February 1, 2006TV ON DVD
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Essentials
The brainchild of inventor/comedian Joel Hodgson, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K to the converted) premiered in the fledgling days of Comedy Central, and its unique premise and quirky humor quickly made it one of the network's flagship shows. Hodgson played Joel Robinson, a man haplessly shot into space by two scheming scientists — Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and his dopey assistant, TV's Frank (Frank Conniff) — who forced Robinson to watch terrible movies as part of a vaguely-defined take-over-the-world experiment. To keep himself company aboard the lonely Satellite of Love, Joel built robot companions Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) and Crow T. Robot (Beaulieu again), who joined him in the theater to make wisecracks. The show featured numerous cast changes over the years, including Hodgson stepping down as the primary human on the show to be replaced by head writer Mike Nelson in the midst of the fifth season, but The Essentials episodes are both from the Joel years. Joel was always my favorite host, exuding a general easygoing likeability that Mike never managed to emulate. His friendship with the īBots seemed genuine and sweet, despite their being made of plastic. Joel just seemed to be playing himself, and Joel seemed like the kind of guy you'd want to be friends with.
|"The Master," it turns out, is a mustachioed devil-man who has awoken for... some reason, to do... something. Anyway, he has a cool black robe with two giant red handprints on it. It's boss.|
The second episode of the set is the aptly— and ridiculously-titled Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The emotionless Martians kidnap Santa to make their children happy, and he wins over the Martian people with his endless Christmas cheer, despite opposition from a surly Martian named Voldar who hates Santa for... some reason... because he's so happy all the time? These movies don't always make sense. Regardless, Voldar repeatedly tries to kill Santa. At one point, Voldar attempts to eject Santa into the vacuum of space, and when his plot is foiled Crow pipes up in his best Bond-villain voice: "Ah, Mr. Claus. You have a nasty habit of surviving." And don't even get me started on the mugging of Dropo, the laziest Martian on Mars. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a prime MST episode, combining hilarious commentary with a movie that's pretty funny on its own merits. The episode also contains one of the series' best sketches. MST always excelled at funny original songs, and they don't come much funnier than "A Patrick Swayze Christmas," a carol Crow has written combining Christmas with his favorite movie, Roadhouse. "It's my way or the highway, this Christmas at my bar/I'll have to smash your kneecaps if you bastards touch my car." It's just the sort of pop-culture-soaked ridiculousness that made MST such a success.
Although there are eight other Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode collections, as well as numerous single episodes available, if you're new to the series, this is the place to start. If these two episodes don't clue you in to the show's genius, nothing will.
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