11 Times Mystery Science Theater 3000 was the Best at Everything

By Loryn Stone

 

I love nerd shit.

I consider myself a very active part of two fandoms: Sailor Moon and Mystery Science Theater 3,000. From collecting, to cosplaying, to acting as an Admin for a Sailor Moon group on Facebook, I am balls deep to the point where my 20 year love affair with the fandom inspired the novel I wrote, My Starlight, set for publication on August 3rd 2018 by Affinity Rainbow Publications.

I’m sorry, I’m too excited not to plug it.

The second fandom, Mystery Science Theater 3,000 (or MST3K as we MSTies call it) is nothing short of a fucking pleasure. This show has such a long and amazing history, getting its start on Public Access back in 1988. From there, the show evolved quickly. It was on The Comedy Channel, which became Comedy Central, where it eventually found a home on Sci-Fi, and now today on Netflix with the seasons 11/12 revival.

But somehow, the show always maintained a cozy, intimate niche. The merchandise was available direct from the Best Brains Inc. catalogue, hopefully out of Joel’s living room. Most of my collection came from it, other than the Rhino VHS and DVD boxsets and the books written by the cast. I (still have) all my posters, CDs, Post-It Notes, Host Segment VHS tapes, Shorts VHS tapes, Outtakes VHS tapes (called Poopie) the Triple Decker Musical Segment DVD (that has far fewer songs on it than it should, total bummer).

Sadly, my Crow t-shirt stating “You Know You Want Me, Baby!” has long since fallen apart. That was indeed a tragic day in MSTieVille.

But even with my love for the series as strong as it is, I have a confession to make:

I have not seen every episode.

It’s seriously a very difficult task to accomplish! Hell, there’s 11, soon to be 12 official seasons, plus Season Zero from KTMA Public Access. And as every devout fan knows, no matter how good or funny the riffing is, no matter how hilarious the host segments, sometimes those movies…those fucking movies…are just too hard to sit through.

Go ahead and ask me how many times I fell asleep during The Creeping Terror.

But this show, this fandom, deserves to have its praises sung. I love this fandom. The people I have met, mostly on Twitter, who love MST3K as much as I do are the nicest people in the world. Sweet, warm hearted people who want to help each other, are friendly and accommodating, are empathetic and kind. We laugh together, we quote our favorite lines together, we sing together, and we fucking cosplay together.

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Siiiiiiiiick

Therefore today, I’m going to celebrate my favorite of the favorite moments and people in this amazing show that changed my life, eleven times the show could do no wrong, like when they gave us the best:

 

11. Host

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The controversy around favoring one host over the other is what MST3K fan fights are made of. Someone learns you’re a fan of the show? Great! Their questions come in this order:

Them: You love Mystery Science Theater? Me too! What’s your favorite episode? Oh my god, that one is hilarious! All right, I’ve gotta ask…who’s the best host? Joel or Mike?

MSTK3K

Joel or Mike, Joel or Mike, Joel or Mike. Pick the wrong answer and you’re sent to MSTie Hell. It’s hard…both guys are amazing!

That said, my favorite host is Joel.

My feelings for Joel are visceral. I look at that man and I want to take him to the moon. I want to do things to him that fan fictions are made of. I look at his calm, mellow face, sweet, lopsided grin and I want to just do naughty things to him. I love the dorkiness of the invention exchange, which just faded away when Mike took over. I love his cracking voice and inability to sing. I love the fact that he, in his isolated and lonely state built four fucking robots! And still went back up to help Mike and the bots in Soultaker. Mike’s the bro and he gets my full love…but Joel…man…

MST3K Daddy.

10. Robot

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My favorite MST3K robot is…CROW!

I love Gypsy’s braindead blathering, which has sadly vanished in the Revival. I love Tom Servo’s sense of importance (and overwhelming tendency to dress in drag). But Crow’s biting sarcasm and snark nail it for me. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have “Patrick Swayze Christmas”, which as we know, has become a standard.

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But truthfully, part of what attracts me to Crow is his consistency. I can always count on Crow to be Crow. My biggest issue with Tom Servo is that he changes so severely with every new voice actor. I mean, hell, Servo was only beeping during the earliest KTMA episodes. From there, Josh Weinstein provided one iteration. Kevin Murphy solidified the personality and flair of Tom Servo with his interpretation. But come Season 11, Baron Vaughn, despite his efforts, just couldn’t give me a Servo performance I could connect with.

