Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Case For Mystery Science Theater 3000

Last week I played the devils advocate, pointing out the reasons why many people dislike one of my favorite shows. Now I offer the support for the show.

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Humor is based on the reaction to something unexpected. You sit down to watch a movie and you expect some basic things in it to work. Sure those expectations may be unreasonable, especially if the names involved in the film are ones you appreciate. Sometimes that movie doesn't meet your expectations. The result is laughter. For example: you expect a movie call "Space Mutiny" to be an exciting adventure of heroes and villains in space, doing battle. What you get is something that is not exciting, not really an adventure. The heroes are not likable and the villains are laughable. The space shots are all done with borrowed scenes from the original "Battlestar Galactica" and interior shots done in warehouse. There are battles but they involve souped up golf carts. How are you not supposed to laugh at that?

What Mystery Science Theater does is take the movie as a launching point. It takes the expectations you have for a movie and uses those as the basics of it's humor. But in a way it is more than that. The writers really outdo themselves with the vast amounts of knowledge they have at their disposal. They will use references to obscure album covers, forgotten TV shows and even classical history to create a fabric of sophisticated humor. Added to that is the (then) current pop culture references, low brow jokes, and even open name calling. To me, the humor on display here covers such a wide stretch that it can appeal to nearly everyone. Most people who watch an episode of the show will find it amusing because there is something for everyone.

On top of it, the movies shown are mostly forgotten. They were released, some may have been moderately popular for their time, but now, most people will not have a clue who or what "The Beast of Yucca Flats" is all about. Yet the movie "Manos: The Hands of Fate" and "The Incredibly Strange Creatures to Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies" would be all but forgotten except for the fact that they have been shown on MST3K and actually gained a following of a sort. Some movies were never even released. The "The Dead Talk Back" was given their first life on MST3K. Sure it's a dubious fame, but many of the creators embrace the chance and can say "Who am I that I can't be laughed at."

And yes the host segments are low budget, extremely goofy and sometimes so obtuse they are painful - but these guys and gals go out of their way to make you laugh. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail, but much like the riffs they come up with they give you such a scattershot of comedy that something is bound to work. Some may find "Public Pearl" incredibly annoying. I will find myself frequently singing about "loving lovers love again."

In their own way, the creators of MST3K love movies. It's obvious with many of the quips they make, that they have watched and enjoyed countless films. And the willingness to sit through these movies tells me that at some level they enjoy them. This show was made by movie lovers for movie lovers. And while fans of the show may debate if "Pod People" is more hideous than "The Final Sacrifice", most of us would be more than happy to sit back and watch both of them as a double feature. Some of the quips maybe a bit cynical or even rude - but at the core, there is a love for all movies there.

This is a perfect storm of comedy entertainment. The writing is often top notch, with lines that will surprise and delight you. The movie selection is top notch and the energy is always high. For me this show was one of the funniest I've ever seen. Sure there are people who won't like it or won't understand it's appeal. But the majority of us will always find something fun about a man in a rubber suit attempting to be monster even if his zipper shows.

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