I was 11 when I discovered the joy that is "Mystery Science Theater 3000."
My friend Christian came over one Saturday excited about a show he'd seen the week before, so we sat in front of my tiny TV in the basement and turned on the Sci Fi Channel.
The episode was "The Final Sacrifice," one of the best of the entire series' run, and I laughed so hard I cried. From that day on, I was hooked.
The premise is straightforward enough: a hapless schmo is held captive in the Satellite of Love by a mad scientist, who forces him to sit through "the worst movies ever made."
To preserve his sanity, the human — and robot pals Tom Servo and Crow — mocks everything in the films, from the hamfisted writing to the atrocious acting to the cringe-inducing production values.
It's meta-tastic, with the characters talking to us while we watch them — little silhouettes at the bottom of the screen — watch a movie. During the commercial breaks, the crew of the SOL and the "Mads" put on skits with cheap costumes and props. It's charmingly low-budget.
MST3K was the brainchild of Joel Hodgson, who starred as the host, Joel Robinson, for the first six seasons. Joel ultimately escaped in the episode "Mitchell" and was replaced by another Midwesterner: Mike Nelson.
Everyone has their favorite host; mine is definitely Mike. I just dig his style of comedy, which is a little goofier and more expressive than Joel's soft-spoken and drier wit. I also prefer Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl), Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy) and Brain Guy (Bill Corbett) to the earlier Mads.) The show ended in 1999, then returned for two more seasons via Netflix with a new cast.
I've always loved watching bad movies. Throw in snarky commentary and wise-cracking robots? I'm in heaven. The following are my very, very favorite Mike-helmed episodes, which you should track down ASAP — after all, one of the MSTie credos is “keep circulating the tapes!”
11. "THE SCREAMING SKULL." "Check out the stride on that ghost!" cackles Tom in this black and white melodrama about a newlywed seeing skulls while her husband — who totally didn't kill his first wife — assures everyone she's just insane. Favorite recurring gag: everything to do with the creepy gardener, Mickey, who talks like Snagglepuss. A great Gumby short, "Robot Rumpus," kicks off the episode.
10. "BOGGY CREEK II: AND THE LEGEND CONTINUES." A professor takes three students camping in Arkansas in search of a Bigfoot. That's an accredited college class, right? "Drivin' down the road, lookin' for a Waffle House, drinkin' lotsa Wild Turkey, YEE-HOO!" sings Tom.
9. "THE TOUCH OF SATAN." A lackadaisical guy named Jodie falls in love with a witch on a walnut ranch and has to contend with her murderous sister, "Grandma Dried Applehead," between reeeeally big pauses. "This is where the fish lives," says the witch at one point for no reason.
8. "SQUIRM." "YOU GON BE THE WORMFACE NOW," screams the redneck antagonist in this killer worm farce set in Georgia, while the rest of the characters — and the SOL crew — constantly call out for "Mr. Beardsley?" BONUS! This episode features the best short, "A Case of Spring Fever," starring Coily the Spring Sprite.
7. "THE THING THAT COULDN'T DIE." A psychic teenager finds an "EVIL!" box containing the head of a warlock, who promptly hypnotizes everyone on the ranch, much to her consternation. Her aunt is hungry for "TRAY-sure!" and there's a helpful amulet found in a "skilled artisan rat's" nest.
6. "HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND." A dance troupe is marooned and their skeevy manager becomes a were-spider. There's a lot of sexy sax music and girls clawing at each other in skimpy castaway outfits. "Too bad we can't grab this movie with a tissue and crumple it and flush it down the toilet," laments Mike.
5. "WEREWOLF." Or, as per the lead actress, "WHARWILF!" A lycanthrope skeleton is unearthed and a psychotic archaeologist uses it to turn people into werewolves for kicks, including our "hero" Paul. Co-starring "one of the lesser Estevezes" and a gun-toting Santa. Mike and the Bots get their '60s girl group on in a skit, then sing a rousing medley of songs over the jingly end credits. "TUSK!"
4. "JACK FROST." In this Russo-Finnish fairy tale mashup of Jack Frost and Baba Yaga, hero Ivan is turned into a mouth-breathing bear by Father Mushroom and the dewy heroine has an evil stepsister who bears a striking resemblance to Tom Petty. "If Disappearing Elf Hide-And-Seek were in the Olympics, Finland would be in great shape!" quips Crow.
3. "THE FINAL SACRIFICE." ABSOLUTELY ICONIC. In this Canadian cultist caper, our heroes are Troy, a dweeby teenager, and a denim-clad drunk named — I KID YOU NOT — Zap Rowsdower. And the villain? "Garth Vader!" insists Mike. Everyone catches Hockey Hair from Bobo, and Tom, dressed as a Mountie, sings "I Wish I Was Back In Old Canada," a zippy tune that gets progressively darker.
2. "THE MOVIE: THIS ISLAND EARTH." A beefy nuclear scientist is recruited by aliens with big foreheads who need him to rebuild their planet's protective shield. "Then I'll ram my ovipositor down your throat and lay my eggs in your chest — but I'm not an alien!" jokes Tom. My friends and I can quote this one in toto.
1. "SPACE MUTINY." There's a spaceship that looks suspiciously like a railing-filled warehouse. The captain could be Santa's twin. There are witchy yoga priestesses who speak via sultry telepathy. Our hero — who "bravely roasts a disabled man!" — is called Big McLargeHuge, Slab Bulkhead and Blast Hardcheese, among others. (The Many Names of David Ryder alone make this the all-time greatest, as does the running gag about "Sherry's birthday card" and the character who comes back from the dead.)
FOOTNOTE: I polled a Facebook group of fans — and my MSTie friends — on their favorite Mike episodes. Over 200 votes later, we have our ranking. Cambot, give me Rocket Number 9 (and the Top 10 Results, please):
1. "Space Mutiny" (58 votes)
2. "The Final Sacrifice" (46)
3. "Werewolf" (40)
4. "The Pumaman" (21)
5. "The Touch of Satan" (18)
6. "Jack Frost" (15)
7. "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank" (14)
8. "Hobgoblins" (13)
9. "Prince of Space" (11)
10. "Girl in Gold Boots" AND "Danger!! Death Ray" (10 each)
• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at email@example.com.