With Crow, it’s the complete opposite. Trace Beaulieu’s performance as Crow was the flagship and just absolutely incredible. It was scary when Trace left and Bill Corbett came in (with the intro even stating “I’m different!” for Crow’s appearance), but Bill picked up where Trace left off so perfectly, in my opinion. Like when Brian Johnson replaced Bon Scott in AC/DC. It was the best replacement it could be if there had to be one. And now in Season 11, Hampton Yount is freaking killing it, with his version of the character falling somewhere between Trace and Bill. I love it. I’m stoked. I feel right at home.

 

9. Mad

Pearl
What a performer. Mmm.

My favorite MST3K mad will always be the second iteration of Pearl Forrester. The one that hangs out in a VW Bus with her cronies Brain Guy and Bobo before moving into a kick ass castle with them.

This isn’t to say that Dr. Clayton Forrester isn’t one of the best things to happen to television ever. He so very much is. But for me, Dr. Forrester isn’t much without Frank. The two of them play off each other beautifully. And when Frank left and Original Mama Pearl jumped in, it just wasn’t a very comfortable dynamic to watch.

If you ask me, Dr. Forrester is Joel’s Villain. Pearl belongs to Mike and Mike alone. The way she messes with him is amazing. Her sexual tension with Brain Guy is intriguing. Her energy and phenomenal! Loving Lovers Love and Public Pearl make me laugh until I’m crying.

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Photo Credit: Gil Riego Jr. Photography

Plus, she’s my favorite person to cosplay. She reminds me of myself, and representation for all in the media is very, very important.

 

8. Mad Sidekick

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My favorite MST3K Mad Sidekick goes to TV’s Frank.

When he joined the show in Season 2, it was a relief. I didn’t have any issue with Josh Weinstein. But I didn’t have any connection to him either. He just existed. Frank was amazing. I wanted to give him a hug. He was cluelessly meddling, the same as Forrester, and the two of them were as perfect together as Bert and Ernie. From his “working at Arby’s” fast-food backstory, to corresponding in secret with Dr. Forrester’s Mom, there’s nothing Frank can do wrong in my eyes.

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And the actor, Frank Conniff, looks exactly the same today.

Plus, there are few moments better than when Frank sings When Chauffeurs Rule the World, says “Daddy, there’s a boy outside. His name is Tom,” or had his blood drained and replaced with motor oil.  

(Gotta say though, Brain Guy is a close second, Very, very close)

7. Invention Exchange

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My favorite invention exchange has got to be Joel’s Smoking Jacket / Dr. Forrester’s Robotic Arm Wrestling from episode 3-01, “Cave Dwellers”. Something about it– Forrester with his backwards cap. The hilarious camera work, zooming in on Forrester and Frank’s grimacing faces. The whole idea of Robotic Arm Wrestling, with the alien referee present. Joel and the bots jumping up and down yelling “Frank (Frank) Frank (Frank)”, followed by “Forrester, Forrester, Doctor Clayton Forrester!”

Which is something I chant to this day when I’m feeling cute.

Sure, there are more creative inventions over the course of the series. But something about the timing to this one, starting with the opening segment where all the dudes are giving themselves new names, up through Forrester’s “Wait for it!” and moving right into the Invention Exchange, this entire portion is perfect.

 

Host Segment

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All right- you might say I’m cheating a little, but I’m going with the Idiot Control Now sequence from Pod People. Yes, this should qualify as a musical segment/song, but I’m not for two reasons. One, it’s not on my Triple Decker DVD. And two, it’s not on my Clowns in the Sky CD. Therefore, if the boys don’t qualify this hilarious segment as a musical segment, then neither do I.

This host segment is nothing short of a big blast of ballistic hilarity.

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If you haven’t seen the episode, there’s a terribly wonderful scene where a smug-singer jerk is singing a retched song with three female backup singers grooving behind him. He keeps making what I suppose are fuck-eyes at the surveyors. At the recording dock, there’s a girl (“the producer’s daughter”) and a man wearing a shirt that reads I’m a Virgin. They comment “He’s pretty good!” to which Virgin man scoffs and says “Good? He’s the BEST.”

idiot control

At the end of the song, the singer flashes the three-fingers A-OK sign before sneering and declaring “It stinks!”

So, of course, the boys had to do it even better, with hilarious lyrics that are almost nonsensical.

 

5. Song

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While few things beat the hilarity of the song Clowns in the Sky, Loving Lovers Love and Tubular Boobular Joy today I’m giving top billing to Hired! Original Broadway Cast. Simply because of how grand the production of it was. This song came after the strange “Buy Chevrolet” short the boys were forced to watch.

