Monday, November 24, 2008


Twenty years ago today, a poverty-stricken little puppet show made its debut on a scrappy little UHF station in the Twin Cities. The premise was simple, and never changed: The show's host and his robot friends made fun of bad movies. This format would carry the show onto a fledgling cable network, into syndication, to a movie spin-off, then onto a different cable network. Eleven years after its debut, it would be canceled.

But Mystery Science Theater 3000 is never dead. Not to its fans.

I knew of the show, but since my hometown's cable system didn't carry Comedy Central, I only knew it by reputation. Finally, in the fall of 1995, a local station began carrying syndicated episodes from the second, third and fourth seasons. My first episode mocked the movie Cave Dwellers. In the first fifteen minutes alone, I had been barraged with outrageous puns, obscure literary references and gags about the NPR show Music From The Hearts Of Space. By the time they made a dumb joke about Marshall Crenshaw, I was in love.

Oh, I'd loved TV shows before. Or I thought I had. But maybe, in retrospect, they were mere dalliances, there and gone, nothing like the real thing. But with MST3K, it was a love that would last forever.

My local station aired it on Saturday nights at midnight. I'd tape it and save it for Monday evening, my reward to myself for getting through the first day of the working week. The ritual was always the same--order a pizza, bake some cookies, pour some soda and sprawl on the floor, ready to laugh myself silly. And I always laughed, actual solid belly laughs, the greatest feeling in the world.

Even when it got pulled from syndication, roughly around the same time Comedy Central dropped it, I wasn't concerned. Episodes were being issued on VHS, and I had my old tapes. The show found a new home on the Sci-Fi Channel, and I headed up to Minneapolis to attend the show's second convention.

Yes, I attended a convention celebrating a TV show. But that didn't make me a geek, I reasoned, more like an anti-geek, a parody of a geek, we were there, all of us, celebrating something that mocked such notions, we were being ironic. And yet, we all gathered in one place to celebrate our love for this cultish little cow-town puppet show, and well, maybe there was a little geekiness involved. But how can you not love a convention at which a costume ball involves three people dressed up as genial former A&E host Jack Perkins? (And yes, one of them was me.)

My life marched forward. I got married, but one night a week continued to be MST3K night, with most of the old rituals still in place, though a frozen pizza had replaced take-out due to budgetary concerns. The marriage faltered, but I could still rely on old episodes to keep me warm.

My brother died, my mom died, unbearable tragedy made a little more bearable by Joel or Mike and the bots, always ready to make me laugh, always there to remind me somebody is on my wavelength, somebody thinks the same way as me, always there to remind me--as much as a puppet show devoted to making with the wisecracks and ha-ha can--that we're all in this together, and the world's a pretty good place.