Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Mystery Science Theater 3000

Entry updated 15 May 2023. Tagged: TV.

US tv series (1988-1999; vt MST3K; vt MST 3000). Best Brains Inc, KTMA (1998), Comedy Central (1989-1996), HBO Downtown Productions (1992-1996), The Sci-Fi Channel (1997-1999). Created by Joel Hodgson. Directors include Jim Mallon and Kevin Murphy. Writers include Trace Beaulieu, Paul Chaplin, Frank Conniff, Joel Hodgson, Bridget Jones, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy, Michael J Nelson and Mary Jo Pehl. Cast includes Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Bill Corbett, Joel Hodgson, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy and Michael J Nelson. 197 circa 90-minute episodes and a 74-minute movie. Colour, but often incorporating black and white movies.

The show's intro helpfully sings the premise: Joel Robinson (Hodgson), a cleaner at the Gizmoic Institute, is sent by two of its Mad Scientists to a Space Station, where he is forced to watch old movies whilst they remotely monitor his mind. Joel builds Robots for companionship; and "If you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts, just repeat to yourselves 'It's just a show, I should really just relax'." The series centres on Joel and two of the robots, Crow T Robot (Beaulieu/Corbett) and Tom Servo (mainly Murphy) – all seen in silhouette as if sitting in a movie theatre – sardonically commenting on events on screen. There are also regular short skits involving Joel and the robots, and sometimes the scientists, often involving the demonstration of dubious Inventions. The films shown – some edited down – are B-movies, mostly sf or Horror. Overall the majority are from the USA; early on, poorly-dubbed Japanese Tokusatsu films were frequent, but they eventually ran out of these; other movies from around the world are also featured, with those from Italy and the UK being particularly favoured. As well as full-length movies, old educational films are also mocked.

Hodgson has cited Silent Running (1972) as an influence on the show's setting, whilst "Mystery Science Theater" is a nod to one of Sun Ra's band names, the Myth Science Arkestra. The series' first season was shown on a local Minneapolis television station, KTMA-TV, then from late 1989 broadcast nationally on Comedy Central (initially called The Comedy Channel) until it was cancelled in 1996. A film, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996) was then released, followed by three more seasons (1997-1999) broadcast by The Sci-Fi Channel (see Television). To reflect Hodgson's departure from the series in 1993, Joel escaped the space station, with the scientists replacing him with Mike Nelson (Nelson). The KTMA season, particularly early on, has long stretches without any remarks from Joel or the robots: such droughts in humorous "riffing" presumably led to the shift from these being more-or-less extemporized to, in subsequent seasons, being scripted; many of the films used that first year would also be revisited.

Though a cult rather than a commercial success, MST3K has proven very influential, inspiring similar series, and might be deemed the precursor of the YouTube reaction video. It also brought to the public's attention a great many forgotten sf movies. A series best enjoyed late at night while intoxicated, its Humour can be hit or miss – inevitably, the topical references are now as archaic as the films they were used to target – but there are still many genuinely amusing moments, both from the ridiculing of genre Clichés and the use of Absurdist humour. In 2003 it became the first genre series to win a Peabody Award for excellence in radio or television

Many of the films shown – too many to list here – have their own entries in this encyclopedia [see Wikipedia episode list under links below]. The show was revived by Hodgson in 2017, with 33 more episodes being crowdfunded and broadcast as Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (2017-2022), the first twenty on Netflix and the remainder on Hodgson's online platform, Gizmoplex. [SP]


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies