Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea 41.5 (Mystery Science Theater 3000)

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Seth Aaron Hershman, who is too awesome to fit in one blog, and so has two, fills in another major gap. Also, in case you missed it, I've put all of my books on sale through New Year's.

This is a guest post written by a rank amateur. Please turn down your expectations, where applicable. 

It's November 24rd, 1988. Robin Beck remains at number one with "First Time," a situation resolved two weeks later when Cliff Richard unseats her with "Mistletoe and Wine." Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Pet Shop Boys, Rick Astley, and Salt-N-Pepa also chart.

In real news, Benazir Bhutto is sworn in as Prime Minister of Pakistan. The number of HIV positive people in the UK is pegged by a government report at 50,000, and it's estimated that by 1992 as many as 17,000 people may die of the disease. Health Minister Edwina Currie causes a massive crash in egg sales through a carelessly worded claim about salmonella. The last shipbuilding facilities around Sunderland close. And Mystery Science Theater 3000 debuts.

The degree to which that last one qualifies as “real news” is at once unsurprising and completely and utterly baffling. Of course it’s not news to most people—MST3K debuts somewhat quietly on a third-rate UHF station in Minneapolis and St. Paul. But Joel Hodgson, the show’s lead writer and “host”, has appeared on Letterman and Saturday Night Live, and this has granted him a small degree of local celebrity. The show gets popular enough that, of that first local season, only three of its twenty-one episodes have not been recorded for posterity and put up on YouTube. 

The degree to which recordings of MST3K are important is hard to explain without overstating. Unlike Doctor Who, MST3K is debuting at the cusp of the home video movement, so it’s unlikely any episode would well and truly be lost for good. To our knowledge, no episode actually is—even the three missing local episodes are safely in the possession of producer Jim Mallon, who isn’t willing to finagle the legal rights to the films therein in order to secure the release of what he and everyone else involved consider subpar work notable only as historical curiosities. And yet, there’s the thing—without home video recordings, there’d be no way to watch many of the episodes. 

At this point it’s probably worth explaining what, exactly, MST3K is for the uninitiated. Joel Hodgson plays Joel Robinson, a janitor for some nebulous technology company which houses a couple of mad scientists in its subbasements. Said mad scientists abduct Joel, chuck him into a satellite with an onboard movie theater, and attempt to drive him insane with B-movies and educational shorts. In response, Joel builds some robots, and two of them, Tom Servo and Crow, join him in the theater each week to make fun of the movie in real-time while silhouetted against the bottom of the screen. Every twenty minutes or so, the film cuts out and Joel and the 'bots return to the satellite’s bridge for a few minutes to discuss the movie, parody it, or engage in some irreverence.

What this means is that a good 80% of each episode contains footage that doesn’t actually belong to the show, and needs to be licensed in order for its use in any broadcast or release to be legal. So, while you can readily watch the entire show’s run on YouTube, amassing a complete collection by legal means is pretty much impossible. To date only half the series is commercially available. 

Here, we have our first contrast with Doctor Who. For Who, copyright law is a threat to the show’s future—it means, going forwards, we may not have Daleks, or the Rani, or TARDIS merchandise. Each character creation needs to be handled carefully to make sure the rights stay with the BBC rather than with the writer introducing them. But the rights transference doesn’t stop the BBC from releasing things that already have the Daleks or the Rani in them. For MST3K, copyright law is a threat to the show’s past, leaving long gaps therein in the eyes of the general public. 

And yet, so much more of MST3K’s past is available than Who’s, even as the latter’s is unencumbered. Why? Part of it is obviously the tape junking, and MST3K’s comparatively briefer run and smaller history. But another part of it is the way in which the creators of the show encouraged the spread of the show’s past. “Keep circulating the tapes” was in each episode’s end credits for a good long time, halted (of course) because of legal concerns, but the fans took it to heart. You’ll never hear rumors that a fan is hoarding a lost episode or some piece of obscurity the way you so often do with Who. The show thrives on being spread around. 

This is but one parallel with Who, however; but a singular example of how the show is in fact some sort of bizarre mirror-world version of that one. There are a couple more, but I’d like to move now to the big one, which is that both series are commonly mistaken for science-fiction when in fact they’re more accurately designed as being extremely adaptable to any genre. 

