Washington Post TV columnist Tom Shales has the scoop on the new incarnation of one of Time magazine's top 100 shows ever, Mystery Science Theater 3000.
For those unfamiliar with the Comedy Central program, which premiered — this can't be right, can it? — 20 years ago, creator Joel Hodgson's theme song set up the premise: In the not-too-distant future, a guy working in a satellite loading bay becomes stranded in space with robot pals created from odds and ends found on the spacecraft. A mad scientist who controls their environment from Earth forces them to watch terrible old movies. To remain sane, the spaceman and his robot crew openly ridicule the movie on the screen, as you and your buddies would an episode of The McLaughlin Group.
No, it ain't Shakespeare, but MST3K was regarded well enough to be awarded a Peabody and spun off into a 1996 theatrical motion picture version (minus Hodgson, who'd left the franchise several seasons before–not to pursue other projects, as he told interviewers at the time, but, as he reveals to Shales, creative differences with others brought aboard well into the show's run).
If you're partial to Joel over second MST3K host Mike Nelson, you'll be happy to know the older episodes are available in a special 20th-anniversary collection just out on DVD. If that's not enough to satisfy your Cambot jones, the show has been reincarnated by Hodgson as Cinematic Titanic, which Shales describes thusly:
In Cinematic Titanic, the robots, sadly, are gone, but the basic format and the show's essence remain — an indoor sport that Hodgson calls “riffing on movies” and thus turning such sow's ears as The Wasp Woman or Earth vs. the Spider into hilarious silk purses. He is joined by four colleagues from the original cast and writing crew. In stark silhouette against the movie screen, they watch the nearly unwatchable and poke fun aplenty.
Episodes are available on DVD or you can simply download them; it's $14.99 a pop either way. Targets of the barbs (so far) include The Doomsday Machine, The Wasp Woman, Legacy of Blood and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Hodgson originally did not want to do that last one (starring pre-teen Pia Zadora) because it had already been mangled by MST3K, but he was convinced to make an exception just this one time, with all new jokes.
Finally, something to eat up that holiday gift cash.