes, but oh brother, are these films bad. It’s not that any of the movies in this series are really good, but the episodes listed as “Ugly” are some higher level of unwatchable. While most in the series are just poorly done, poorly directed, poorly written or just misplaced future silliness, the movies labeled “Ugly” just make you wonder who gave this person money. They are PAINFUL to watch, even with the guys riffing away. Typically, even the guys IN THE SHOW will mention how these movies are painful to watch, and they will mention it loudly.
2. The host segments – Here’s where things start to get really subjective. There are a few lineups that MST3K had throughout its ten season history. I shall list them here:
Satellite of Love Lineups:
- KTMA thru Season 1 – Joel Hodgson as Joel, Trace Beaulieu as Crow, Josh Weinstein as Tom Servo
- Season 2 thru Season 5, Episode 12 – Joel Hodgson as Joel, Trace Beaulieu as Crow, Kevin Murphy as Tom Servo
- Season 5, Episode 12 thru Season 7 – Mike Nelson as Mike, Trace Beaulieu as Crow, Kevin Murphy as Tom Servo
- Season 8 thru Season 10 – Mike Nelson as Mike, Bill Corbett as Crow, Kevin Murphy as Tom Servo
Deep 13 Lineups:
- KTMA thru Season 1 – Trace Beaulieu as Dr. Clayton Forrestor, Josh Weinstein as Dr. Larry Erhardt
- Season 2 thru Season 6 – Trace Beaulieu as Dr. Clayton Forrestor, Frank Conniff as TV’s Frank
- Season 7 – Trace Beaulieu as Dr. Clayton Forrestor, Mary Jo Pehl as Mrs. Forrestor
- Season 8 thru Season 10 – Mary Jo Pehl as Mrs. Forrestor, Kevin Murphy as Professor Bobo, Bill Corbett as Observer (Brain Guy)
Watch enough of these episodes, and typically you will find yourself favoring one lineup over the other. My biases? I like Joel over Mike, Josh and Kevin as Servo about the same, Trace over Bill for Crow, and the Dr. Forrestor/TV’s Frank lineup best for the Deep 13 lineups. The few things I dislike are Mary Jo Pehl as Mrs. Forrestor, Kevin Murphy as Bobo, and Josh Weinstein as Dr. Erhardt, though all of them have their moments. In this section, I’ll pretty much just break down whether I think the host segments are any good. Maybe even describe some of them for ya. You’ll see that when the people I like are there, I’m more likely to enjoy the host segments, but even when it’s something like Bobo and Mrs. Forrestor as the focus, there can be some really funny stuff (the Agent from H.A.R.M. episode has those two a lot and it’s got great host segments).
3. The riffing – Along with the host segments, the riffing in the theater can be seen completely differently by different people. This is the hardest part to describe, as it’s like trying to describe why something is or isn’t funny. Hence, this could end up being either the shortest section or the longest section, depending on the episode. I was trying to decide whether to do a “funny – funnier – funniest” grading scale for the riffing and the host segments, but I decided against it, because in the end, the riffing of the film is what will make up the biggest part of the final score. The riffing is what MST3K is all about.
Like all good review sites, I’m hoping that you read the review and try to see what I talk about in the episode to justify my rating of the episode. I’m going to try my damndest not to just go “Oh, Mighty Jack is freaking awesome, so it’s Classic” and then work back from there. I have my favorite episodes, but for the most part, it’s going to be a journey for me trying to classify all of these episodes. I watch the show often enough to try to have an episode per week, but even I’m not silly enough to promise things I can’t deliver on. I also probably won’t go in order, but I’ll talk to Zach or Andrew to figure out a way to get them all placed in order eventually so you won’t be bouncing around from episode to episode.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy my reviews of my favorite show. It’s going to be hard, but hell, it’s a pretty sweet task.