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Episode guide: This is MST3K (Special)

Original air date: Nov. 14, 1992.

Watch on Youtube:

[Note: These links may not work in the future]

In the fall of 1991, as the team was working on episode 321- SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS, a film crew from Comedy Central arrived to make a promotional documentary about the series. More than a year a later, the final product hit TV screens as “This Is MST3K.”
A few thoughts:
• By the time this aired, fans had already grown weary of comedian/magician/Comedy Central spokesman Penn Jillette, whose voice was heard constantly on the channel. Some found his presence in this show grating. But I’ve mellowed on the issue of Penn and when I watched this recently, I have to admit that he does seem to “get it.”
• The attempt by the filmmakers to approximate shadowrama is only partially successful. The result, to a fan, gives the impression that the filmmakers weren’t looking that closely at what they were imitating.
• To explain movie riffing, they show a clip from “Amazing Colossal Man” without riffing, then show it again with the riffs included. It actually works pretty well, and I think they picked a good spot in the movie, with pretty funny riffs.
• But later, they show a snippet that includes a riffback to a line in the season 1 episode “Robot Holocaust.” It’s pretty clear the filmmakers didn’t realize that when they included it.
• Wow, Mike looks about 12.
• Amusingly, the set where Penn delivers a lot of his lines looks vaguely like the “MST3K Hour’ set.
• The riff “Bruce Lee press-on nails” is a nice, complex one as a demonstration of the really complicated riffs they do.
• Tom Shales, at this writing still the Washington Post’s TV critic after all these years, became an icon to MSTies when he said things like “It’s the one show on television I really hate to see end.” What we didn’t know at the time was that Shales was what we used to call, on the old message boards, a “Joelite.” I’m not sure even HE knew it at the time. But it became very clear after the show changed hosts. Whatever it was that Shales hated to see end in 1992 was gone in 1994. With Mike as host, Shales effusive reviews stopped, and harsh, downbeat commentary on the show became the norm. I often wondered if Shales was embarrassed by how effusive he’d been in this documentary, and if he’d intentionally tried to be more negative to the show later on just to kind of even things out. Maybe some day we’ll get the chance to ask him.
• Yes, that’s an incredibly young Neil Patrick Harris. You have to be a certain age, now, to think of him as “Doogie Houser.”
• If there was any question about what episode was being filmed when the camera crew was there, it was dispelled when you saw the riffing scenes, with Crow sporting a “Rudolph” nose (the backstage scenes of host segment filming are also from that episode). But many fans noted that the bots that are normally used in the theater — which are painted black to create crisper silhouettes — were not seen in those shots. It’s unclear whether the camera crew asked the Brains to use the more familiar bots or if the Brains were just using the non-black bots for their own reasons.
• I’m glad this documentary got made, if only for Joel’s classic line: “We never say ‘Who’s going to get this?” We say ‘The right people will get this.’”
• The fan interviews are clearly done outside the theater at the live MST3K show in Minneapolis. Anybody know who those fans are? I’m guessing these interviews were done after the show. Everybody looks pretty jazzed.
• In addition to Shales and Harris, the MSTies interviewed were Ben Svetkey, then an Entertainment Weekly staff writer (now one of its “editors at large” ), Dan O’Shannon then the executive producer for “Cheers” (now a veteran of many series–his current one is “Modern Family” ), Larry Closs, then a TV Guide senior editor (now a freelance video producer, among other things), Matt Roush, then the TV critic at USA Today (now a honcho at “TV Guide” ) and Paul Schultz, then a New York Daily News assistant features editor (now an editor there).
• Stinger: “Thank you Senator your statement has been duly noted.”

32 comments to Episode guide: This is MST3K (Special)

  • 1
    Graboidz says:

    I still have my VHS copy of “This is MST3K”….and Penn Jillette’s voice is still as annoying as ever.

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  • 2
    H says:

    Penn’s a good guy generally but he is trying too hard here (or maybe not hard enough, it’s all just loud noise to me). I think this is a decent look at MST3K for the uninitiated. The Sci Fi special was better but this one works too, gets the basic idea across.