This blog has discussed narrative transgression before, and I assume if you're still here you have a basic functioning knowledge of how it works and how it applies to Doctor Who. (This is, naturally, an unfair assumption, seeing as I’m still here and reading—name’s Seth, by the way, nice to meet you—but it’s a necessary one that saves me the trouble of explaining it myself.) 

For MST3K, it works in almost the exactly opposite direction. The show does not transgress on other narratives, other narratives transgress on it. Most obviously, each episode has a movie thrust upon our protagonists, and they spend the entire time merely reacting to it. It openly influences the way each episode plays out. Joel and his robot friends, as mentioned, spend much of their time between film segments picking the film apart, dressing as its characters, or engaging in sketch comedy. When the “host segments”, as they're called, have nothing to do with the film, it's still motivated by a conscious choice to ignore the feature. 

The setting is also important. While the TARDIS can go anywhere in time and space, the Satellite of Love where Joel and the ‘bots are stranded is just that: a satellite. It has a fixed trajectory around the Earth. While the TARDIS to the Doctor is a means of escape, the Satellite is a prison, a symbol of captivity. Even its shape embodies this—it’s a dog bone, a symbol of animal imprisonment and reliance. Food to be given to a dog, rather than taken. Better yet, it was designed as a dog bone for the purpose of facilitating an episode about the ship being attacked by devil dogs early in the series. Even dogs in this universe have more freedom than our leads. 

The devil dogs, however, are a sign of another way this premise inverts Who. The ship can get visitors. The Doctor can wander out of the TARDIS and meet anyone, but Joel and the ‘bots only meet the people who come to them. More often than not, these are characters from the film—breaking down the doors of the world’s reality. Everyone but our leads, it seems, can do what the Doctor does. 

To put it simply—Doctor Who is defined in terms of its ability to go anywhere and warp the narrative, MST3K is defined by its ability to have anywhere come to it and be warped by the narrative.
Though yeah, actually, this works too.
The degree to which this makes MST3K not science-fiction, though, is important. It has some of the chameleon-esque tendencies of Who—most notably, not all of the films are science-fiction, with fantasy, melodrama, exploitation and procedurals being among the show's standard fare. But more importantly, MST3K tends to define itself as falling very definitively into the comedy genre. It takes pride, for example, in the increasing number of jokes (“riffs”) made at the movie's expense per episode, and even goes so far as to expressly tell you in the theme song not to worry too hard about its overall narrative logic. It is expressly, aggressively disinterested in defining itself by science fiction standards. (Of course, it’s also disinterested in defining itself by a sentient piece of metatext, so what do I know.) 

There’s a pretty big problem with this reading, though, which ties itself into the third and final tenant of Who parallels—malleability. Because, while the show’s reality was rather fluid, it still had one that could be digressed from and knocked down. 

It's October 30th, 1993, in flagrant violation of how this blog usually does things. Meat Loaf is at the top of the charts with “I'll Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)”, which is almost exactly two decades away from being made creepy by an M&Ms commercial. Cappella, Bryan Adams, Dina Carroll, and Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince also chart. In real news, a Halloween party in Greyskeel, North Ireland is fired upon by Protestant terrorists, Archbishop Paul Grégoire passes away, Martin Fettman preforms space's first animal dissection, and Michael J. Nelson officially replaces Joel Hodgson as the host of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

By this time, MST3K is in a decidedly different place. It got picked up by the Comedy Channel after its local season (Season “0”), and by Season 3 the Channel had been subsumed into a merger and became Comedy Central. It’s got large, if niche, fanbase, and while it hasn’t quite earned the notoriety that would later place it on numerous “top cult show of all time” lists its decidedly popular. 

This article was originally going to be about dueling fandom reactions to Who and MST3K across their many changes, but in writing it I decided that the direction Michael J. Nelson took the show was decidedly more interesting than the fanwar that didn’t so much ensue as start preemptively. 

Nelson was not a new presence on the show. He’d been around since Season 2 and quickly impressed the original staff enough to go from secretary to head writer. The idea that swapping him for Joel as the show’s “host” would change much would be kinda laughable if, y’know, it didn’t change pretty much everything. 

