It’s been almost 18 years since Mike Nelson and his robot friends Crow and Tom Servo escaped from his space prison, the Satellite of Love, when the Sci-Fi channel cancelled the long-running cult favorite “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” This Friday, thanks to a massive crowd-funding effort, a new sap gets sent into the cosmos with just a screening room to keep him company.
A brief introduction for the uninitiated: “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” or “MST3K” to headline writers and character-limited Twitter users alike, is a television show featuring a human host and his robot sidekicks being subjected to the worst movies ever made by Earth-bound mad scientists. Their coping mechanism? Mockery, in the form of one-liners, running gags and other jokes. “MST3K” was, in some ways, the 1.0 version of today’s social media gatherings that occur during an awards show, “Sharknado” premiere or other major event.
The show returns on Friday, this time finding a home on the platform where a handful of cult favorites have gotten a second life: Netflix. Comedian Jonah Ray takes over as the experimental subject forced to watch the films, while Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt will pick up the “evil scientist” roles.
The theme song for “MST3K” used to tell viewers that they “should really just relax” when it came to nitpicks like continuity, logic and even science, so it’s quite likely that a “MST3K” rookie will be able to get the swing of the show for minute one of the revival.
Still, for those who want to get a survey of the universe before settling in with Ray in his space prison, here are seven episodes that will start to explain the show’s oddball charms.
‘The Crawling Eye’
“MST3K” got its start on KTMA, a small Minneapolis station in 1988, but would jump to the Comedy Channel (which would later merge with competitor HA! to form Comedy Central) the following fall. It premiered with this 1958 British creature feature.
‘War of the Colossal Beast’
The show is most famous for mocking full-length features, but some of its funniest moments come in parodying short films. “Beast” is preceded on this episode by a short entitled “Mr. B Natural,” which quickly became a fan favorite.
‘Manos: The Hands of Fate’
This may be the most famous individual episode of “MST3K” in the series’ 410-year run, thanks to the horrible film featured. Torgo, the henchman of the film’s antagonist, would appear in sketches on the show for years afterward.
According to “The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide,” the star of “Mitchell,” Joe Don Baker, wanted to take a swing at the cast and writers in real life. But maybe more momentously, this was the final episode for host and creator Joel Hodgson; writer Mike Nelson took his place on the next episode, “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die,” setting up years of “Joel or Mike” debates (for those who tired of “Kirk or Picard”).
‘Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie’
“MST3K’s” foray into movie theaters made a twisted sort of sense: If people like watching films together and making fun of them, why not move that out of the living room and into a multiplex? While it didn’t translate into a financial success (the film only grossed about $1 million during its run), it’s worth watching to see what the show might look like with an actual budget.
The final film of the show’s Comedy Central run, it would also be the final appearance of Trace Beaulieu, who both played main bad guy Dr. Clayton Forrester and voiced Crow for the show’s first seven seasons.
After one of the earliest internet-spurred, fan-led “save our show” campaigns, the Sci-Fi Channel (now the oddly-spelled SyFy) picked up “MST3K” for three more seasons, finishing with Mike finally escaping from the Satellite of Love after screening this Italian action film.