Monday, November 24, 2008

Twenty Years Ago Today a Man and Two Robots Started Watching Bad Movies...

Geez, has it been twenty years?

On November 24, 1988 the tiny Minneapolis UHF station KTMA aired some filler featuring local comedians talking over bad movies and making fun of them. It was not the first time something like this had been done but for whatever reason it got the attention of executives of the just forming Comedy Channel and they went national next year. And so Mystery Science Theater 3000 was born leading to a vast movie riffing empire that continues to this day.

In honor of MST3K-day I'm going to watch the Rifftrax of The Happening (I saved a really stinky one for the show's birthday), and point out my favorite episodes from each of the ten seasons it aired nationally:

  • Season 1 - Project Moonbase - The production was rougher than even the minimal standards of later years, the cast would change immediately going into season 2, and yet the humor was already there. And how can I select anything other than the one episode written by Robert Heinlein.
  • Season 2 - Rocket Attack USA - Besides being the episode where the stinger concept came from (the blind man wandering the streets during the nuclear panic saying "Help me" in as dead of monotone as you can make inspired them), it was also the first episode I ever watched. The ending must be seen to be believed.
  • Season 3 - War of the Collossal Beasts - The production values hit their stride and just about any of the episodes from this point on could be selected as that season's greatest. I have to give the nod to War of the Collossal Beasts, though, not for the main episode but instead for the short: "Mr. B. Natural". The andogynous musical pixie would haunt MST3K fans nightmares for years to come.
  • Season 4 - Manos: The Hands of Fate - The season with Ed Wood, Monster-A-Go-Go, Killer Shrews, and "Tor-cha!" but can there be any choice other than the most infamous film ever featured on the show. Who can forget how the haunting Torgo's Love Theme rocketed to number one on the charts as a result.
  • Season 5 - Mitchell - The episode where they arrest Harlan Ellison ("Good!"). Oh and original host Joel escapes to be replaced by the series's head write Mike thus triggering the second eternal Internet flame war (right after Kirk v. Picard).
  • Season 6 - Red Zone Cuba - Even with the hysterically funny mirror universe episode (Last of the Wild Horses) the nod has to go to one of the Coleman Francis trilogy; one of the great finds of MST3K his directing career will now live forever.
  • Season 7 - Laserblast - Coming to the end of the run on Comedy Central I have to go with Laserblast as both an astoundingly bad movie and the end of an era.
  • Season 8 - Space Mutany - Revived at the scifi channel but under a narrower mandate: only science fiction and fantasy films and no shorts, they showed that they could survive a network jump intact. Space Mutany stands out that year as an attempt to do a space opera in the same way that rock bands in the 1970's attempted to do opera: loud, with borrowed features, and poorly.
  • Season 9 - Hobgoblins - The chain was loosened and other genres started slipping in including this horror film which couldn't scare anyone.
  • Season 10 - Squirm - The second to last episode is one of my favorites since I have a certain fondness for the 1970's animals go crazy and kill people horror subgenre (a surprisingly deep one, too). This time it's earthworms and it's paired with one of the greatest shorts that they've ever used: "A Cast of Spring Fever" where a man wishes for a world without springs and quickly repents of it.