“Mystery Science Theater 3000” host Jonah Ray, show creator Joel Hodgson and their robot pals Photo courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000

A malevolent force has trapped you, isolated, afraid and staring anxiously at your dwindling reserves of both entertainment options and sanity. What’s a movie-loving, responsibly sequestered, increasingly antsy person to do?

My suggestion: Get weird and creative with it with the like-minded folk of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

Look, I’ve been offering up some binge-watching, content-streaming alternatives during this time of global pandemic and self-quarantining boredom. And I’ll keep doing that as long as none of us can go outside to a movie theater again. (Home-popped corn just doesn’t have that same piquant chemical tang to it, does it?) But, in the end, there are only so many times you can glaze over vainly trying to find a movie you want to watch in Netflix’s overhyped, undersized library before you start doing something crazy, like watching a multi-part documentary about a dumb racist cat fetishist who maybe tried to kill some lady. (Just to pick a hypothetical example at random.) Oh, and no thanks to the recommendation algorithm that keeps suggesting everyone watch “Contagion” and “Outbreak.” We’ve got enough apocalyptic nightmares on our own, thanks.

Sometimes, when you’re out of new movie options, you have to go back. And deep. And strange. And, in some extreme cases, truly, epically terrible. That’s where the goofball geniuses of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” swoop in to save the day. 

Available, in various iterations and groupings, at places like Amazon, Shout Factory TV, Twitch, Pluto TV, YouTube, and, yes, Netflix, this venerable little movie-mocking institution is just the remedy for the shut-in, seen-it-all blues. For those of us who’ve been on the “MST3k” wavelength since the show began back in the late ’80s, this show – where a human and two puppet/robots make fun of the worst movies ever – is the ultimate movie fan’s comfort food. Like that movie theater popcorn, but without the suspicious aftertaste. 

The brainchild of a handful of low-wage television employees with a lot of time on their hands, a penchant for prop comedy, and a storeroom full of their Minneapolis TV station’s meager late show offerings, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fashioned a world where loneliness, isolation and helpless tedium are the gateway to hilarity rather than despair. Stuck in his dead-end job toiling at a low-rent local TV station, creator, comic and woozy-eyed oddball Joel Hodgson cobbled together a set and puppets from castoff toys and Goodwill store detritus, conned the management into letting him air his show for pennies in the wee hours, and started a loopy entertainment empire that’s been cranking out the laughs now for three-plus decades. Hodgson even managed to get Netflix to bring back the show for a full two more seasons in 2017, thanks to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign where “MST3k”-hungry fans smashed initial fundraising goals in days. 

Perhaps inspired by the parallels with his real-life powerlessness in the face of an uncaring world, Hodgson’s narrative for the show portrayed him (as Joel Robinson) as a menial employee of a pair of mad scientists who – with the capricious evil of mad scientists everywhere – shoot him on a rocket into space. Not to be deterred by a fate of terminal aloneness, Joel dubbed his spacebound prison The Satellite of Love, fashioned himself some makeshift friends in a pair of willfully sarcastic robots named Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot and, when the scientists maliciously started forcing them to watch the same horrible old movies in an ill-defined plan to rule the world and drive them batty, turned the tables by making merry sport of cinematic dreck like “The Green Slime” and literally every Japanese monster movie starring the flame-spurting giant turtle Gamera. 

The show’s gone through many cast changes over the years (Hodgson himself left his creation after a while, being replaced without missing a beat by “MST3k” head writer and peerless straight man goof in his own right, Mike Nelson), but the premise remains as inviolably effective and endlessly fun as ever. The world is full of bad movies. And we can sit still and sullenly curse the cinematic darkness, or light up the world with our imagination, wit and joy. Because that’s what this show, for all its snarky flop-shaming, has always been – an exercise in taking the world’s junk and making something weird and warm and inexplicably funny and beautiful out of it. 

Over the years, Joel, Mike, Netflix new guy Jonah Ray and the very funny folks of “MST3k” have tackled everything from the expected “worst movies ever” (“Robot Monster,” “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”) to the dregs of the biker, giant monster, “Star Wars” ripoff, renegade cop, super-spy and occasional killer earthworm genres. And then there are those movies (or “movies”) whose well-earned obscurity were unearthed by the diligent bad movie-watchers at The Satellite of Love like unspeakable buried treasures, ripe for unmatchable mockery. (Thank “MST3k” for bringing the jaw-droppingly terrible “Manos, The Hands of Fate” to glorious infamy.) 

So as we all sit in our own little satellites, isolated from each other and feeling helpless thanks to forces we cannot control or reason with, it’s nice to hang out with some very funny people (and robots) who are all in the same boat. Watching the same dumb movies. Turning cinematic lemons into deliciously enjoyable movie theater lemon-flavored drink. Dive in anywhere, although head to the can’t-miss double feature of “Mitchell” and “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” on the official “MST3k” YouTube channel to see the Joel-Mike changeover, and two of the best episodes the show’s ever done. 

In addition to those sources for “MST3k” above, you can find the companion venture “Rifftrax” from “MST3k” veterans Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy. Taking the movie-mashing to the next frontier, the “Rifftrax” crew does riffing commentary tracks for old and new movies alike, without any of those pesky royalty issues. No robots, still plenty of restorative laughs. Hang in there. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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