Comic Book Curious

Starter Guide: Mystery Science Theater 3000

July 27, 2021

Look, I get it, scrolling through an infinite number of shows seems overwhelming; even when someone tells me, “Oh, you should check out such and such” I get a feeling of dread because who knows if it’s worth the time or hassle. Some TV shows have countless episodes or have been running for decades and not all of those episodes are going to be good; there are going to be some clunkers.

This series is here to help you decide if a show is the right show for you by featuring a few highlights for you to check out and see if you want to watch more. These aren’t the best episodes, they’re accessible and ones you can just jump into.

Mystery Science Theater 3000, where to start?

This series got a revival a few years back but has been around since the late 1980’s with different casts, dynamics, writing teams, producers, and parent companies. There are more than 250 episodes spanning over 30 years and each is 90 minutes long, a serious time commitment. This is also a show where people google “best MST3K episode” and Manos: The Hands of Fate pops up. That movie is a goddamn project. It’s like saying you want to do a fun hike and you’ve never hiked before, so you try to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Manos feels like it takes forever and it’s only 70 minutes. The dialogue moves in a circle and some scenes will have 50 solid seconds of characters waiting for the cues. It’s insufferably torturous as a bad movie.

Don’t start there, start with …

1: MST3K: The Movie

Yes, there is a movie! It came out in 1996 right when the cast was shifting from the first to the second writing team so there is a nice blend of humor and writing styles. The movie they riff, This Island Earth, is a watchable movie by itself. It’s a 50’s classic and that helps keep the movie going because if the movie that is being mocked is bad, then it can be hard to sit through even with jokes. The production value of MST3K: The Movie is also strong as the TV show often had little to no money for things like lights or costumes. MST3K: The Movie’s plot is kept simple as a standalone movie. Mike is trapped in space by Dr. Forrester, a mad scientist that uses Mike as a test subject. Mike is forced to watch terrible movies so that Dr. Forrester can use those movies to take over the world. There are robots that the previous test subject built to keep himself sane; hilarity ensues. Weirdly, MST3K: The Movie is shorter than any of the TV episodes, so if this is not something you’re into, you won’t have to sit through as much of it.

a screenshot from "A Case Of Spring Fever"

2: The Shorts

While these might be a little hard to find now in terms of physical media (they’re mostly out of print), they’re all over YouTube. Some movies on MST3K were not long enough for broadcast TV, so to up the running time, they would watch and make fun of short films, usually instructional movies from the 50’s about why you should comb your hair or truck farming, whatever that is. These 8-to-12-minute shorts are bite sized and easy to breeze through. If you’re on your own and looking for a laugh, I would suggest…

  • "Cheating" (It’s about cheating)
  • "Gumby in Robot Rumpus" (It’s about Gumby and robots)
  • "Why study Industrial Arts" (It’s about studying Industrial Arts)
  • "What to do on a Date" (It’s about what to do on a date)
  • "A Case of Spring Fever" (It’s about a man who wishes for there to be no springs so Coily the spring sprite makes that happen and then haunts/pesters him about his springless existence)

a screenshot from "Space Mutiny"

3: "Space Mutiny" Season 8 Episode 20

Space Mutiny is about a space mutiny and a musclebound idiot who tries to stop it, even though the villain is sort of in the right to not want to aimlessly travel through space forever. It’s got lots of purchased plugin effects that are from Battlestar Galactica that clash horribly with the cardboard sets and factory basement where much of the action takes place. The pacing is good, and the riffs are on point. It’s from that era when everyone was trying to be Star Wars and failing. Oh, and at one point the hero, Punch Steakface, roasts a disabled man to death. Good times!

a screenshot from "The Mole People" MST3K

4: "The Mole People" Season 8 Episode 3

This is a good example of a classic 50’s movie that is not terrible by itself and isn’t totally stupid and nonsensical; it’s even got stars from that era like John Agar making the acting mostly competent. The plot is that somewhere in Asia (that narrows it down) a lost civilization is found living underground. The jokes are on point, the science is lame, the costumes are trying, and the archaeology is clumsy at best.

There are lots of these mass-produced drive-in 50’s flicks to choose from and they’re all pretty much the same, so if you can’t find it, I would suggest "Terror From The Year 5000" or "Revenge of the Creature" as that one has the exact same cast.

a screenshot from "Boggy Creek 2"

5: "Boggy Creek 2: The Legend Continues" Season 10 Episode 5

When a delusional director casts himself and his son in a movie sequel to a film series that already had a sequel, hires hot girls to roll around in the mud, and films the whole thing in Arkansas, you get this. The editing helps keep this inept, sweaty, humid looking mess moving and it’s never a dull moment in Texarkana. Oh, also there is a bigfoot looking thing in there. This one isn’t the best, but it’s an easy watch and a prime example of an early version of some of the more famous narcissistic directors of today like James Nguyen (Birdemic) and Neil Breen (Fateful Findings). The jokes are on point and that’s really where you want to be with these.

If you can handle this last one, you’re ready:

a screenshot from "Jack Frost"

6: "Jack Frost" Season 8 Episode 13

A Russo-Finish co-production of a folktale, "Jack Frost" is something a little different. It’s weird, bizarre, but never boring. The dubbing is excellent, and the sets are solid, but everything else is a fairy tale nightmare; not that I’m complaining. It’s also not heavy sci-fi either and is closer to something like, well… yikes I don’t know but a guy who is a mushroom turns another guy into a bear while a woman waters a stump and talks to flowers. It’s a little out there as a movie but the jokes are solid as ever and the movie is at least entertaining in its bizarreness. It’s an excellent benchmark for future fun nonsense with MST3K.

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