Thursday, December 26, 2013

Top Ten - Mystery Science Theater 3000 Favorites

A few years back a friend of mine wanted a breakdown of my favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. I found this nearly impossible to do, but after some serious thinking and discussing with my wife, I decided the best approach was to pick my favorite episode from each of the 10 seasons of the show. This provides a nice spread of episode types and styles. Of course some of my bias toward movie types is evident.  I think it's a good time to resurrect the list, add some fun elements. So here you go, my top ten favorite MST2K episodes in Season order.

Season One
I think Valeria is gloating, but I can't understand her.
For me the choice is easy on this one. You've got a 1980s post-apocolyptic sci-fi with no budget - I'm there! Robot Holocaust is a lot of things and none of them are very good, but it is pretty much non stop hilarity without the riffing. Joel and bots do a great job, and the film provides them with so much to work with. My favorite character is the vampy Valeria, whose accent is so thick and performance so over the top, that she steals the whole film - in a bad way.

Fun Fact: Our protagonist is named Neo, and he has super powers, faces down a robotic overlord and frees an enslaved people. Any similarities to The Matrix are coincidental, right?

Season Two
I'm so surprised that they got to riff on Godzilla vs. Megalon, but I'm so happy they did. Made in the early 70s, this film seems like the little annoying brother to the other Godzilla films. It's got all the typical moments you expect in a Godzilla movie, but then it has a whole host of other oddities, my favorite being the robot randomness of Jet Jaguar. Joel and bots have a lot of fun with this one, and it is one of funniest episodes they ever did. I hope one day Sony lightens up, so this episode can see an official release - because it is gold.

Host Segment Highlight: The boys attempt to translate the Jet Jaguar song at the end of the film. it is silly, random, and yet I've seen enough translations of J-pop to say, they make plausible alternate lyrics

Season Three
Here's to good friends, tonight is kinda special.
Season three was the season where the boys tackled an immense amount of Sandy Frank imported Japanese media. Nearly all those episodes were great, but one stands head and shoulders above the others, Fugitive Alien. With it's plot made up of hacked and dubbed television episodes, barely making any sense in the final form, you've got a gold mine of fun. The movie is filled to bursting with odd moments, strange characters, horrible dubbing and plot points that come and go into the void. This kind of thing was made to be riffed and Joel and bots deliver - big time.

Favorite riff: (sung to the sassy brassy musical score) This is the song, written for the train chase. This is the chase: Rocky and Ken. He tried to kill me with a forklift. OLE!

Season Four
How can you not include "Manos": The Hands of Fate on this list? That movie is so well known now because of MST3K, and the classic riffing they put this movie through. In so many ways, it's almost become it's own cliche, and yet when you watch the episode they do such a great job with it. Torgo provides so much fodder for them of course, but every character is so poorly executed and filmed and recorded that there are countless riffing opportunities. Joel and bots are deeply scarred by the film, and yet it remains one of the funniest episodes they ever did.

Personal Favorite Episode: If the list was for myself, I'd pick Hercules Against the Moon Men. It was the first episode I ever saw, and holds a place in my heart for that. It is also the funniest sword and sandal epic they ever tackled. 

Season Five
Yes Satan! Speak to me through this song!
Not a lot of folks love this one as much as I do, but I Accuse My Parents is one of the best riffing sessions of Joel's era. It is a pure melodrama, a genre they rarely tackled. It's got goofy songs, a ridiculously naive hero, and fast talking gangsters. This mix was unique for the writers and I think they did a great job with it. Season five is filled with excellent episodes, but I can always pop this one in and have a good laugh.

Worthy Second Pick: Well you can always go with Mitchell. Not only was it Joel's farewell episode, but it has one of the funniest riffing sessions of the season in it. They didn't do too many 1970's flicks, but this was a great one.

Season Six
You want proof that you can riff on anything, then check out Red Zone Cuba. This is juggernaut of a bad film. It is soul crushing in the worst way, and yet it is clearly the work of a man trying to tell us something. It is Coleman Francis at his most epic, and it takes a top notch trio of riffers to tackle it. Mike, Kevin and Trace do an amazing job with this episode keeping the quips flying fast and furious. What should have been a slog is an amazing testament to how good these folks (writers and performers) were at their mode of comedy. 

"But I Just Want to Laugh" pick: Don't feel like marveling at the skill of of cast and crew of MST3K and just want some hilarity. No problem. Season six also contains the wonderfully 70s Angels Revenge the low budget Charlie's Angel wannabe. Can't go wrong there.

Season Seven
They call him old pasta marinara face.
This was a tough one, because there are two stellar episodes on here. And if you ask me next week, I might even say that Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell would be my pick. But today it's The Incredible Melting Man. Everything about this movie is a mess, from the goopy drippy monster to the ineffectual hero, Dr. Ted Nelson. There is barely a plot, the script is painfully bad, and the effects are very gross. But Mike and the bots have so much to work with. Maybe the must disgusting movie they've ever riffed, but also one of the funniest.

Favorite "What the hell?" moment in the movie: The entire rant that Dr. Ted Nelson goes on about having crackers for his soup. Atchka indeed my friend, Atchka!

