‘Satellite of Love’ blasts off for live, one-night ‘MST3K’ reunion

Introduction In tribute to the “Mystery Science Theater Reunion Show,” which will screen at movie theaters Tuesday night in a special RiffTrax Live Event, we’ve compiled the Top 15 fan favorites from MST3K’s 10 seasons, as compiled by viewers on the Club MST3K fan site. Episodes are ranked by the number of “laughs” they get from viewers. The top episodes here are based on the number of laughs as of June. The episodes are followed by some of the author’s favorite “shorts” and episode segments, which as the fandom (otherwise known as “MSTies”) knows are beloved staples, including some of the best comedic moments of the show from 1988-99. Furthermore, they feature a rotating cast of memorable characters — like Pearl (May Jo Pehl), TV’s Frank (Frank Coniff) and Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu), all of whom will be on hand for the reunion, along with Joel Hodgson, the show’s creator and host through Season 5. So without further ado, on with the list … (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 15: ‘I Accuse My Parents’ — Season 5  An atrocious 1940s B-film with a ham-fisted moral message: a teen, neglected by his lush parents, falls in with a blond and the wrong crowd and blames his childhood when it all goes south. Memorable Riffs: “Well, your honor, I don’t believe my mother and father should have ever had a child.” I was abused as a zygote. “I had a lot of guys come in here broke. Never sent em’ away hungry.” Got em’ piled out back. (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 14 ‘Laserblast’ — Season 7 A cringeworthy 1978 flick representing the best-forgotten era when cheesy TV sci-fi drama fumbled awkwardly onto the big screen. This one, along with other “MST3K” favorites like “Riding with Death” and “Parts: The Clonus Horror,” provided for a trove of sidesplitting S.O.L. material. Memorable Riffs: “They are so right man, I really am just dust in the wind”
“Anything you say can and will be used to GET YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBAAAAALLL!” “So the aliens have come to Earth to acquire righteous vans?”
(Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 13: ‘Overdrawn at the Memory Bank’ — Season 8 MYSTies around the world are still wondering how the amazing Raul Julia ever ended up in this lousy made-for-public-TV movie. But we’re glad he did, if only because this is one of the most near-perfect episodes in the S.O.L. canon. Not only has it packed a million different derivative sci-fi tropes into one low-budget package, it also features a parallel “Casablanca” with Julia as an updated Latino Rick. The riffs roll on this one. Memorable Riffs: “Never show a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie” “I’m Daisy. I like poetry, rotten fruit and flinging my filth.” “Pure genius!” Couldn’t save this movie. (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 12 ‘Cave Dwellers’ — Season 3 From the era of “Conan the Barbarian” and its many 1980s knockoffs comes “Cave Dwellers,” which was first released as “Artor 2: The Blademaster” in Italy. The hero is a half-dressed, muscular Fabio and the lead lady is a leggy complement. The derivative plot is predictably insipid and well deserving of the relentless gibes. Memorable Riffs: “ … the world is populated with wild and cruel and ignorant men.” Oh, you mean the ’80s. “Geez, even Tolkien couldn’t follow this plot.” “Music by Super Mario Bros.” (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 11: ‘Prince of Space” — Season 8 We all know the most famous of the postwar Japanese monster-SCI movies, “Godzilla,” but lesser known offerings like “Prince of Space,” and “Invasion of the Neptune Men” (both Season 8), are truly awkward. Look no further than the voice-overs that grind the Japanese characters into canned 1950s Hollywood banality, particularly the ersatz Beaver Cleavers among the Japanese youngsters. Mike and the bots take full advantage. Memorable Riffs: “It’s a giant watermelon — GALLAGHER’S TAKING OVER!” “I have no powers, but I can skip reasonably well.” “What’s the matter with boot blacking? We both like it VERY MUCH.” (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 10: ‘Time Chasers’ — Season 8 This indie film out of Vermont was rather savaged by Mike and the bots, but “Time Chasers” became such a fan fave that it got more notoriety than it could have ever expected otherwise. Sadly, the movie’s cast and crew found out the hard way when they had a “viewing party” of the “MST3K” episode years later. According to Michael J. Nelson, they were horrified that their “Castleton snob,” “Dr. Evil” and “Plaid” reporter — in fact the entire state of Vermont — had been the subject of such a rip-roaring roast. Memorable Riffs: “It’s the Manchu Wok of the future!” “Your butt looks good in the future!” “A Pillsbury corporate retreat goes bad.” “Maybe he’ll be torn apart by Ewoks.” “He could use his chin for a piton!” (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 9: ‘Eegah!’ — Season 3 “Eegah” could have been the “Encino Man” of the 1960s, as a cave man crashes into the modern era and a love interest in this super cheesy B-offering which gets a lot of love from the MYSTie fandom. Memorable Riffs: “Watch out for snakes!” “Between love and Fred Flintstone lies obsession.” “He’s been there since the beginning of time and he’s only drawn 3 pictures!” (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 8: ‘Danger! Death Ray!’ — Season 6 This Italian secret-agent caper has plenty of dark suits with narrow ties, sleek black cars and Euro locales — and not much else. What it does have is plenty of fodder for Mike and the bots to jeer at the terrible production values and B-team James Bond. Memorable Riffs: “If Michael Caine and Andre the Giant had a child.” “Gentlemen, I should like to remind you first of all that the demonstration you’re about to witness is top secret. The reason for this will soon be obvious.” It’s in my pants. “Ah, the annual ‘Running of the Secret Agents’ in Pamplona.” (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 7: ‘Puma Man’ — Season 9 Like the aforementioned Laserblast, “Puma Man” is another cheesy ’70s attempt (this one Italian) at the sci-fi adventure genre. But the bad acting, even worse plot and bell-bottoms get in the way. Donald Pleasence does himself no favors as he is bested by a flying doofus who is supposedly the heir to an alien god of the Aztec race. Memorable Riffs: “I hate to be picky, but pumas aren’t really known for flying.” “Puma Man … he flies like a moron.” “Everybody was Aztec fighting …” (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 6: ‘Werewolf’ — Season 9 This straight-to-video horror film from 1996 has all the elements of a “MST3K” masterpiece: A bad guy who overacts and changes hairdos every scene, a lead gal who can’t act nor pronounce the word “werewolf” and a B-actor whose claim to fame is the celebrity of someone else in his family (Joe Estevez). The film is riddled with inconsistencies, confusion and low-budget high jinks. The perfect set up. Memorable Riffs: “During the course of the fight they stomped all over the Ark of the Covenant.” “‘Skin Walker?” Skin Walker, Texas Skin Ranger.
“Dictator for life: Santa Claus.”
(Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 5: ‘Pod People’ — Season 3 A totally lame ’80s rock-pop band go off to the woods for a party weekend. What could go wrong? “Trumpy,” that’s what. This movie about an E.T. rip-off with an angry mama is so bad it ripped off scenes from another movie for its opening sequence. Memorable Riffs: “Do you know what playing is, Trumpy? Yes … it’s where I break you in half. “Trumpy you can do magic!” It’s called evil, kid “Eww, stepped in some Trumpy dumpy.” (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 4: ‘Mitchell’ — Season 5 There are few actors who’ve been in the cross hairs of Mike, Joel and the bots as much as Joe Don Baker, who starred in several regrettable B-movie films in the ’70s and ’80s. “Mitchell” is a fan-fave and Joel’s farewell episode, heralding in the Mike era of the show. Baker gets an even worse ribbing in “Final Justice.” Memorable Riffs:
“This makes ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ look like ‘Bullitt!’” “The sidewalk kinda looks like ice cream if you squint hard.” “Mitchell, what the HELL are you doing?!” (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 3: ‘Manos the Hands of Fate’ — Season 4 This is possibly one of the worst films in “MST3K history” — and that’s what makes it so good. That, and “Torgo” the unsettling Igor character, who looks like he has the bottom half of his body backward and slithers around in an apparent drunken stupor. Joel and the bots had so much fun with Torgo and this dimwitted, zero-budget plot, that he made numerous re-appearances during the show’s later segments. Memorable Riffs:  “You know, he could fill out jodhpurs like regular pants.” “The tender peeping Torgo scene.” “I can’t help but wonder what this cast party was like.” “Ooh, it’s the latest episode in the Taster’s Choice saga.” (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 2: ‘Final Sacrifice’ — Season 9 Ah, Canada. Whether you like it or not, the relentless ribbing Mike and the bots give our neighbors to the north (and Servo, with a memorable anti-Canadian meltdown) make this one an all-time favorite. But it is more than that — the geeky red sweater kid paired up with the bloated, older “Zap Rowsdower,” against a cult led by a cross between a debate club captain and ’80s hair band wannabe, all make for sublime riffing. Even the segments (a case of hockey hair) rock. No surprise “Rowsdower!” has since become a fan meme, eh? Memorable Riffs: “My trained rats will lead the charge and my scabies will protect the right flank.” “Is he a makeup-less clown?” “Dear Agent Scully, I did not appreciate your lawyer’s tone.” “Canadian villain, Garth Vader.” “He was made in the image of an egg noodle!” “Do you have any idea what kind of people you’re dealing with?” They’re from Saskatchewan! “They’ve stumbled upon Geddy Lee’s birthplace!” (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
No. 1: ‘Space Mutiny’ — Season 8 There may be some fan debate whether “Space Mutiny” should best “Final Sacrifice” in the ranking (as of this writing, the former had 734 laughs, the latter had 611). But most MYSTies would agree that “Space Mutiny” — this silly ’80s confection involving a warehouselike space vessel, a captain who looks like Santa, a horny daughter, mutineering crew, and a steroidal pilot hero — has the best riff meme in MST3K history. See here and enjoy.   Memorable Riffs: “And our brave hero incinerates the disabled guy.”
“Put your helmet on, we’ll be reaching speeds of 3!” “So in the future there is absolutely no shame.” “That’s the cast of ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ coming the other way.” “They married and had a half-pound pork roast.” “MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!” That’s the Top 15 fan favorites. But we’re not done yet. Click the next few slides for other memorable moments … (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
Other Memorable Moments Mike’s “I Am Sad” song from “Girl in the Gold Boots” in Season 10. (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
Other Memorable Moments Joel’s Farewell in Season 5, which aired in 1993. (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
Other Memorable Moments Krankor visits from “Invasion of the Neptune Men” in Season 8. (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
Other Memorable Moments “Santa Claws — Stuff This in Your Stocking” during “Santa Claus” in Season 6. (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
Other Memorable Moments “SOL Children’s TV” goes horribly wrong for the orphan space kids in Season 8. (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
Other Memorable Moments “When Loving Lovers Love” — Public Pearl TV — during “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” in Season 8. (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
Other Memorable Moments The short “A Case of Spring Fever” featuring “Coily” the spring sprite, which preceded “Squirm” in Season 10. (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
Other Memorable Moments “The End,” the last segment of the last episode during “Diabolik” on August 8, 1999. (Rifftrax/Fathom Events)
September 29, 2023 | (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — Most older fans of the movie-riffing comedy series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” probably don’t recall the first time they saw their first episode. Like the iconic “Satellite of Love,” the dog bone-shaped ship, foam planet logo and familiar “MST3K” stage set, it kind of floated into public consciousness somewhere in the ’90s, docked and never left.