Mike immediately established that he wasn’t, like so many replacement TV characters before him, just going to be a pale imitation of his predecessor. If Joel had been calm, fatherly, and bizarrely friendly to the “Mads” who shot him into space, Mike was more a slightly-baffoonish big-brother type who took every opportunity to defy his captors and attempt escape. He wasn’t having any of this “warped by the narrative” bullcrap, he was going to build his own stories, and the show surprisingly acquiesced.

It started slowly. An “Umbilicus” between the Satillite of Love and the Mads’ headquarters in Deep 13 suddenly facilitated increased interaction. A radioactive time machine, while not allowing directly for escape, created new narrative avenues and ways for Mike and the ‘bots to interact with the show’s world. Slowly, the rules began to change. 

And then the show got cancelled, got resurrected by Sci-Fi, and everything basically went crazy and decided to be Doctor Who
Yes, thank you.
This is maybe not an entirely fair assessment—the decision for the show to suddenly have plot arcs was made by Sci-Fi, not the crew, and yet…well…this is what the show decides to do, given the order to have plot arcs. It wanders from a Planet of the Apes spoof-future to a distant planet populated by superintelligent aliens to ancient Rome and eventually back to Earth as Mike accidentally blows up planets and gets put on space-trial. I mean, it’s easy to read that last bit as some sort of metaphor for the show defending itself from near-death, but…I mean, that’s just Who also. And it comes off of this after a season or so and largely gets back to the business of being itself, and has a tenth-anniversary special where Joel comes back, and…

Er…

I mean, yeah. The parallel’s there if you want it. The show utilizes its malleability in order to shake things up, much as Who does, but it uses this opportunity to shatter the mirror and straight-up become a Who clone with bad movies. And, interestingly, shortly after recovering from that phase, gets cancelled. Wandered too close to the sun, I suppose. That does happen. 

Bizarrely, though, it comes back. Not in any recognizable form, of course—Mystery Science Theater 3000 is very much something that died in 1999 and stayed dead. No, it came back kind of splintered and fractured. Members of the old guard went in two separate directions: Mike headed up a team that releases MP3s to be played over existing home releases of more recent and popular movies, while Joel headed up a team that does live shows and DVDs of riffs of the sort of obscure crap the original show tackled. Fans started making their own versions of the show based around the concept of movie riffing. Internet reviewer culture started up. Fanfictions started developing snide remarks in the margins. 

It’s easy to read this as another Who parallel, with the audios and books and “webisodes” and eventual revival coexisting, except this is something altogether more interesting. Who is in a way constrained in how many directions it can pull itself. It can travel anywhere and time and space but has to do so by a complex web connecting it back to a singular character and a corporate brand name. It’s almost constrained compared to MST3K, which converted itself into a concept called “riffing” which was capable of infinite permutations. To continue Who in a way that begets recognition requires you to get the proper approvals or live under a certain roof. To continue MST3K, all you need to do is record yourself making fun of things. 

The solution to the problem of narrative transgressing-upon was never to add more plot, it was to strip it away altogether. Riffing has left the Satellite of Love, and can now be anything. And, much like the practice of cobbling together bizarre readings of cult television, is too important to be left to the professionals. 


Keep circulating the concept. 

Comments

T. Hartwell 3 years, 1 month ago

"He wasn’t having any of this “warped by the narrative” bullcrap, he was going to build his own stories, and the show surprisingly acquiesced."

This highlights pretty well why I never gravitated to the Mike episodes when I saw the show- there just seemed to be a mean streak to his riffing that I never got from Joel, and when 'riffing' then broke out into a wider part of the culture it bred this sort of attitude that it's better to ironically hurl insults at films and mock them for being 'bad' rather than attempt to actually engage with them as films.

I mean, there's just a certain meanness involved when it comes to riffing and the styles of 'reviews' popularized by people like AVGN or the Nostalgia Critic (both of whom are definitely products of the culture partly launched by MST3K, if not directly influenced by it), and it depresses me to no end to see. Especially as it tends to also foster a rather stringent idea of "normalcy" in films (and art in general) where things not conforming to a specific standard get mocked at and bullied.

I dunno- my feelings on the show are rather complex. Suffice it to say I generally enjoy the show itself, but loath the culture it produced.

