Happy Turkey Day!
To the general populace, Turkey Day is just another way of saying Thanksgiving. But to a select few, the phrase conjures more than just images of turkey, cranberries and your Uncle Dan talking with his mouth full. For “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fans, Turkey Day was truly something to celebrate.
For a few years during its heyday in the 1990s, “Mystery Science Theater” would take over Comedy Central for 24 hours of programming. Now, episode marathons are a dime a dozen in basic cable (there’s a “Duck Dynasty” marathon going on on A&E at the very moment I’m writing this), but MST3K’s “Turkey Day” was something special. The show, with its lovable bots spoofing mercilessly on bad movies, was perfect counterprogramming for a dull family gathering; you and your cool cousin could sneak off to the rec room to catch an episode or two while the parents droned on in the kitchen.
So it’s fitting that this “Turkey Day” comes just four days after MST3K celebrated its 25th anniversary, as fans flooded the Twitter accounts of host Joel Hodgson and the other cast members with well wishes, callback jokes, and memories both funny and poignant. For a show that’s been off the air for over a decade, and wasn’t appreciated much by the networks it was one while it was, the show’s presence only seems to keep growing. I certainly felt the love when I saw Hodgson’s new live venture, Cinematic Titanic, at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theatre this fall, the theater packed with fans both old and young. ‘
And, as a special Turkey Day bonus, Hodgson is curating and hosting a live-streaming Turkey Day from 11 a.m CST to 11 p.m. CST Thursday, featuring six episodes of MST3K suggested by fans. Tune in to www.mst3kturkeyday.com.
The online Turkey Day is being done in conjunction with Shout! Factory, which has released four-movie sets of MST3K episodes every four months or so for the last few years. While they all tend to blur together a little in my mind (did I buy XXVI or XXIV last?), the new “25th Anniversary Edition,” out this week and handsomely housed in a metal box, is something special.
The movies range across MST3k’s lifespan, starting with an episode I had never seen from Season 1, “Moon Zero Two,” a strange mix of outer space Western and groovy ’60s pop comedy that’s fertile ground for Joel, Crow and Tom Servo (voiced in this season only by J. Elvis Weinstein.) The other episodes include a stone-cold classic, “The Day The Earth Froze” (from which the MST3K catchphrase “Sampo!” emanates), as well as the strong later entries “The Leech Woman” and “Gorgo.”
But what’s this? There’s a bonus fifth disc in this collection, featuring two essential but formerly out-of-print entries in the MST3K canon. “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” and “Mitchell” are two of the best episodes that MST3k has ever done, but they’re most important because they represent a major transition in the show — the last episode feature Hodgson as host, and the first featuring Mike Nelson.
The extras on each disc are solid too, including trailers, a “Life after MST3k” featurette with Mary Jo “Pearl Forrester” Pehl, and an extended look at the creation of “Moon Zero Two,” which reveals that Stanley Kubrick was shooting “2001” in the next soundstage over, and gave the director some tips on how to simulate action in zero gravity.
But the prize of the extras is “Life after Eden Prairie,” a new three-part documentary that looks back at the making of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” One looks at the crew that made the show possible, including propmaster Patrick Brantseg and costumer Beez McKeever, while another follows all the supporting characters on the show. But the one that’s my favorite looks at the locations connected with the show, from Hodgson’s St. Paul home where he created all the robots in his basement, to the nondescript office park in a Minneapolis suburb where the show was filmed.
Usually, these kind of nitty-gritty details demystify the wonder of a movie for me, but it had the opposite effect on me here. The fact that such a magical show sprung out of such ordinary spaces, propelled by people who weren’t just smart and funny, but willing to work their asses off week after week? That’s something to be thankful for.