       0 likes

  • 3
    Brian says:

    My friend Jess is the fan in glasses talking right at the beginning of the show. They’d gone down to the live show on a whim, but didn’t get in. Getting into the documentary was a nice consolation prize. Wink

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  • 4
    doggans says:

    If you told that young NPH that he’d one day be riffing alongside head writer Mike Nelson, I wonder how he’d react?

    (Probably with a “Huh? Oh, that’s cool. Have you seen my millions of dollars lying around somewhere?”)

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  • 5
    Gary Bowden says:

    Great doc,but could do without Neil Patrick Harris and Penn’s annoying voice.I have this on dvd-r..Maybe one of these days it’ll be included on a future volume from Shout!?? Hey,Shout! Factory,are you listening??

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  • 6
    Cheapskate Crow says:

    It should be mentioned that the reason many MSTies were annoyed with Penn Jillette at the time was that CC would air voiceovers by him promoting other CC programming over the credits of MST. In some episodes, there would be jokes or other gags going on during the credit sequence and these were ruined by the omnipresent voiceovers. CC eventually relented and let the Love Theme play but the hard feelings for Penn remained, even though it was really CC’s fault for not paying attention that some episodes had special credit sequences. I don’t think anyone would have cared that much if they had only played the voiceovers over music.

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  • 7
    Brandon says:

    CC then had the gull to make Penn read an announcement about why voice-over ads during credits is a “good” thing.

    Sampo, are you algoing to do episode reviews for the Poopie outtakes tapes, and The Last Dance?

       0 likes

  • 8
    Sampo says:

    Brandon: Right now I am just trying to do all the shows that were actually on TV. I may tackle video-only products at some later time.

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  • 9
    smallerdemon says:

    I have come across several of these on my VHS collection as well, and my recent Gamera capture was aired during a CC “vote for your favorite” series of episodes. During those episodes the actually have these little FAQs about the movie and MST3K. I’m going to capture some of those and upload them to YouTube soon. They are basically just little text blurbs hitting the screen, but they are fun to look back at.

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  • 10

    I wouldn’t mind seeing this as a special feature on a future Shout! Factory DVD set, even though Penn Gillette is irritating.

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  • 11
    MPSh says:

    Mike may look 12, but Paul doesn’t look much older than that.

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  • 12
    WeatherServo9 says:

    It’s so funny to see a traditional advertising paradigm applied to MST3K. I don’t think Penn was irritating or that he didn’t get it, I just think it’s like mixing oil and water to try and ‘sell’ MST3K. Trying to explain MST3K to a mass audience is like trying to explain the internet to your great-grandmother.

    That said, I do like any behind-the-scenes stuff I can get from my MST3K. So for that reason alone, I like watching this.

       0 likes

  • 13
    Clint says:

    I still get annoyed at Penn. And I hate the way he slouches and keeps adjusting his ponytail in silhouette. I have this and watched is a couple years ago. I thing it’s a good doc overall.

       0 likes

  • 14
    BIG61AL says:

    I’ve not seen this yet so i’ll looking at youtube later for sure!

       0 likes

  • 15
    HeatUpTheDeathRay says:

    @ 5: Gary, what do you have against the wonderful and charming Neil Patrick Harris?! (And no, that is not snark.) Smile

       0 likes

  • 16
    BeefStumpKnob says:

    Man! I’m just going to let WeatherServo9 do my talking for me from now on!! Ditto!

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  • 17
    JCC says:

    My family was pretty annoyed by the presence of NPH in this as well. We thought he was a little twerp back then. This was his pre-Harold & Kumar NPH renaissance though. We love NPH now.

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  • 18
    Spector says:

    Penn’s hosting and narration aside, it’s a very good “behind-the-scenes” look at the making of MST3K back in its Comedy Central heyday. Certainly worthwhile.

       0 likes

  • 19
    smallerdemon says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geOAR4kfNbg

    FAQ snippets from the 1995 airing of Gamera. My favorite is this one: “Famous fan feedback: Nathan Fillion who plays Joey Buchanan on ABC’s one life to live says there is but one one show to watch – MST3k.”

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  • 20
    Richard the Lion Footed says:

    I always enjoyed this special and it was the first “behind the scene” look at Best Brains.

    I though this was better than the Sci-fi channel one, but I did not like all the interviews with people I had no clue who they were. It was like they were trying to legitamize the show with “critics.” It is like showing classic art and trying to make it more so with “art critics.”

