Mystery Science Theater 3000 is so vital to my taste in comedy it seems impossible to think there was a time I didn’t watch it regularly. That was before I was 12. After my mom had my brother and I watch it, it hit us on a chemical level. MST3K is one of the rare things in my life that’s just pure, clean. There’s nothing connected to it but happy memories. and in this dark moment, let’s dwell on a rare good.
In no order except the first being the best.
Hobgoblins. I should let you know right away these are familiar choices. I don’t really debate the generally accepted best of the best. So let’s kick it off with what I consider their finest hour. Hobgoblins is legendary as the one the director asked them to do and while that’s not quite true (he wanted another film done which they rejected but liked this one, it’s close enough. He asked to be roasted and he got it with one of their absolute cruelest riffs of a film that posed as a Gremlins cash in but was really the creator’s deep sick sexual issues brought to the surface. It’s a bad though hardly unwatchable film which gets some classic jokes thrown at it. Easily the episode to show newcomers.
Mitchell. Might as well get this clear. The thing about this show that made it great was just as often it was chuckling along with the films as at them. If you’re watching a Joe Don Baker good old boy sleaze fest and talking back to the screen, you’re watching it the way it was meant to be. Mitchell is pure 70s trash that they obviously had a blast with. It’s a party episode complete with an actual major plot in the wraparounds.
Time Chasers. MST3K did its best work in my eyes not when they looked at the golden age of the B-movie but the fetid cousin known as the DTV movies of the 80s/early 90s. Time Chasers fits that. It’s a very, very cheap movie with ambition far above its production and they had fun with it. Jokes about the spirograph future and the omnipresent Castleton shirt kill. This was later reriffed by the same era’s crew for Rifftrax Live and I highly recommend it.
Soultaker. Again, part of the fun is having a good time with a not half bad film. A lot of my love for MST3K stems from watching these films then going down the rabbit hole such as this one which leads you to the oeuvre of the awesome Vivian Schilling. The riffs here are gold, showing how a slightly corny but ambitious film seriously brought out the best in the crew.
San Francisco International. A lot of the movies the team watched were again rather entertaining. This is wallpaper drying. Yet it’s still quite a blast. Watching a bad tv movie was something the show did well. The later Rifftrax: Curse of Bigfoot feels like a cousin to this episode for that reason.
Pod People. The Casio Forest. Much like with Hobgoblins, we’re in staggeringly bad yet never boring territory. In this case it’s with a film that has no idea what it is. Joel & the bots thus fling everything they can at it. One I watched with my brother late one night and we howled with laughter at.
Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders. One of the weirdest and best episodes. An ostensible family movie that’s actually a nightmarish horror movie composed of two separate films strung together. I’m just leaving it at that description.
Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. Raul Julia left too soon. I feel like this is such an inbetweener in terms of genre that it demands the riff. It’s a failed sci-fi comedy. There’s tons of PBS jokes flung at this film and they all land.
Honorable mention: Mr B Natural. Technically a short but it’s as beloved as any film. An advertisement for musical instruments, it just got weird. And they ran through it so well. Please seek it out.
That’s my list. There’s plenty others I could put on. But this is my list! Argue in the comments.