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Seth Aaron Hershman 3 years, 1 month ago

I'd agree with that. I think that Mike had a bit of a mean streak that was tempered by having aficionados like Joel, Trace and Frank around, and the way the team divided after the show ending is frankly unsurprising. But I don't think there's no merit to what Mike does. I don't think his brand of riffing any more "fosters normalcy" than criticism in general. There are always going to be things you like and things you don't and reasons for each.

For what it's worth, Mike's much better when it comes to big-budget blockbusters, and if you want the concept of normalcy taken down a peg there's really no better target.

(At the end of the day, I'm more a Joel fan, but that's besides the point.)

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T. Hartwell 3 years, 1 month ago

Oh, indeed, I wasn't trying to argue that he had no merit whatsoever- he of course did, and the fact he was scripting during Joel's tenure should say something. It's just that his brand of doing things tends to leave a rather sour taste in my mouth.

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Sean Daugherty 3 years, 1 month ago

I think the only real difference there is one of general personality, though. Joel could be just as mean and dismissive as Mike, but his style was generally more mellow. Both were, judging by interviews with the two of them, deliberate choices: Joel was the kindly father figure, where as Mike was more of an average schlub. Whether or not either counts as a more genuine attempt to engage with a film is a matter of opinion, but I'm not convinced. If Mike could be sarcastic or abrasive on occasion, Joel was far more likely to be condescending.

The difference between both Joel and Mike and their legions of imitators and successors (including folks like the AVGN or the Nostalgia Critic), is that neither of the former ever lost sight of the fact that what they were doing was exaggerated to comic effect. A huge part of the comedy in MST3K stemmed from the extremity of Joel/Mike's reactions to the films they watched. Those movies may have been bad, yes, but a bad movie is just a bad movie. The worst thing it can do is waste two hours of your life.

But the entire premise of MST3K blows that up to ridiculous proportions: the Mads' ultimate scheme is to take over the world using the power of terrible cinema. Joel/Mike and the bots overreact to most things they see: I'm no more of a fan of "Manos: The Hands of Fate" than most people, but it doesn't trigger an existential crisis for me. The show is very carefully and deliberately over-the-top, and the result is that the people making the criticisms are every bit as ridiculous as the movies being criticized. Which saves the show from ever permanently descending into mean-spiritedness, IMO.

That's less true of internet review culture, which was hugely influenced by MST3K. It's not that the AVGN and his like aren't willing to take themselves down a peg (the AVGN himself does this quite frequently, actually). But it's not so integral a part of their identity as it was with MST3K. When someone like the Nostalgia Critic lambasts a movie, it's far easier to forget that he's taking on a deliberately exaggerated persona, and that there's a degree of caricature and hyperbole even to their otherwise legitimate critiques. Put another way, MST3K (and RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic, for that matter) never did film criticism or even reviews, and they never described themselves in that way: they never let themselves get that serious about their craft. Too many of their imitators are self-styled as critics, and their comedy is far more likely to come across as mean-spirited and bullying as a result.

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PsiTrey 3 years, 1 month ago

I'm wondering if the author has been to any of the American conventions where they do "Mysterious Theater" which is basically doing MST3K "live" with a Doctor Who story. It's become quite an event at Chicago TARDIS and GallifreyOne with one of the writers/participant often being Scott Alan Woodward who has written Doctor Who stories for Big Finish.

For me, my issue with MST3K was how it influenced fan culture, more particularly, a certain type of fan behavior. There's a belief out there that one way to demonstrate one's intelligence is to mock things; after all, it's how Tom Baker's Doctor often functions, and MST3K encourages that audience commentary.

An unfortunate result is that post-MST3K, there are *those* fans at almost any fan showing of an episode or movie who seem to believe they are their own version of Joel or MIchael and can't sit through any showing without offering their own "clever" commentary. I'm fine with things like Chicago TARDIS's "Mysterious Theater 337" because you know that it's something deliberate. What I object to is when you have a viewing party for, say, the season premiere of Doctor Who, and while most people are quiet and caught up in the story, there often exists a few who prefer to riff on it. I've seen this in video rooms at various conventions.