    You either like the show or you don’t. I’d rather have seen more of Best Brains.

    As for Penn . . .

    It was not that he “got it,” it is that he enjoye rubbing your nose in it. He gets it more than you do BECAUSE he is the cool guy in the room.

    I never liked those kind of guys.

       0 likes

  • 21
    Magicvoice says:

    Never like Penn in this, but the rest of it is good stuff.

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  • 22
    swh1939 says:

    Clint says:
    I still get annoyed at Penn. And I hate the way he slouches and keeps adjusting his ponytail in silhouette. I have this and watched is a couple years ago. I thing it’s a good doc overall.

    Even all of that wasn’t Penn’s fault. Watch the silhouette closely and you’ll realize that it only lasts a few seconds and then “reverses” itself, making Penn adjust his ponytail again. Then it goes forward again. One of the reverses goes far back enough to make Penn start to stand up and then he sits down again. It’s the same silhouette sequence for each of Penn’s “host segments” (for lack of a better term).

       0 likes

  • 23
    Brandon says:

    After finally seeing the entire special, I think what bothered me about Penn is simply that Teller isn’t around. Sure, there’s nothing he’d be able to do, but I think Penn is NEVER funny when he doesn’t have Teller nearby.

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  • 24
    Creepygirl says:

    I have no real problem with Penn. As had been mentioned before, he was “the voice” of CC at that time. I have always liked this doc and just wish it was longer and had more behind the Brains segments. This should at some point become an extra on a future SHOUT! set.

    A little aside:
    Who said they didn’t know who the critics and actors were? They were some of the biggest names in jounalism and TV. The guy from The Washington Post! Matt Roush from TV Guide! Have you been under a rock since 1991?

       1 likes

  • 25
    None, Turkey! says:

    Looking forward to seeing this on YT later. Never had a real problem with Penn, but his foghorn of a voice was never a good choice for the neverending Comedy Central voiceover work. Though I haven’t hauled out my old VHS tapes in quite a while, Penn’s memorably grating tones are with me forever: “Martin Tupper is a divorced GUY looking AND LOOKING for a safe relationship.” Guh.

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  • 26
    The Toblerone Effect says:

    I enjoyed this special when it first came out, and it’s a good time-piece of where the show stood at that moment. I didn’t have a problem with Penn Jillette back then, but with every TV appearance lately I’ve found him more and more annoying, so let’s just say his part of the doc hasn’t aged well.

    BTW, is it just me, or does Jim Mallon look like he needs a good shower? In his interviews, he looks awfully….oily. Shock

       0 likes

  • 27
    Bootleg says:

    I think the main thing that really annoyed me about Penn was his audible smacking and chewing of his snack as he spoke.

       0 likes

  • 28
    Matt D. says:

    I hope to see a future episode of Penn and Teller: Bull$#!+ on Showtime where they discuss Penn’s awful job on this doc, and awful work on VO’s in general.

    And yes, to show my age, NPH will always be Doogie Howser and not “Barney” from HIMYM.

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  • 29
    JCC says:

    “Martin Tupper is a divorced GUY looking AND LOOKING for a safe relationship.”
    ============================================
    I just got the chills and started shaking as I read this. Thanks a lot. I can even see the video clips from the commercial in my head.

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  • 30
    Son of Bobo says:

    I loved the doc, simply because it was MST3K and it provided a lot of information that I didn’t have at the time. I don’t mind Penn in general, but I thought he was a little annoying in this and his talking back to the screen was simply not funny. It seems that I heard somewhere that Mike left his cap on for his interview because there was something wrong with his hair or he was doing something to it for a bit. I don’t remember. Anyone else know anything about that.

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  • 31
    Rich says:

    Note- Trace’s moustache absolutely DOMINATES his face!

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  • 32
    Finnias 'Critter' Jones says:

    Have always liked this special, though it’s more of a marketing time capsule than an informative documentary. Weird to see Jim Mallon and Joel as the face of BBI before the schism, and how Comedy Central actually promoted this show back then as a central part of its programming. And yeah, Penn is irritating. Unless radically recut, I don’t see how Shout could ever use this an a DVD extra: re-acquiring the rights to all those movie clips and dealing with CC would be a nightmare.

       0 likes