Today, Netflix premieres its new Marvel superhero series Iron Fist. In the spirit of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything,” I’m writing an alternative Netflix review: This week, the streaming service added 20 classic episodes of the beloved cult TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000 that are well worth your binge time. This is Netflix’s way of whetting your appetite for a new season of MST3K commencing (on Netflix, naturally) on April 14.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was the TV show that formalized the time-honored practice of yelling insults and jokes at a screen during a bad and/or ridiculous movie. Created by Joel Hodgson and airing between 1988 and 1999 — at various times in syndication and on cable — MST3K had a simple/complicated premise: Joel was a janitor trapped on a space vehicle called The Satellite of Love, doomed to watch bad movies in the company of nonhuman companionship, most often the robots Tom Servo and Crow.
The show plundered the nether regions of cheap B-movies (and C-movies and, let’s face it, Z-movies), with Joel and company peppering the proceedings with so-dumb-they’re-witty gibes. (In the fifth season, Joel gave up his spot to Mike Nelson.) Looking over the list of 20 episodes Netflix has chosen, it’s clear the company has read a lot of fan pages that have settled on a certain canon of MST3K greatness. You can’t go wrong with any of Netflix’s picks, but I’ll steer you in particular toward Manos: The Hands of Fate, released in 1966. The gang’s jokes are filled with references that will strain many viewers’ memories even as they laugh — Tom makes a joke comparing the title Manos to Mannix, the great 1970s detective series — and the trapped trio starts a hilariously constant, almost-musical chant of “Manos, the hands of fate!” that frequently drowns out the bad dialogue.
Also choice is Werewolf, a 1996 direct-to-video mess co-starring Joe Estevez — or, as Crow says, “So far, the star power consists of Charlie Sheen’s uncle.” At one point, the title character drives a car, prompting one of our heroes to snark: “It’s An American Werewolf In Traffic!” You also can’t go wrong with the MST3K take on 1959’s Teenagers from Outer Space. When an alien disguised in human form drops a telltale piece of futuristic hardware, a female teen in this black-and-white non-epic says, “What was that?” “Oh, probably just a silly old plot point!” says Joel in a girlish falsetto. Dropping plot points is what MST3K was all about. Get onboard the Satellite of Love.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is streaming now on Netflix.
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