It’s a good time to be a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. RiffTrax, featuring MST3K alumni Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, is making its television debut on April 1, 2014 in partnership with the National Geographic Channel. And Retro TV has secured the rights to show a number of MST3K episodes, beginning July 5, 2014. Of course, it’s worth noting that RetroTV has a fairly limited coverage (it’s not available in my hometown of Philadelphia – nooo!) and RiffTrax can be best described as a kind of spiritual successor to MST3K – but still, when your favorite show has been off the air since 2004, you take what you can get.
The premise of the series was simple: a man (played originally by the show’s creator Joel Hodgson and later by Mike Nelson) and his robot sidekicks (Crow and Servo) trapped in space are forced to watch terrible movies as part of a mad scientist’s plot for world domination. But laughter proves the best medicine, as the cast survives each awful hunk of celluloid by providing a hilarious running commentary. The movie is punctuated by a number of host segments that relate in some way to the film.
Hopefully the RiffTrax special and Retro TV’s reruns will rekindle interest in what TIME magazine named one of the top 100 television shows of all time. With that in mind, I’ve assembled a list of the top 5 “beginner-friendly” episodes of MST3K for those that are interested in the best this cult classic has to offer.
Season 3, episode 3: Pod People
A solid episode from the Joel era. A lonely young boy befriends a newly-hatched alien while a horrifyingly untalented band goes camping. A strange mishmash of unrelated plots and some really on-point host segments make this a favorite episode of many fans.
Why it’s a classic: “Idiot Control Now,” Joel’s fantastic, hilarious mockery of the incomprehensible “song” the band records in an early part of the movie.
Season 8, episode 20: Space Mutiny
A man named for a line of beauty products tries to take over an enormous spaceship under the command of Santa Claus. I especially like the part where they outright steal footage from the original Battlestar Galactica.
Why it’s a classic: Reb Brown’s uber-macho David Ryder is given a number of nicknames by Mike and the bots, including, among others: “Slab Bulkhead! Big McLargehuge! Dirk Hardpeck! Gristle McThornbody!”
Season 9, episode 10: Final Sacrifice
A nerdy kid teams up with a mullet-ed drifter to stop an evil cult. Of all of the pop culture exports we’ve endured from Canada over the years, this is probably the worst.
Why it’s a classic: Zap Rowsdower, one of MST3K’s best-known “heroes.”
Season 9, episode 4: Werewolf
A team of archaeologists discover the skeleton of a werewolf. Anyone who cuts themselves on said skeleton turns into a guy in a gorilla suit – I mean, a werewolf.
Why it’s a classic: The lead actress’s unconvincing and deadpan delivery of the line, “This is uhb-solutely fascinating.”
Season 5, episode 6: Eegah
A young woman and her dune-buggy obsessed, play-doh faced boyfriend investigate the appearance of a seven-foot-tall caveman.
Why it’s a classic: “Watch out for snakes!” calls a disembodied voice early in the movie, and an MST3K in-joke was born.
If you enjoyed any of these classic episodes, be sure check out RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic, a similar MST3K spin-off created by Joel Hodgson. Don’t forget to tune in on April 1 for the three-part “Total Riff Off” on National Geographic. And, if you’re lucky enough to receive Retro TV, mark your calendar for MST3K’s return on July 5.
Any classics I missed? Sound off in the comments!