All storytelling is an illusion to a certain extent, and particularly with Doctor Who. The MST3K style riffing is like pulling off the beard from a mall Santa in front of children or pointing out loudly that the cast of CATS really don't look like felines. It might all be accurate and correct, but it ruins the moment for others. I think MST3K on its own is enjoyable, but I do think it encouraged certain behaviors in geekdom which I don't particularly care for.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 1 month ago

Was I the only one who saw MST3K and thought "Oh, it's Rocky Horror - The TV Series"?

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 1 month ago

If you're wondering how he eats and breathes
And other science facts,
Just repeat to yourself "It's just a show,
I should really just relax."


More important words have never been written. Not that it stops us, mind you, but we have to acknowledge that we're picking nits over things that movie/show/book couldn't care less about, rather than being clever and oh so much more intelligent than the average bear...

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Eric 3 years, 1 month ago

Interesting that this write-up comes at the end of a year where Mike's group did both of the Peter Cushing Doctor Who movies. Lots of jokes about canon in those...

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Alan 3 years, 1 month ago

An interesting idea. I suppose RHPC started off like that, but it quickly became ritualized to the point that instead of riffing, everyone shouts out the exact same joke in unison. I remember being a college freshman in 1987 trying desperately to memorize the audience jokes in RHPC so I could participate.

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Alan 3 years, 1 month ago

I'm old enough to remember rec.arts.tv.mstk3 (I think that's right) and I remember being astonished and delighted at the meta-meta-textual level of it all. People writing (bad) fanfics about their favorite shows and movies, and MST3K fans elevating them to genius by inserting their own fanfics of Mike/Joel and the Bots riffing on said bad fanfics. I still have the MST3K fanfic of "Treklander 3" somewhere on an old external hard drive.

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John Seavey 3 years, 1 month ago

Incidentally, Rifftrax seems to be moving slowly away from MP3s of big-budget blockbusters and more towards VOD versions of their old low-budget schlock targets. I think there's just something immensely fertile about those old horror/sci-fi films, because they were so individualistic; indie film-makers (and the people who did movies like 'The Bermuda Triangle' and 'Fangs of the Living Dead' were certainly not in the studio system) tended to make films that had a lot of personality, as opposed to modern blockbusters that tend towards a certain sameness. I think that when they riffed big-budget movies, they wound up feeling like they were doing the same film over and over and over again.

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encyclops 3 years, 1 month ago

MST3K was absolutely formative in developing my own sense of comedy and still heavily influences how I perform today -- it's probably on par with Python in that, and in throwing the absurdities of life and its mirrors in entertainment into sharp relief. Yes, it can make it difficult to sit through a movie or even a speech without at least riffing in my head...but it also helped put me into a mindset where I never stop questioning what's being fed to me, and that seems overwhelmingly to be a positive result.

I'm Team Joel as well, especially after the move to Sci-Fi, which is when I lost interest in the show. The more "Who-ish" host segments weren't that funny, and I lamented the greater emphasis on SF movies at the expense of the more extreme genre-hopping. But as a rule I've enjoyed Rifftrax as much as if not more than Cinematic Titanic, and their live shows and Fathom events are face-achingly funny.

The Rifftrax versions of the Cushing movies were my first time seeing them. I don't think I was biased by the riffs in my opinion of the films; au contraire, the riffs made those two messes bearable.

I loved this guest post, Seth -- I never would have connected these two shows before, and now I'll never see them the same way.

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Seth Aaron Hershman 3 years, 1 month ago

Thanks! The show was pretty formative for me as well, and I was introduced to it at about the same age my dad pointed me towards Python and a few months before I discovered Hitchhiker's. Who came a couple of years later.

I wouldn't say I'm unfond of the Sci-Fi years, because the movie riffing stayed consistent so I could kinda ignore the increasingly wonky host segments, but you could definitely feel the cabin fever in the air. The show was pretty blatantly becoming unsustainable.

And I'm glad you liked the post! The revelations that led to it were all rather last-second so I'm happy to hear my observations hold up, much less fundamentally alter your perception of the two shows.

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Seth Aaron Hershman 3 years, 1 month ago

If that's a shift, it's one that's been happening since the franchise's inception. One of their earliest releases, if I recall correctly, was Plan 9, largely considered one of the great "missed opportunities" of the original series. It's a well RiffTrax revisits now and again but I don't think its one that's ever going to regain primacy.

