For anyone who has been trapped aboard a satellite for the past few months, the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will premiere on Netflix later this year. The eleventh season was funded through fans on Kickstarter and also happens to involve a few people we like around here. Fans of MST3K (the shortened title of the show) from all over the world are on the edge of their seats waiting for information about the new season. While we all wait, we’re revisiting some episodes to watch in the meantime. We’ve chosen one episode per season as essential; not the best, necessarily, but one that could also be important for the show’s history or connects to an odd bit of trivia. Any one of these would work well as a gateway to introduce someone to the show.
It’s also a good excuse to have a Turkey Day marathon outside of November for whatever arbitrary holiday is nearby. Happy Edgar Allen Poe’s Birthday MST3K Marathon, everyone!
We’ve even included links to The Annotated MST3K video for episodes where available to help point out ALL the references in an episode for those fans new and old to understand everything.
Season One: The Crawling Eye
The KTMA episodes went officially unreleased for many years because the Best Brains crew felt they weren’t up to the standards of later seasons. The first season tends to also be uneven as the writers and performers are still figuring out the right rhythm and just what the show is about. The same could be said about nearly every TV show, so our choice for the first season is the first episode, The Crawling Eye. It’s a chance to look back at where everything started and how far the show came in later years.
Season Two: Godzilla vs Megalon
Joel and The ‘Bots tackled several Godzilla movies during this season, with this flick standing out because of Jet Jaguar and one of the first great running gags of the show: “Jet Jaguar says up yours!” These films also became something of a lost commodity thanks to a dispute between the rights holder Sandy Frank and Best Brains. Godzilla Vs. Megalon was briefly released on DVD before the rights issues caused a recall, making this DVD one of the rarities fans hunt down.
Season Three: Pod People
By now, the crew found their groove. Season Three has some great episodes, but “Pod People” won out due some killer riffs, a movie that seems to be one thing (a cheap ET knockoff for kids) while being something else (a scary-as-hell monster alien flick), and also showcasing the budding musical element from the show.
Season Four: Manos The Hands of Fate
The MST3K crew seemed to have everything under control up until this point. Manos is a test of their humor and the audience’s endurance with a plodding pace, mumbling sound edits and odd score. That Torgo Theme IS haunting, though, and this film was given new life because of fans that loved to hate—or hated to love this movie.
Season Five: Mitchell
The great fandom controversy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 comes down to one question: Mike or Joel. Most fans like both, but generally only love one. This is the episode where the baton is passed from Joel’s sleepy but obscure humor to Mike’s affable but broader riffs. It’s also a great bad movie that supposedly made things awkward when some of the performers met Joe Don Baker in real life.
Season Six: Zombie Nightmare
Recognizable actors showing up in the grade Z sludge that the show scraped for material were always a rare treat. Not only does this show have two—Adam West before his Family Guy resurgence and Tia Carerra before her Wayne’s World breakthrough—but it also has a killer rock soundtrack that almost makes the rambling zombie revenge flick worth it without Mike and The ‘Bots.
Season Seven: Laserblast
This film was the end of an era, with the show moving to The Sci-Fi Channel in a troublesome transition and several performers making their final on-screen bows. The film they go out on is a strong one, with some good running gags, pointing out the films that Leonard Maltin rated higher than Laserblast and a head-scratching ending that was never really addressed in later seasons.
Season Eight: Space Mutiny
This sci-fi film, which uses effects shots from the original Battlestar Galactica rather than spend their own money on effects, is home to one of the greatest running gag riffs in the history of the show. Just ask Dave Ryder, aka Beet Punchbeef aka Dirk Hardpec aka Punch RockGroin aka…
Season Nine: The Final Sacrifice
Season Nine had a lot of worthy entries, but in the end, it all comes down to Zap. Zap Rowsdower stumbles his way through an adventure featuring a map, a feral teenager and existential questions like “Is there beer on the sun?”
Season Ten: Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders
The last episode on our list is the last episode that aired in the original broadcast run. This odd movie combines a celebrity sighting, a movie that was clearly spliced together from a few others, and a benevolent Merlin that Mike and The Bots get to feed evil lines during their riffs.
What is your favorite MST3K riff? Let us know in the comments.
Featured image courtesy of Shout! Factory
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He writes about kaiju, Jedi, gangsters, elves, Vulcans and sometimes all of them at the same time. His blog is here, his Twitter is here and his meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.