Thursday, June 21, 2018

MSTie-eyed and fancy-free

by Giselle Renarde

My girlfriend has changed my life for the better in oh-so-many ways. For instance, she introduced me to a show I like to call Mystery Science Theater 3000. I call it that because that's its name. We were at HMV before it closed its doors forever when she held up a DVD box set and asked "Have you ever seen this?"

She had, but not on TV. I have no idea whether Mystery Science Theater 3000 aired in Canada. I never got any 'a them fancy networks. Sweet said she used to rent it on VHS from the video store.

In case you've gone your whole life without ever hearing about MST3K (like me until a couple years ago), here's what all the hubbub's about:

A human test subject—first Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson), then Mike Nelson (Michael J. Nelson), and most recently Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray)—has been imprisoned aboard the spacecraft Satellite of Love by mad scientists and their henchmen (collectively called "the Mads") and is forced to watch a series of bad movies in order to find one that will drive the test subject insane.

To keep his sanity, Joel built himself a series of sentient robots (the "'bots") from parts aboard the Satellite, and who subsequently remain aboard with the other test subjects. The 'bots include Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, Gypsy and Cambot. Crow and Servo join the human as they watch the film in the Satellite's theater. The trio frequently comment and wisecrack atop it, a process known as "riffing". At regular intervals throughout the movie, the hosts leave the theater and return to the bridge of the Satellite to perform sketches ("host segments") that satirize the film being watched.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 couldn't have come into my life at a more perfect time. I was hit by a bad bout of depression (which tends to happen when you're chronically depressed), and one thing I've learned about myself is that comedy helps.

Big-time helps.

Helps more than anything else I can think of.

At least, it helps for me personally. My girlfriend tells me that, when she's down, comedy is the last thing she wants. She feels like it's mocking her, or making light of everything that's bad in the world.

But comedy is my go-to, so I'm immensely grateful that my girlfriend introduced it to me at just the right time.

MST3K is silly and smart. I thought that's why I loved it. (I don't think any one human could get all the jokes. One minute they're making references to Michel Foucault, the next they're referring to some regional Minnesota cable commercial. It helps if you watch with pop-up video style annotations on their YouTube channel.) But, upon reflection, I realize the reason I watched 3-4 hours of MST3k every day when I was really depressed is the sense of community it fosters. I guess anything with a cult following makes you feel sort of special (yay! I'm part of a cult), but more than that...

Oh god I'm going to sound like such a loser...

Am I really going to say this out loud?

Yes, I am.

When I watched all those hours of MST3K, I felt like I had friends.

Robot friends.

And Joel.

Do I sound like a lonely, miserable person or what? But that's what depression does to me. Makes me not want to reach out. Not to real people. But to robots? Yes, that's acceptable. If I could pal around with Servo and Crow (and also Data because every comedy team needs a straight man or an android), I would be in heaven.

The riffing also reminds me of watching "Mom Shows" with my siblings (and my mom, of course, otherwise we'd be watching something else).

Mom Shows are terrible dramas, usually CanCon about FBI agents or any show where a couple of the characters are angels. Not Charlie's Angels--the heavenly variety. Whenever my mom watched her Mom Shows, my siblings and I would rip those fuckers to shreds.

Those were the days! Sitting around the TV riffing on Mom Shows with my sibs. You know, my mom didn't even tell us to stop making fun. She'd join in! Her jokes were... not the greatest... but it's the effort that counts. I think she just loved that all her kids were in one room, all focused on the same activity: riffing on Touched by an Angel.

Reading over everything I've just written, I can sort of imagine people wondering why I don't just go out and buy some real friends, or at least spend more time with my family. All possibilities. And maybe one day I will. But at two in the morning, when I'm alone with my cats, there will always be Mystery Science Theater 3000.


  1. Here in Chicago we've got a show that does much the same thing. It used to be called by another name when it was a man whose real name was Jerry G. Bishop. He invented the Svenghouli make-up and the persona. Then he went off the air for a while, and another guy, Rich Koz, revived the makeup and the show, which is now just called Svenghouli. Sometimes the show is lame, sometimes it's funny, but it's full of wit and bad puns, along with clever songs that make fun of individual scenes from the bad sci-fi movie they're showing that week.

    Elvira used to do much the same thing as "Mistress of the Dark," or some similar title. And SCTV (old Canadian answer to SNL that was much funnier)had skits where The Count did the same thing. I love bad sci-fi, though not as much as my husband, and our 3rd son. They keep giving each other such horrible D-level movies that even I can't stand to watch them! There's one husband gave son that involves a mad, black sheep on the rampage, first by having sex with humans, (he even smokes afterwards),then by teaching other sheep to eat people! Yes, it's as bad as it seems!It's called Black Sheep of Rascal Flats, or something like that.

    But as you say, it's the riffing on the movies that makes the whole experience. I've never been one to watch anything on TV without making snarky comments where they're required. That's how we brought up the kids, so it'll live on at least one more generation.

    And you do have friends, when you watch these kinds of shows. They welcome you to feel a part of them. So I don't find it odd at all. And if it helps you deal with depression, then it's an excellent panacea that doesn't hurt anyone, and makes you smile. Win-win!

  2. Have you ever seen Creepie KOFY Movie Time? Sounds a bit similar. In the case of CKMT, the intermezzos tend to be R-rated. They have performances by strippers and a regular feature with porn star Annie Cruz.

    Full disclosure - I've never seen the actual show, only the clips from the "dirty" parts, sent to me by a friend who lives in the Bay Area.

    Oh, and you don't have to apologize for being depressed. You are anything but a loser.

    Hugs to you.

  3. Cool! I had never heard of this show, but the themesong is catchy.

  4. Comedy does help. Helps me, anyway. There was an extremely rough period in my life long ago when watching Fawlty Towers with John Cleese seemed like the only thing that got us through. Looking back, it's hard to say why, but at the time it did the trick.


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