In Which I Blame Ren And Stimpy For My Missing Out On Something Cool A While

Friday comes the release of the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s a show that was important to me so I thought I’d talk about my relationship with it some. It’s a nearly one-sided relationship, although I do follow Frank Conniff on Twitter, where he has never noticed me. He’s had other stuff to do.

My first clear memory of knowing about the show was during one of their college tours. I think it had to be 1993. Some friends told me I had to go see it because I would love the show. They were right, but I didn’t believe them. I was still feeling burned after a lot of buildup for Ren and Stimpy, which I tried and learned was so utterly inappropriate for my tastes as to make me wonder if the people who recommended it to me knew anything about me. So I skipped it. Probably just as well. I’m sure whatever I was doing that night was more important anyway. It would have been playing Civilization I on the Macs in the office of the unread left-wing student weekly I wrote for. And I had nowhere to watch the show anyway, as I didn’t have cable, and even if I did, no cable systems had Comedy Central in those days. Yes, yes, there was trading in videotapes but I didn’t have a videotape player at college, because it was 1993.

A couple years pass and I hear occasional bits about what a great show it is. I go off to grad school. Mystery Science Theater 3000 begets a syndicated hourlong version, made by cutting each episode in half and airing them successive weeks. It doesn’t air in my grad school’s TV market. But I get to try out some episodes when I’m home for some break. The first half of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The first half of Pod People. Both are classic episodes, although Pod People was the harder to watch. The underlying movie is really sluggish, with muddy audio; if you’re not paying close attention the thing is gibberish. Still, I’m intrigued. The syndicated version goes off the air without my ever catching the second half of an episode.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 begets a movie version. I’m glad to give that a try. There’s some nice publicity drives that make the show sound appealing, or at least worth trying out. The movie is finally released, although not to theaters. The studio makes maybe two-thirds of a print and circulates it for literally minutes. If it ever, ever appeared in a theater in the Albany area I never heard about it.

Ah, but! My grad school changes its cable provider to one that’s got Comedy Central. Finally I can give the show a try. By that time the show’s been officially cancelled from its Comedy Central home, but it’s still running a bunch of episodes ahead of the move to the Sci-Fi Channel. It occupies a couple timeslots early Saturday and late Sunday. I try out my first episode: The Magic Voyage of Sinbad. It’s a fine episode, still one of my favorites. It’s a foreign movie, a Ruso-Finnish coproduction telling one of the legends of Sadko, whom I don’t know anything about either, which is why when the movie was imported it was redubbed as “Sinbad”. It’s a gorgeous film, full of practical effects and telling about a hero trying to bring happiness to his people and sailing to India and encountering magic and wonder. If it all comes out a little weird that’s probably because legends are a bit like that, especially when it’s legends from another culture and then made into a movie and then redubbed and probably reedited and all that. But it’s beautiful if odd and delightful. By the time I was forty minutes in I was sold on the show. It was also 2:40 am and I theoretically had classes the next day, so went to sleep, still never having seen the end of an episode.

Next Saturday there’s another episode. The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, 10 am. I forget to set the VCR. (I know which episode it was because MST3K fans, incredibly, have kept track of the broadcasting of episodes.) Also somewhere in this time I’ve gotten a VCR. I set the VCR for Kitten With A Whip, 7:00 the next morning. Finally, finally I get to see an episode all the way to the end.

So, yes, I’m sold. Also I’m there at the last three months of the show’s Comedy Central run. I’ll have the chance to catch two episodes a week of a show that’s run for (then) seven seasons, and then probably never see them again. Mystery Science Theater 3000 exists in a complex battlefield of airing rights; there were already, then, episodes that everyone knew could never be legally shown again. There’s still some episodes that it looks like might never be legally released. But three months of the experience is far better than not having the experience at all.

I splurge, and start recording episodes in LP so they’ll be of higher fidelity. Not SP, though. I was a grad student. I didn’t have SP kind of money to spend on blank videotape, come on.

Tomorrow, unless I forget: my new MST3K fandom gets worse.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose two points today as it turned out the shampoo thing was no big deal and nobody really thought I was going to make a go of it, and I’m not hurt but I shall be in the corner weeping, thank you.


Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

6 thoughts on “In Which I Blame Ren And Stimpy For My Missing Out On Something Cool A While”

  1. My entry into the world of MST3k was pretty backwards. I had heard about it in high school because of some very enthusiastic friends, but my family didn’t have cable at all so I had no way of watching it. I did manage to catch a few minutes of the syndicated run at one point but the reception was so bad and the people in the same room as me thought it was dumb and insisted on turning it off. But then I found out about fan MiSTings of terrible fanfic, and they were a lot of fun, and as a result I ended up renting MST3k: The Movie which was absolutely hilarious. Then I finally moved into an apartment that had cable and this was when it had just moved to Sci-Fi Channel, and I was hooked.

    (My favorite episode is Werewolf.)


    1. You are me and I claim my five pounds. (This was a thing we said in my parts of Usenet back in the 90s.) Not literally, anyway, but getting into something by way of its fanfiction is so much a me thing to do.

      I’m not sure which I’d say is my favorite episode, although Danger!! Death Ray and The Day The Earth Froze are high up there.


  2. Whenever I see the phrase ‘keep circulating the tapes’ I think about how thanks to my brother moving to East Worcester NY and his insistence that his kids don’t grow up with bad TV as a babysitter, I was given the golden opportunity to introduce his kids to the wonders of Next Gen and MST3k. Every time I’d take the four hour trip to their house I would have with me a soda carton full of vhs tapes of episodes of those shows, Babylon 5, DS9, Robocop:The Series, Animaniacs,and many other shows and movies with a SciFi premise. And thanks to their returning the tapes I now have a great collection of 80s/90s commercials and promos as well as rare episodes that Im burning to DVD and Youtube. I smile as I remember the looks on my niece and nephew’s faces as I brought new shipments of shows.


    1. That’s a great scene and also, surely, great for having all those weird bits of pop culture detritus on the VHS tapes now. I admit I’m a bit surprised kids who were sheltered against bad TV were able to make sense of stuff like Animaniacs and Mystery Science Theater 3000, given how many of their jokes were mentioning something from elsewhere in pop culture. But then I suppose both have the advantage that their structures make clear what the laugh lines are supposed to be, so as long as they have the audience’s trust they don’t need to necessarily make sense.


    1. Oh, yes, between Alum and Castor Oil there’s so many things from old cartoons whose purpose I couldn’t even begin to fathom

      Also now I wonder if anybody ever did the joke where someone opens up a sheet of fly-paper and a torrent of flies emerges from it. Probably too surreal for anything but a visit-to-wackyland cartoon (or maybe a silent), but it still seems like it should’ve been there somewhere.


Please Write Something Funnier Than I Thought To

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: