Friday, December 17, 2010

how I got this way -- post-childhood influences: MST3K

I wrote a very detailed version of this post last night, with much windy text and many clips.  It took me about two hours, and then Blogger ate it when I was trying to post.  This one will be less ambitious -- probably less text and more clips.

I've been running an occasional feature called "how I got this way," featuring the cartoons that I watched endlessly as a very young child.  But I've had plenty of TV obsessions as an adult...I believe I once went on at great length in this blog about Friday Night Lights.  But I've also gone crazy for Ren & Stimpy (the first John K ones), and never stopped watching SNL.

I was an insane fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, often known as MTS3K.  I taped episodes and watched them over and over and over.

The premise of the show, like the show itself, is pretty silly.  Two mad scientists shoot their janitor into space, placing him on a ship called the Satellite of Love.  To ease his boredom and loneliness, he builds himself a few robots (actually puppets).  Unfortunately, without the parts he used to make the robots, he can't fly the ship to return to earth.  To make things worse, the mad scientists force him to watch awful old movies. These are referred to as "experiments," though what the scientists, known as "the mads," are attempting to discover is pretty fuzzy.  (The theme song deals with the overall fuzziness this way:  just repeat to yourself, it's only a show, I should really just relax.)

Joel and "the 'bots" respond to the bad movies like many people do:  they talk back to the screen and make fun of the movie.  So most of the show is a terrible old movie, usually sci-fi, with the silhouettes of Joel and two robots in the lower left-hand corner, riffing on the movie.  There are also "host segments" which sometimes relate to the movie and sometimes not.  Early on, there was an "invention exchange" with the mads on every show, taking advantage of the real Joel's early career as a prop comic.  (The character is named Joel Robinson and the creator/actor is Joel Hodgson, and both are usually referred to as Joel.)

Even when it went from being a local show on KTMA in Minneapolis-St. Paul to a well-liked show on Comedy Central (and later on the Sci-Fi channel), it still had a kind of DIY look and feel to it, and it continued to be produced in the Twin Cities.

First, a very young Joel doing his stand-up/magic/prop comic act.  (I hesitate to even use the term "prop comic," since it conjures images of the awful and terrifying Carrot Top.  But hang in there -- Joel is terrific.)

Here's a little clip reel from three of the earlier "experiments."

I am particularly fond of the host segments where a particularly stupid scene from a movie is parodied by Joel and the 'bots -- especially if it involves a song.  This is from Pod People, not my top favorite episode, but one of them.  But I think it's my favorite host segment.  This clip shows the original song and then the host parody, complete with reaction from the mads.

Pod People actually had *two* really great host segment parodies.  Here's the movie clip, and the parody, of Trumpy, the pod person in Pod People:

Favorite episode, hands-down?  Manos, the Hands of Fate.  Here's a chunk that includes the bizarre Torgo with his creepy theme music.  Unfortunately, the final host segment, involving a faux-Torgo delivering pizza to the mads, has been sliced neatly in half between segment 9 and segment 10.  I'll post 10, the end of the Torgo/pizza bit, which also includes the closing credits.  You can see that pretty much everyone on the show did two or three different things, including occasionally appearing in a skit.

For instance, the guy who plays one of the mads also plays one of the robots and something else, maybe some design thing?  Joel did half of the jobs on the show. The whole cast is on the writing staff.   And Mike Nelson, the head writer who played Torgo in the last skit, took over as host after Joel left the show.  Mike's married to one of the other writers who occasionally does a skit.  And one of the other writers played a new mad scientist after one of the others left.  There's more cool stuff, but I'm sure I want you all to know what an incredible MST3K dork I am.  (The correct word for me and my ilk is "MSTies," pronounced misties."


Strangely enough, I couldn't find a clip of just the opening theme. This is the beginning of Pod People, which for some reason is not embeddable.  The theme is chock-full of exposition and low-rent props.

If you love this, it's available through Netflix, and apparently also in ten-minute segments on YouTube.  YouTube sure does rock, as I'm sure I said before.    (There are also MST3K shorts on YouTube, which are also pretty great.

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