| 03.18.2018

Keep circulating the tapes


The legacy of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000′

If the words, “Movie Sign” mean nothing to you, then you are missing out on one of the most beloved and funniest shows to ever hit the airwaves, “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

This 10-year-long odyssey of laughs chronicles the plight of Joel Hodgson –and later Michael J. Nelson — and robots Tom Servo and Crow, orbiting on the Satellite of Love, left with nothing to do except watch B-Movies from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

This may not sound interesting, but there’s a twist. Joel, Mike and the bots don’t just watch the movie. They give a commentary on the film pointing out its many flaws. They’ll talk to the film, insert dialogue and even gesture to it, all while making specific references and making a mockery of bad cinema.

This simple, yet ingenious premise inspired a cult following around the world. To this day, people will try their own “MSTied” versions of bad films and even former cast members of the show will riff on bad movies live in theaters. But what is it about this sci-fi show that keeps people coming back to it after all these years?

The cast shifted from season to season, the movies range from bad to terrible and the effects are cheesy by today’s standards, and yet the show endures. Even in 2015, people laugh out loud at the brilliant writing, impeccable timing and sketches that mock the then current culture. The show’s references are specific and dated — odds are half the theme songs they hum will fly over audience member’s heads — but whenever they get the chance, the writers dish out witty lines at an alarming rate. For example, when a movie shows an image of a skeleton, they immediately turn it into a diet commercial.

In between the film, they do sketches that include, but are not limited to, a game of William Sylvester Trivial Pursuit, a guitar solo that never ends, constructing a refrigerator with an udder, a man believing he is James Lipton until he’s hit with a clown hammer and a presentation about whether or not women really exist. The list goes on and on.

The show’s sense of humor is one that anybody can enjoy. Adults will pick up on the throwbacks to “The Paper Chase,” while everybody else will enjoy the quick-witted talkbacks to the stupid characters in the film. All the show’s personalities are memorable and no two are alike. No matter where you stand on the Mike vs. Joel debate, you have to admit they both made you laugh a lot. Tom and Crow deliver many visual gags and the mad scientists holding them captive are so evil they’re funny. No matter what season you’re watching, it’s easy to catch up with a theme song that explains the entire premise — which is constantly changed to keep up with the times.

The running gags still resonate to this day. Every week, Joel comes up with a new invention you’ll wish was real, Mike will unintentionally irritate the robot who does his hair and the most ridiculous part of the movie will make an encore appearance at the end of the show. The end credits advises viewers to “keep circulating the tapes” so everyone can keep watching. Mike will become anyone at will, including someone of the opposite sex, and the bots will keep him in check. The movies will range from only slightly watchable to “Hobgoblins.”

If you haven’t already, check out “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and enjoy one of the funniest shows ever made. It goes from a simple sci-fi comedy to a timeless classic effortlessly. So to all MSTies coast to coast, keep circulating the tapes.

Bradley Burgess can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu

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