I love how each character has a unique part in the song, really tying in that musical theater vibe. It also sounds like everyone is really bringing their singing A-Game, including Gypsy’s off-key “Come on and have some LEMONADE!” and Tom Servo’s “I suck at my job!”

That said, The Waffle Song still comes out of my face on the regular while I’m making breakfast.

 

4. Short

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Oh, my stars, there are just so many good shorts. From No Springs, to Personal Hygiene, Dairy Farm, The Home Economics Short, and so many amazing ones. But the best for me is the disaster that is Mr. B Natural.

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It’s such a staple. Everything about this short is so bizarre. Even as the guys put it, Mr. B Natural is like some kind of strange Peter Pan sprite of music. There are so many amazing riffs in this movie. “Oh, Mr. B….Mr. B, you’re hot!” Up to “We’re white, we’re white, we’re really, really white.” And Crow’s shouting of “Yeah, great that’s really nice…Mooooooooom!” when Mr. B appears in the protagonist of the short’s room when teaching him about the wonders and magic of music.

 

3. Movie

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This one is a catch. We all have our favorites. The best of the best. And for me, those bests are Cave Dwellers, Space Mutiny, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, Manos the Hands of Fate, Eegah, Soultaker, Mitchell, and Pod People. But which one reigns supreme for me? The movie I can watch at any time when someone says “Let’s watch MST3K?”

Cave Dwellers, hands down. Followed by Overdrawn at the Memory Bank.

Before I saw Cave Dwellers, I’d been subjected to mostly the unwatchable black and white films. The Creeping Terror, Bloodlust, and a few others. Cave Dwellers was not only the first color film I saw on the series (yes, it made a difference) but it was the first episode I quoted with a madness that would officially convert me into a MSTie.

 

2. Joke/Quote

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Fewer things are more satisfying that yelling out a really enthusiastic “WE’VE GOT MOVIE SIGN!”. But after that, it’s hard to peg down. While I laugh myself stupid every time I watch Mitchell and the boys sing “Mitchell, high on the sammich! Mitchell, heart’s pounding. Mitchell, vein’s clogging, MITCHELL!” followed by some mean wakka chikkas…. I think one joke that makes me lose my mind is…

Tom Servo’s Manos Rant

The first time I watched the atrocious Manos: The Hands of Fate and this scene popped up near the end of the film, I think I laughed myself off my chair. Like, literal on the floor laughing. This is riffing and (what feels like) improv at its best.

One way I knew that this joke was the master was when I watched the RiffTrax boys do Manos: The Hands of Fate live recording. Their jokes were very different from the MST3K riff, and it was great. But when this scene came at the end of the movie and there was no Tom Servo Manos Rant, I definitely felt its loss.

 

1. Original Nightmarish Design

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This might seem like a strange category, but keep in mind that I love prototypes, original designs, and weird things that once were. I adore seeing the original bot designs, set designs, voices used for characters and personality traits that have come and gone. And while Original Cambot is nightmare fuel, but few things are as terrifying as Original Gypsy.

And yes, that is the BEST.

It’s not even so much the look, which is basically a skin and bones version of her. Kind of like the MST version of C3PO in Episode I without his gold plating.

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Fear.

Some wonderful MSTie also caught on to the terrifying majesty that was original Gypsy and made this video here so you can really understand the fear-inducing grunt screams that came out of this character before Jim Mallon reeled it in with his sweetly adorable muppety interpretation.

We’ve reached the end of our countdown! Do you agree? Disagree? What are your favorite moments from the show? Tell us, because we want to know!

And until then…

Push the button, Frank.

Follow Loryn on Twitter and let her be your Clown in the Sky. Her debut novel My Starlight (a queer YA contemporary about anime, cosplaying, and loss) will be released by Affinity Rainbow Publications on August 3rd, 2018.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Awesome!!!!! I loved how we met because of your Pearl Forrester cosplay at Wondercon!!!

    I would have to say my top episodes are Manos the Hands of Fate, Jack Frost, Pod People, The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, Mitchell, Santa vs. Martians, Final Justice, and The Final Sacrifice. Out of the new show on Netflix, my favorites were Reptilicus and Cry Wilderness.

    I have a hard time picking between Joel and Mike. I like them both equally because each brings their own spin on the show. Though Joel will hold a special place in my heart because essentially without him there would be no MST3K.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I get a terrible sinking feeling every time the “who was the best host” argument breaks out for the billionth time.

    So, for reference, my answer used to be “Joike” and is now “Joikah”. I have too much love for the show to poison it with petty schisms and factional spite.

    Liked by 1 person

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