With a generous circulation of the show’s 10 seasons on YouTube, streaming and boxed sets, the S.O.L. never has to leave. Furthermore, fans insist the humor transcends “time and space” — and it does. Save for random references to moldy headlines — a Nancy Kerrigan here, a Trent Lott there — the cast has taken what turns out to be a centuries-old entertainment form into a universal sphere.

Simply put, “MST3K” never grows old.

For those unfamiliar with the format: three regular characters — one human (Joel in the early years, Mike the later seasons) and two robots (Tom Servo and Crow) are trapped in space. Villains (“The Mads” in the early years, “Pearl Forrester” & Co. in the Mike years) force them to “watch cheesy movies, the worst I can find,” to which the main characters add their arch, irreverent and silly goofball commentary. In between, live-action comedy segments and one-off skits feature a rotating mix of bots, aliens, apes and other characters, burnishing a continuing story thread.

With its progenitors in the “horror host” genre dating back to the 1950s, “MST” started riffing in the movies with the ironic humor that has since taken over the cultural zeitgeist. Fans geek out on the sophisticated references (and if they don’t get a few, so what, they still sound funny), while blissfully indulging in charmingly puerile humor at the same time. The segments are an homage to sci-fi galore — everything from “Star Trek” and “Planet of the Apes” to modern sitcoms, history and pop-culture absurdities. The writing is super clever, without glamour or pretension. Just a group of Midwestern guys whose droll, mom’s basement sensibility jibed with the age and brought us all along for the ride.

But “MST3K” — with creator Joel Hodgson, Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy (robot Servo), Bill Corbett (robot Crow) and the assorted cast — has never slipped so far into nostalgia that it’s become mere sci-fi memorabilia. After the “MSTK3” era, which began on local KMTA in Minneapolis in 1988, moved to Comedy Central in 1989, and ended on Syfy in 1999, its various components pushed further into burgeoning online frontiers.

Most successfully, RiffTrax was launched in 2006, with Nelson, Murphy and Corbett riffing old and new movies with a new concept that avoided the expensive task of securing the rights to films by merely recording “riffing tracks.” Users rent their own copies of the films and sync the downloaded track (for a tiny fee) with the movie while it plays on screen. This allows for the “MST” experience, but with new bad (and not so bad) movies — from “Roadhouse” to “Lord of the Rings” — and more recently big-budget favorites like “Thor” and “Game of Thrones.”

The new concept not only won over a new generation of fans, it also enabled its creators to try new things, producing new online B-movies and shorts, riffing specials with NatGeo, and Live Shows — something the “Sharknado” franchise has more than benefited from.

Meanwhile, RiffTrax has brought in some of the old regulars from the “MST” era, like Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl), Bridget J. Nelson and assorted comedians for riffing on various projects. Hodgson, who went his own way after leaving the S.O.L., has embarked on various ventures like the live Cinematic Titanic events. More recently, he crowdsourced more than $5 million for a “MST3K” reprise that’s already begun filming and will include Hodgson with comedians Jonah Ray, Patton Oswalt and Felicia Day.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s reunion. The full cast will come together for the first time since Mike and Joel’s overlap episode 23 years ago. The much-anticipated RiffTrax Live event (also marking RiffTrax’s 10th anniversary) will be broadcast from a sold-out State Theater in Minneapolis, where it all started, to venues all over the country (click here for tickets in your area). The show will include Hodgson, Nelson, Murphy, Corbett, Pehl, Nelson, Trace Beaulieu (“Dr. Forrester”), Frank Conniff (“TV’s Frank”) and Jonah Ray for an evening of shorts and a “riffapalooza” finale.

Yes, this is partly a nostalgia event. The rows of seats in theaters across the country will certainly be filled with Boomers and Gen-Exers who grew up with “MST3K” and continued watching long after it was lamentably dropped by Syfy 17 years ago. From its time as an old-fashioned fan club (the P.O. Box always appeared in the last few minutes of every episode), the “MSTie” community has slowly metastasized into a bona fide fandom of geeks, B-film buffs and AV club refugees, soaking up the shrewd blend of humor with a side of cornball slacker bliss.

They’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and the experience will, no doubt, be out of this world.

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