Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Movie Musing: Joel vs. Mike

It would take a mad scientist to invent
the meme.
The Japanese have a term they use, otaku, which means obsessive fanatic. You mostly see it applied to fans of anime and manga, but it can pretty much apply to any group in fandom. When I use the term otaku it usually applies to the most extreme ends of fandom. You know the type, the groups that come to blows over Kirk vs. Picard, Tenchi vs Ranma, Marvel vs. DC, Williams vs Zimmer, Connery vs EVERYONE ELSE and Joel vs Mike.

Yes even the hilarious Mystery Science Theater 3000 is not immune to the ranting and raving of otaku. Fans love to debate their favorite episodes, favorite seasons, favorite host segments, even favorite opening credits (because there have been six of them, or seven if you count Mystery Science Theater 3000: the Movie). But the most heated debate used to be Joel vs. Mike.

It was especially bad back when the show was still airing. The internet was still in its childhood stages in the mid and late 90s, but I remember flame wars between the two passionate groups. It got nasty. Fans hurling abuse at each other and at the two hosts. I always found the whole thing kind of silly, but I can't say it wasn't entertaining.

So how can there even be a debate? I mean what did these guys do other than deliver lines and interact with puppets. Did they do it so differently that you can compare them?

Tom Servo is expanding his conciousness.
Well you actually do have a bit of a shift in approach to handling the writing and riffing on the show. Joel always approached the movie as part of a larger entertainment and comedy machine. It would provide them with the material to make fun of, yes. But it would also provide them with entertainment. Joel always seemed to have a bit of respect for the films and the way they fit into the series.

When Joel left MST3K a couple things happened. First was the simple fact that the main creative force behind the show was leaving. Second were all the rumors as to why Joel left. At that time no one really knew for sure what happened, but there were plenty of theories. A lot of people picked the first visible target - Mike must have pushed Joel away from the series.

Their evidence was that the tone of show shifted when Mike took over hosting duties. While Mike was the host the movie was more of a target instead of a part of the show. Mike and bots had more riffs revolving around how much the movie hurt and in later seasons of the show (after it moved to the Sci-fi channel) the aggressive tone intensified, with out and out attacking everything in sight. Many Joel fans say Mikes aggressive style was the direction the rest of the crew wanted to go and that is why he left.

Mike and the bots ready for a night on the town...
errr satalite.
But around 2010 we found out that Joel left the show because of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie and how that was being handled. Making that movie was a rough experience for all involved and Joel sounded happy that he got away from the show when he did.

That said, Mike had been a head writer for the series for years. In fact, if you watch enough of the show and know a bit about Mike's joke style you can hear very Mike jokes being given by Joel. This series was very much a collaborative process when it came to the writing. Yes a tone shift occurred, but it was one that actually helped gain new fans. I know plenty of folks who first saw the show on Sci-fi with Mike as the host.

These days the Joel vs Mike debates aren't really a thing any more. Most fans accept that people have their preferences and let it go at that. Where do I stand on the whole thing? Well it kind of depends on my mood. Sometimes I like Joel's more amiable take on the movies. And his approach really works great for a lot of different types of movies. The riff for something like I Accuse My Parents or Fugitive Alien wouldn't be the same without Joel at the helm. At the same time Mike's brisk riffing style is perfect for Starfighters and Hamlet. My favorite seasons actually fall at the end of the Comedy Central era. To me both Joel and Mike were at their best and had some of the best films selected.

With a new version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the works we will getting a new host in Jonah Ray. I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of new style he and the new team bring to this concept.

Doesn't matter to me, all four of these guys are masters of the riffing

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  1. Replacement characters always face an uncertain response from viewers. Back in the 70s many viewers actually were upset that Farah Fawcett was replaced by Cheryl Ladd on Charlie’s Angels and in the 80s that Suzanne Somers was replaced by Jenilee Harrison on Three’s Company – with those two being replaced in turn. The change from Joel to Mike was a more central one. I wasn’t a big enough of a fan of MST3K for it to matter to me, but I can see how it would to a regular viewer.

    Moviemaking seems to break up a lot of teams. Joss Whedon walked off the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer because he hated of the way his script was altered in the direction of overt goofiness. At least he got to correct that with the TV series; meant to take place after the events in the movie, the first episode references things from his movie-script that didn’t make it into the movie as released. I suspect that was at least a little satisfying.

    1. Yeah. And I actually enjoyed the "Buffy" film quite a bit, no matter how goofy it turns out. Paul Rubens still cracks me up with his death scene. But yeah, the television series was a lot more subtle with its humor.

      I find it amusing that the cast and crew of MST3K seems amiable enough with each other these days. Any issues they may have had from the late 90s seems to be gone. They have all gone on to work with each other on projects and Joel is even participating in the Rifftrax reunion show with Mike. Looking froward to that!

  2. Well, at the time of the change, I didn't have access to watching MST3K so I didn't notice a change until many years later, so it didn't make a difference for me. Hardcore fans argue over their favorite.

    For me though I like them both. Joel and the films that they lampooned seem a bit more relaxed and breezy. The films tend to be older films. Whereas with Mike they had more or less found the formula and a following of fans, so they just ran with it, to see how much they could expand upon their show.

    Here lately KERA out of Dallas has been showing them at midnight on Saturdays. Last night they showed Manos, Hands of Fate. I remember now seeing some of that some time back, but still it was funny (and clueless).

    1. You make a good point. With Mike we did get more films coming in from the 70s and 80s (and during the sci-fi years we even had a couple 90s films). Joel really seemed to stick with the 50s and 60s (with a couple 40s thrown in for good measure). I'm really curious to see where Ray goes, but with Joel as a creative overseer I'm guessing we are going to get a mix with a heavy 50s and 60s bend. Not complaining, just observing.