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Deep Ranting: The Sci-Fi Grading Curve

What you are about to read is an absolute waste of time. Okay, well, it is necessary for anyone interested in my MST3K reviews. But not so much, for those who come here for the Killers posts. This is kind of a serious post, but only in the sense that I’m not trying to be funny. So, without further ado, click ‘more’ for a fan essay that just screams, “I’m really single.”

Seriously, though, if you plan on reading my MST3K reviews, it’s a must-read. But it still screams, “I’m so alone. Help me.”

Let me be as direct as possible: I don’t like Mystery Science Theater 3000’s eighth, ninth, and tenth seasons. That is, of course, a general statement. That’s not to say that I don’t like any of those episodes but, as a whole, I just don’t find them all that funny. I tend to be, largely, in the minority here. When MST3K moved to the Sci-Fi Channel, the show was suddenly introduced to a fresh, new audience. Media coverage picked up. People started hearing about it more and seeing it more easily. A lot of people were introduced to the show by the Sci-Fi Channel so, naturally, a lot of people remember those episodes fondly. I don’t.

First things first, I was introduced to the series during Mike Nelson’s tenure on Comedy Central, probably around early season six. Coincidentally(?) that’s also my favorite era now. But I only became a hardcore fanatic during prolonged exposure to seasons eight and nine. So, for a time, I was actually quite a big fan of all that I now dislike. So please take comfort, Sci-Fi fans, in that small fact. Or don’t. Or do. Anyway, why don’t I like seasons eight through ten, and how does that opinion effect my episode reviews? Glad you asked, dear reader.

I’ll start with the cast changes. No, I’m not afraid of change. I welcome change, so long as I think it’s good change. Trace Beaulieu, the original voice of Crow T. Robot, left the series after the final CC season. This, in my opinion, was a somewhat crippling change. Not only was he brilliant as Dr. Forrester, but his Crow was often the highlight in the theater, for me. A very nice and talented man named Bill Corbett then took over the reigns as Crow, as well as playing one of the show’s villains, “Brain Guy.” I have the utmost respect for Mr. Corbett. He seems like a good, kind man, and I think he’s clearly talented. However, I hate his Crow. His Crow is obnoxious, flat, and annoying. Where Trace’s Crow cut with the accuracy of a scalpel, Bill’s Crow tried to make his incisions with a weed wacker. And, to be honest, Kevin Murphy and Michael J. Nelson can’t carry the theater segments alone. There needs to be three people being funny. And I don’t find Bill’s Crow to be funny. Usually. But I try to like him. Really, I do.

Second: The host segments. The writing for the Sci-Fi era host segments is abysmal. A lot of it can be attributed to the Sci-Fi Channel’s insistance that the writers give the show a continuing storyline – in this case, Pearl Forrester chasing Mike and the Bots from planet to planet, across space and time, and then finally back to modern-day Earth. It pulled the writing down and there was no need for it. A lot of the segments, generally speaking, were also just plain uninspired. They lost so much of the charm and warmth that carried them for 5/6/7 (your choice) years. Host segments aren’t the most important part of an episode, but bad ones do drag things down considerably.

Bobo and Brain GuyThird: The Mads. (“The Mads” technically refers to Comedy Central’s mad scientists, but I think it applies well-enough to the ‘new’ villains.) Pearl isn’t funny. I don’t hate Mary Jo Pehl, but I just don’t care for her on-screen portrayal of Mrs. Forrester. The character is offensively annoying and badly written. Bill Corbett’s Observer, aka Brain Guy, is a reasonable character, but a lot of his performances fall flat, for me. Kevin Murphy’s Professor Bobo is actually a damn good character… or was, back in the first few episodes. The intelligent Bobo would’ve made for a great villain, but they had to dumb him down to the point where he was just a terrible cliche. Needless to say, these characters all have their positive moments, but not nearly enough of them to win me over.

Lastly, the theater segments. They’re just not as clever as they once were. Maybe it’s just because the show didn’t have the same ‘feel’ that the earlier episodes did, but I’m positive that most of the riffs just fall flat and/or lack the sharpness they once had. Personally, I attribute this primarily to the departure of Trace, as I mentioned earlier, but I also think Frank Conniff’s absence is a contributing factor. They’re the only major cast/writing differences between seasons 6/7 and 8, apart from the full-time addition of Bill Corbett. (Bill actually helped write some of the later season six episodes.) And I refuse to believe that Bill Corbett’s sense of humor neutered MST3K. As I said, he’s a clever guy. His delivery as Crow is usually a bit off, but even Kevin and, sometimes, Mike seem to have lost a lot of their in-theater sharpness. And yet, Mike claims that the show was at its sharpest during these years. I’m so confused.

The Undead - Allison Hayes vamps it up; Billy Barty imps it up.Okay, so, how does this effect my reviews of Sci-Fi episodes? Are they all going to be Cs and Ds? Nope. It isn’t that I don’t like any of the episodes, but I do find nearly all of them inferior to a majority of the Comedy Central episodes. Taking that into account, I’m going to be grading the Sci-Fi episodes on a curve. Basically, I’m going to try to be fair to them and rate them moreso in comparison to the other Sci-Fi episodes, as opposed to grading them solely in comparison to the best CC episodes. So, The Undead might be something like an A- when graded on the curve, but it would be closer to a B- when held up to the series’ entire run. Capiche?

I was watching Giant Spider Invasion recently, and I realized that I couldn’t deny this episode an A- just because it’s not as good as Zombie Nightmare or The Violent Years. It’s one of the best of the Sci-Fi seasons and, as such, it needs an appropriate rating. Despite the fact that I just spent the majority of this essay putting down the Sci-Fi era, I’m actually trying to give it more of a fair shake. So I just needed to write this little explanation to satisfy my own neuroses and, hopefully, give you a better perspective on my reviews. For the two of you that care.

Yeah, I have too much free time. Shut up.

EDIT: It was pointed out to me that I misspelled Mary Jo’s last name. I knew “Peel” didn’t look right, though I’m sure she doesn’t mind the Diana Rigg comparison. Thanks for the tip.

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2 Responses

  1. It’s really strange how different people like the different eras… um, differently.

    All things said, I think I like Joel episodes best of all. He brought just the right quality of whimsy to the role, or maybe he brought out of the other writers and/or performers. On the other hand, a friend of mine absolutely swears by Mike. While Joel has the more creative mind, Mike is actually a more polished performer. And there -are- some excellent moments in the Sci-Fi Channel era.

    Ultimately, it turns out there are few episodes of MST3K that I won’t watch. I recently completed a grand tour of every episode, and there aren’t that many that are wholly irredeemable. San Francisco International, maybe? I know I can’t stay awake through The Castle of Fu Manchu. Ah, I know: I really can’t bear Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, especially compared with vs. Megalon. There’s one or two others. In particular though, many episodes that others tend to hate I really like. Wild World of Batwoman is a top-tier episode in my opinion. Hobgoblins is golden to me. Deathstalker I’d put up near Cave Dwellers. If the movie is bad in a way that’s just goofy enough, I think that can even make up for an episode where the guys are a little off on the riffs.

  2. Ah, San Francisco International is one of my all-time favorites. But so is Deathstalker. Wow, try and figure us out. :)

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