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Seth Aaron Hershman 3 years, 1 month ago

Well, I'm glad I didn't go with my original direction of analyzing fandom, then. No doubt you would've ripped my perceptions to shreds with relative ease.

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Seth Aaron Hershman 3 years, 1 month ago

Pure coincidence. I mostly did it because of the recent back-to-back 50/25 anniversary, and of course because the opertunity arose. Haven't gotten a chance to listen to the Cushing RiffTrax yet, sadly.

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Seth Aaron Hershman 3 years, 1 month ago

You have no idea how hard it was for me to not just straight-up quote the theme song at multiple points throughout the article. Those pictures were the only concession I made to my urge to go all-out with the in-jokes and references.

That said, I do think that MST3K is in large part responsible for the larger cultural emphasis on nitpicking at the moment. It instilled in us the critical urge, but very cleverly deflected itself from such scrutiny.

...well, it tried, anyway. It's funny reading recent interviews with Joel where fans have clearly read in interpretations and want to know minutia about the show's universe and all he can do is kinda shrug.

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Seth Aaron Hershman 3 years, 1 month ago

I have a love-hate relationship with Rocky Horror. The hate, of course, largely comes from bitterness over attending three live performances in a row where I utterly failed to get a single Dr. Strangelove reference to catch on, which I've convinced myself is an inherent fault in the way the franchise handles riffing and is therefore a legitimate complaint.

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Sean Daugherty 3 years, 1 month ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Sean Daugherty 3 years, 1 month ago

If pushed, I'd identify myself as Team Mike. I liked Mike's everyman persona more than Joel's fatherly persona, for one thing, and I really liked the focus the more plot-driven host segments forced upon the Best Brains during season 8 over the often more meandering and stream-of-consciousness comedy seen during the early Comedy Central days. That being said, my opinions on the post-MST3K diaspora stuff is a bit more mixed. I think, joke by joke, Cinematic Titanic tends to be funnier, but they're significantly less prolific than RiffTrax, and I think RiffTrax generally has a better selection of films and shorts in their VOD offerings.

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Seth Aaron Hershman 3 years, 1 month ago

Hm. I don't know if Mike's style of riffing is an active factor in his refusal to be warped by the narrative so much as it is a symptom of the personal quirks that allow that refusal to become possible. The narrative doesn't acquiesce because he's a jerk, but because that jerkiness translates to escape attempts and rows with the Mads.

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Sean Daugherty 3 years, 1 month ago

I've heard Mike and company state that their VOD releases generally sell better than their downloadable commentary versions, which makes sense, given that the latter tend to be both more expensive (you need to get a copy of the movie and the RiffTrax), and more difficult to set up (syncing up the commentary to the DVD). There's definitely been a shift, and it's one the RiffTrax team have acknowledged.

Creatively, I think it works better: while I think it's fully possible to riff *anything*, being able to select the material means that the resulting material is typically stronger than being tied to the whims of Hollywood fads.

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encyclops 3 years, 1 month ago

I do think a lot of things got sharper once Mike took over, and my preference for Joel's mellower persona is the very slightest of edges. I think Rifftrax has a tight little team, and I've always had a soft spot for Servo/Kevin Murphy, so that helps. I've only seen Cinematic Titanic once, though, and it was a double feature that ended up being way too long for one sitting, so that probably has biased me a bit.

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Alan 3 years, 1 month ago

Oh I hope not.:) There really is a lot of good fanfiction out their if you look for it. But the vast majority of it is neither good nor bad, simply mediocre (as is, frankly, the case with all things). The fanfic that gave rise to good MiSTings was usually epically bad. Ed Wood bad, even. The sort of bad where you wonder, slack-jawed, how anyone could have written it and thought it good enough to show to another living soul. Frex, the Treklander thing I referenced didn't just roughly shoe-horn the Highlander TV series into Star Trek DS9, it also incorporated the Zeist plotline from Highlander 2 (the one fans like to pretend never happened). It also repeatedly misspelled Jadzia Dax's name for something like 20 pages.

It wasn't all picking on bad writers, though. I also remember a delightful, if dark, MiSTing of the Paramount press release announcing the addition of Seven of Nine to the cast, a very ill-conceived press release that stopped just short of saying "Hey nerds! Watch our show! We just added a hot blond with big breasts who'll be wearing a catsuit the whole time."