Season Eight
The first season with the Sci-fi channel ended with a trilogy of wonderfully goofy 1980s sci-fi films - one of my favorite genre's for riffing. But the king of those three films is Space Mutiny hands down. Another movie that seems tailor made for riffing. The costumes, the acting, the plot, the sets, the hair (oh sweet God, the hair) all lend themselves to jokes. Our big beefy hero ends up with so many alternate names, and each one is hilarious. And let's not forget Kalgon and his maniacal glee. For the chase scene finale alone - you need to see this episode.

Favorite moment: When Chunk Manmuscle screams in rage, and then calmly exits the vehicle. 

Season Nine
I think he put on the goofy suit.
After you see MST3K take on Puma Man you wish they tackled more superhero flicks. Of course this movie really deserves to be mocked. The hero is a complete dork. He is constantly saved and out shown by his sidekick. Donald Pleasance dresses as a disco maniac as the villian, and then there's the music. I love the music in all it's Casio glory. Puma Man seems to be deadly serious one moment and completely off its rocker the next. This is one of those episodes that gets funnier the more times you see it, and it is hilarious the first time you watch it. You'll be singing the theme song for weeks afterwards.

Favorite riff: (to the Pumaman theme) Puma Man, he flies like a moron. 

Season Ten
This "movie" comes straight from the riffing gods, because no one else could have cobbled together such a weird "movie" from so many loose parts, and hoped it would entertain. And yet there it is, Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders. Part horror film, part kids flick, and none of it working any way. I love how the two different eras of film don't mesh at all. I love the stupid framing within a framing story idea. I love the acerbic and angry Jonathon, I love the angry psychic, and I love the Rock and Roll Martian - whoever the hell he is. This should have been the final episode of the series, because it really is one of the best they ever did.

Favorite Riffing Moments: When Mike and bots attempt to reconcile that Ernest Borgnine is telling these horrible stories to his grandson. "Grandpa Borgnine no!" "Oh you just wait, what happened to the cat was nothing to what was about to happen to Sparkle the dog."

Favorite Short
'And no one can wait to leave this seething cauldron
of angst."
This was a tough one, because I love so many of the shorts and sometimes one will strike me as hilarious one time and just plain funny the next. But there is one that pretty much makes me laugh out loud constantly through the whole thing and that is A Date With Your Family. This little short about eating dinner with your family is so odd and patronizing and yet perfectly 50s in every way. The riffing is just gold, with Mike and bots working with the holier than thou narrator. So many lines and riffs from this short get quoted around my house it isn't even funny.

Favorite Riff: (after a long discussion about who gets to eat first during dinner, Mike adds the following) "Father feigns eating, draws Junior out and then disowns him!" 

Favorite Movie
Ok so this one is a bit of a cheat, because there is only one MST3K movie: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. I know a lot of folks don't enjoy this one half as much as I do, but I think the combination of This Island Earth with one of the best riffing teams of the series delivers one of the funniest movies of the 1990s. I get a kick out of the movie every time I watch it and that is quite a bit.

Favorite Riff: (as Tom Servo scans the opening credits) Let's see... Shatner, Shatner, Shatner... he's not in this one. We're safe.
Jet Jaguar and Godzilla try out for cheer.

So there you go, my top ten favorite episodes from my favorite television series. What is great about this show, is that fan favorites are all over the map. One person may think that Radar Secret Service is the funniest thing they've seen, others will swear by The Rebel Set, It Conquered the World, Hercules Unchained, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank or Mad Monster. But when it comes down to it, the show has a perfect mix of writing and comic timing, and it's hard to find an actual weak episode. Hopefully this list can guide those looking to dive into the fun.


  1. Roman, good job, and I'll keep this in mind as I add a few to my Netflix queue. I think you picked the best way to go in picking one episode from each season. I saw on the Amazon forums there's a post in a similar vein to picking favorite Dr. Who episodes, one for each doctor. That way you get a feel for the overall run of the series. And I'd agree, much like anime in some respect, it seems everyone might have their own personal favorites, but as fans, at least they agree it's great fun, and enjoy sharing their joy with others.

    1. Yeah there are still some folks that like one host over the other (Joel vs Mike). But that seems like the Shatner vs Picard debate - kind of silly and pointless in the end. Joel and Mike had different styles of jokes they excelled at. Some of episodes played to their strengths better than others, but all in all, they both made some classic episodes.

  2. All sound like great fun, and I've seen only a few, with or without the MST3K treatment. I Accuse My Parents, presumably an ironic reference to Zola, deserves a special commentary of its own -- which, as I recall, you once gave it.

    1. ...and didn't need to recall, because I see you linked to it.

    2. I love that episode, and the movie is so goofy. We recently watched another MST3K episode called "The Violent Years". It was written by Ed Wood, and actually has almost the same plot as "I Accuse My Parents", but with a female lead that becomes a juvenile delinquent. Still it all boils down to the judge telling the parents off for failing to give their daughter love and affection. As usual Ed Wood's dialogue is a hoot, and Mike and bots have fun with the movie.

  3. You know, the best venue for the 50's educational shorts was Night Flight. During the age of punk, hair metal, and new wave, they showed shorts about things like being on time and washing your hands. Sure, the films themselves were hokey, but the values weren't. Irony at its best.

    1. That is one of things I love about those shorts, some of them have such good advice and often include some interesting or important ideas. But the presentation of those elements is so ridiculous. I just reviewed one about giving a speech that focused on how your appearance is just as important as your material. But then they go and show "making the knee test" and it all goes down hill. :)