The classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1989 – 1999) is remembered primarily for what goes on inside the Satellite of Love’s movie theater, namely the very funny riffing on extremely bad movies.
And yet, for many fans, the skit segments — which mark the beginning and end of the shows, and appear at other intervals throughout as well — remain equally memorable. Early in the run, many of the skits involved invention exchanges, while later in the run parodies of science fiction classics (like Star Trek [1966- 1969], Planet of the Apes (1968), or 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) were often the order of the day.
Your mileage may vary, but these are the skits that made me laugh the hardest.
5. Captain Michael Nelson Janeway (Laserblast)
The final episode of the Comedy Central Mystery Science Theater 3000 years not only selected a fun movie to lampoon — the 1978 film, Laserblast — but also featured some of the greatest skits of the entire Mike Era.
In strong contention for that title is the skit that finds Mike dressed in Starfleet uniform as Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) of Star Trek: Voyager (1995 – 2001).
Here, the Satellite of Love is being pulled inexorably into a black hole, and Mike, as Janeway uses a flurry of indecipherable 1990s-era Star Trek techno-babble to save the ship from doom, all while adopting Mulgrew’s staccato style and macho brand of line delivery. The bots don’t know whether to be attracted to Mike in this new, husky guise…or simply terrified.
4. Joel and the Bots try to survive Mano: The Hands of Fate
Manos: the Hands of Fate is a favorite installment of MSTies everywhere, and the skits in the episode are top-notch from start to finish. The ending skit, with Torgo (Mike Nelson) delivering pizza to Deep 13 is a classic in its own right. But another skit, with Joel (Joel Hodgson) and the Bots in character as vacationers on a car trip 00 when pulled over by Sheriff Gypsy — is also funny, in part because it’s tough for the players to commit to it. The Bots and Joel try, but they get interrupted by TV’s Frank, who apologizes for the movie, and Crow breaks character because of the Manos-suffused (jazz?) soundtrack. There are some horrors you just can’t un-see and this skit is evidence that Manos fits the bill. It’s hard to have fun when you are watching the most incompetent film ever made.
3. It Stinks! (Pod People)
Joel, the Bots, and even the Mads perform a pitch-perfect mockery of a song featured in the bad movie of the week, Pod People. It has nothing to do with pods. And it has nothing to do with people. The song “Hear the Engines Roll Now” is virtually unintelligible in the film, but the MST-3K singers give it their all, with lyrics that grow increasingly nonsensical. Topping it all off, TV’s Frank (Frank Conniff) wears the same “I’m a Virgin” T-shirt as a very effete character in the film, and Joel offers a summation of the movie and the song in enthusiastic close-up. “It stinks!”
2. Timmy! (Fire Maidens of Outer Space)
Okay, this is more a series of skits than one skit. But throughout “Fire Maidens of Outer Space,” Crow (Trace Beaulieu), Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy), and Joel must contend with Crow’s evil doppelganger: a silent, silver-eyed bit of nightmare-fodder named Timmy. Timmy grows increasingly more disturbing throughout the show, finally attacking Tom Servo in the theater. The episode ends with an ode to the Alien saga, as Timmy cocoons Tom Servo, who begs Joel to “kill” him. Then Joel tosses Timmy out the airlock. The episode’s finale finds Timmy finding a new home in Deep 13, and showing a terrified TV’s Frank his alien-esque inner jaw.
1.Dr. Forrester Evolves into the Star Child (Laserblast)
The clip isn’t available on YouTube, alas, but the final skit of the Comedy Central years, in Laserblast, is a pitch-perfect, drop-dead parody of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mike and the Bots give up corporeality and become disembodied “light” in space, while Dr. Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) ages before our very eyes, finally, at one point, grasping not for the alien monolith, but for a giant rectangular videotape…the mythical “Worst Movie Ever Made.” He then transforms into a space baby, and lands in the loving care of his mother, Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl). The skit is so funny for the spot-on 2001 touches — including the Victorian sitting room, the broken glass of wine, and the heavy-breathing sound-effects — but also resonates in terms of Dr. Forrester’s journey for the first seven years on the series. His great experiment, his great success — the world’s worst movie — is within reach but never quite reached, never quite inflicted on his subjects. The statues of Crow and Servo, bracketing the videotape monolith, mockingly represent his failure.