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Alan 3 years, 1 month ago

I prefer Mike to Joel in general, but Joel has most of my favorite moments (to this day, the Gamera Song makes me giggle uncontrollably). That said, the show seemed to become a bit more flaccid after the move to SciFi, and I think I read somewhere that SciFi actually told them to reduce the frequency of jokes because they thought the older shows were too fast paced for their audience (which is consistent with the contempt SyFy has for its audience today). As a bigger fan of the show, do you know anything about that?

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Alan 3 years, 1 month ago

Actually, I think the most interesting thing about MST3K is how its philosophy now dominates Syfy, the network that cancelled it but which now produces deliberately awful movies and then markets them as events ("Sharknado" for example) with the expectation that audiences would tune in just to point and laugh at the awful acting and production values.

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Josh Marsfelder 3 years, 1 month ago

I would actually disagree pretty strongly about The Angry Video Game Nerd. James Rolfe plays a character much, much closer to how you're all describing Joel.

Then there is, of course, the fact few people realise he *is* in fact only playing a character...

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thepoparena.com 3 years, 1 month ago

Reading MiSTings was a fun time waster back in the days of rec.arts and Website Number Nine. My personal favorite was "The Misery Senshi Neo-Zero Double Blitzkrieg Debacle," a Sailor Moon/Daria crossover that featured mass death, local militias, long detailed descriptions of military airplane technology and, oh yeah, Beavis and Butthead raping Quinn.

Everything wrong with fanfiction, basically.

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Alan 3 years, 1 month ago

I was a big fan of the "Marissa Series," a legendary series of fics dealing with a Mary Sue character named Marissa who, through some contrived sequence of events, took the Kobyashi Maru test at the age of 11 or so, made "a perfect score" on it (whatever that means for a test meant to be a no-win scenario), and was immediately commissioned as a command officer on the Enterprise ranked directly below Picard and Riker. At one point, while she was in command, the Enterprise time traveled back to 1996 so that Wesley Crusher could fall in love with Chelsea Clinton. None of this was intended to be funny.

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Ross 3 years, 1 month ago

For my money, one of the strangest things was when I realized that Marissa is a canon character: she's one of the kids Picard gets trapped in the elevator with in 'Disaster'.

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talestoenrage 3 years, 1 month ago

Watching MST3K on Comedy Central as a little kid, what stood out was how dense it could be. There were the obvious jokes, but they would just drop references and keep going, no explanation given. Whether that's a good thing or not is probably a matter of personal preference, but I loved it.

Now, the move to Sci-Fi…not so much. I was kind of excited at the time, but the host segments becoming a serialized thing seemed like a big step in the wrong direction at the time. However, I loved the fact that for a while, the Sci-Fi channel ran a page on the MST3K section of the website where you could caption whatever was happening on the channel at the time, allowing a community to develop around riffing in general (things EXPLODED whenever an original Star Trek episode was on). It was a fascinating window into the idea that you could do this thing too, and in a setting where you weren't disrupting those who just wanted to watch the show or movie in question.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 1 month ago

Mad magazine is in a way a predecessor here; its movie parodies were in effect a running MST3K-style commentary on the movie, except delivered by the characters themselves.

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Dave Lynch 3 years, 1 month ago

I've always been a fan of Adam Cadre's take on "The Eye of Argon" from 1996.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 1 month ago

That's too bad. I heard someone shout "Mein Fuhrer! I can f***!" One time when Dr. Scott revealed his fishnets. Seems like back in the 80s things were more loosey-goosey and improvisational than it is now.

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 5 months ago

Great analysis - those parallels hadn't occurred to me, but once you put them out there they're obvious, especially the bit about the contrasting attitudes to circulating tapes and copyright laws. I love MST3K - I grew up watching the later stuff on the Sci Fi Channel on Saturday mornings. I'm partial to that era with Mike, Kevin and Bill - I have to admit that I do genuinely prefer Mike's comedy to Joel's, who I find kind of sleepy, and hugely prefer Bill Corbett's voice acting to Trace Beaulieu's, so I'm a Crow 2.0 fan. (Kevin Murphy, of course, seems universally loved by all). But it's probably a lot like Who - you're fondest of the era to which you were introduced first.

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