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It’s something many people have done: You’re with your friends watching a cheesy movie, so you start picking on it and making jokes. After a while, the jokes are more fun than the movie. That’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 in a nutshell, only it’s probably way funnier than you or your friends are (sorry!).
There is no television show I love more than Mystery Science Theater 3000 (which we’ll abbreviate as MST3K), but it can be tough to get into for a variety of different reasons. We’ll take a look at what the show is, where you can watch it, and why you’ll never be able to see every episode of it.
Who’s Who on Mystery Science Theater 3000?
Show creator and original host Joel Hodgson plays a man stranded in space, named Joel Robinson. Alongside him are his robot friends, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. Tom Servo was originally played by J. Elvis Weinstein in the series’ first season, then Kevin Murphy, who stuck with the character until the end of the original series’ run. Trace Beaulieu played Crow T. Robot until the end of season 7.
Beaulieu also played mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester, who keeps Joel trapped on the Satellite of Love, forcing him to watch bad movies. Halfway through season five, Hodgson left the show after increasing disagreements with producer Jim Mallon. Head writer and frequent guest actor Mike Nelson took over as host, playing a character of the same name.
Frank Conniff who played TV’s Frank, assistant to Dr. Clayton Forrester, left at the end of season six. Trace Beaulieu left the show at the end of season seven. Bill Corbett took over as Crow T Robot, which Mary Jo Pehl, who had previously played Pearl Forrester, becoming the main villain. Things stayed this way until the end of the series after 10 seasons.
At least, that’s the way it was until 2015, when Joel Hodgson launched a Kickstarter to launch a new MST3K, with a new host, new voices for the robots, and new villains. For two seasons on Netflix, the new series starred Jonah Ray, with Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn playing Servo and Crow. Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt starred as the new “Mads.”
In 2019, Hodgson announced that the show would not return to Netflix. Instead, a new group of actors is touring as a theater-only version of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Where to Watch Mystery Science Theater 3000
There are plenty of ways to watch MST3K. The easiest is Netflix, which has a selection of episodes from the show’s original run alongside the Kickstarter-backed new seasons. That’s far from your only option.
You can buy individual episodes from Rifftrax, which we’ll dive more into later. You can also watch many episodes straight from Shout! Factory, who distributes the DVDs of the show. Speaking of which, you can also buy DVDs.
Shout! Factory distributes MST3K digitally in a few different ways. You can watch the 24/7 Mystery Science Theater 3000 channel on Pluto TV, watch the series on Twitch, or you can watch via the Shout! Factory app on Roku, Apple TV, and Fire TV devices. You can also subscribe to Shout! Factory TV for $2.99 per month via Amazon Channels.
Where Are the Rest of the Episodes?
Unless you want to dive deep into the world of bootlegs, you’ll never see all of MST3K, for one simple reason: rights. With each episode being an entire movie, Shout! Factory needs the rights to distribute the movie, not just the show itself. The producers of some films disliked the MST3K treatment, making them unlikely to ever license the movies again, while others are just tied up.
Great Starter Episodes: Watch These First!
With a lot of shows, you just start at the beginning. With MST3K, as mentioned above, that’s just not possible. Even if it were, I wouldn’t recommend it, as season one is very hit and miss.
A great starting point for many people would be season three, episode one, The Cave Dwellers. This is a combination of a fantastically cheesy movie and great riffing. Another great starting point with Joel as host would be season three, episode 22, Master Ninja I. One of my personal favorites is season three, episode 18, Star Force: Fugitive Alien II.
Then there are the episodes with Mike as host, which some people (like myself) prefer, while others (like some fans who watched the show from the beginning) dislike them. For the Comedy Central era, season five, episode 19, Outlaw is a great starting point. For the Sci-Fi Channel era, you can’t go wrong with season eight, episode 10, The Giant Spider Invasion.
I’ll be honest here: I don’t like the new series. I find that the reliance on guest stars and internet-style humor falls flat for me. That’s just me, however. Plenty of people love the new series and it’s the only version where you can watch every single episode. My friends who love the new series seem to universally recommend season 11 episode 2, Cry Wilderness.
Where to Go From Here
While MST3K as we know it may be gone, there are still plenty of ways to watch people joking over cheesy movies. When the show was cancelled at the end of season 10, Mike Nelson kept the jokes coming. While Mike, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett riffed a quartet of films under the name The Film Crew, this was only a brief stopover on the way to Rifftrax.
Rifftrax began as downloadable MP3s of commentary you could play over your own DVDs, which let them riff movies they could never afford. Now you’ll find Rifftrax of cheesy old movies and shorts, with the same voices as seasons eight through 10 of the original show. Mike, Kevin, and Bill aren’t the only riffers either. Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl from MST3K) and Bridget Nelson (various characters from MST3K) riff films and shorts, as do writers Conor TK and Sean Thomason, among others.
If you’re more a fan of the Joel era, Cinematic Titanic reunited Joel, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Mary Jo Pehl. While this focused on live shows, you can also buy the complete series via Shout! Factory.