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MST3K Turns 20 and I Feel OLD!

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader


I can’t quite believe it myself – but Joel, the ‘bots, the “Satellite of Love” and the whole TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) turns 20 this Thanksgiving. That means when I first started watching (and falling in love with) MST3K, I was a punk high school kid not yet old enough to have a driver’s license. Does time fly!

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, essentially MST3K aired cruddy old movies where the host along with his robot (puppet) friends sat silhouetted at the bottom of the TV screen and made fun of the movie that was playing. Simple, funny and brilliant.

Back when MST3K was first broadcast and before the Internet made TV shows a commodity available for viewing both legally and illegally online, seeing a TV series that didn’t air in your area could be quite a challenge. Originally, MST3K aired on Comedy Central, which wasn’t carried by our local cable provider. So, the very first time I saw an episode of MST3K was when I believe MTV aired the episode Alien from L.A. as a sort of Comedy Central promotion in either 1989 or 1990.

Watching MST3K for the first time was a revelation. I had never seen anything quite like MST3K before – a TV series by movie geeks for movie geeks with humor directed as “us.”

Though I did see that first episode on my own, I must give props to almost all of my early MST3K exposure to my cousins Mo and Matt. They got Comedy Central and had made it a habit of taping every MST3K episode that aired. And whenever they’d come to Indiana for a visit, they’d bring those tapes and we’d spend hours in front of the TV watching countless episodes of the series.

Mo remembers, “Some of my best memories of MST3K are staying up late and watching one of their cheesiest flicks, or catching the marathon that they usually had on Thanksgiving. Nothing like being able to watch several hours of ‘riffing’ on bad movies after a good Thanksgiving dinner.”

Matt adds, “I still watch the series daily. There are rarely nights when I don’t fall asleep to Joel/Mike and the bots. MST3K is still one of the few things my brother and I can talk about for hours on end. It reminds me of a time when we were younger and didn’t have to worry what the world had in store for us.”

Up until MST3K I had assumed that all movies, even bad ones, deserved a modicum of respect. After MST3K I realized that movies, just like everything else in life, deserved to be looked at with a critical eye.

Eventually, Mo and Matt began mailing us tapes of the show. My brother and I treasured these cassettes for years, only loaning them out to our closest friends to make absolutely sure we’d get the priceless treasures back. It still bothers me to this day that one of the tapes we loaned out went missing and was never returned.

MST3K was popular enough that in the mid 1990s it began airing in syndication. I remember watching those episodes at 1 A.M. every Saturday and Sunday morning when it aired in our area. Completely off beat, but in tone with the series as a whole, each syndicated episode would be introduced by one of the MST3K hosts dressed and imitating Jack Perkins.

On several occasions, my brother and myself would laugh so hard during one of these late night viewings that we’d end up waking our mother up and would face punishment the next day.

In 1996 a feature film version of MST3K was released. The movie is good, but it’s a bit light and in my opinion it wasn’t able to capture the spirit of the TV show.

MST3K would air six years on Comedy Central before moving to SCI-FI Channel and airing three more years before ultimate cancellation in 1999. Nearly 200 episodes would be produced of the series, many of which are available on DVD.

A 20th anniversary Mystery Science Theater 3000 set containing several goodies as well as four of the shows “most-requested episodes” is currently available on DVD. E-mail me at words@dangerousuniverse.com

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