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Episode guide: This is MST3K (Special)

Original air date: Nov. 14, 1992.

Watch on Youtube:

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1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (39 votes, average: 4.36 out of 5)

(I added the ratings thingy.)

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. On the other hand, that’s what REAL theaters seats actually look like.
• 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. But everybody looks ridiculously young.
• 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 what Shales really liked was Joel. That 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 the author of the book “Beatitude”), Matt Roush, then the TV critic at USA Today (now senior critic at “TV Guide” ) and Paul Schultz, then a New York Daily News assistant features editor (now a copy editor there).
• Stinger: “Thank you Senator your statement has been duly noted.”
Next week: The MST3K Little Gold Statue Preview Special.

54 Replies to “Episode guide: This is MST3K (Special)”

  1. pondoscp says:

    Paul Chaplin, the unsung member of Best Brains. He doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves. I bet he’s written some of all of our favorite lines, and he’s always funny in a skit.


  2. Luther Heggs aka Number 6 says:

    Yeah, I agree. Chaplin is definitely a well hidden riff current in the MST3K ocean.

    You can see the sparkle in his (very very young pizza delivery boy age) eyes and those vibes like he’s thinking all the time but playing it cool.

    As for Penn, he just strikes me as the older version of your average D&D Dungeon Master you had as a friend in 1979, and though it’s now 1991, he looks very much the same.

    No more. No less. Always carrying a big purple velvet bag filled with dice and Kentucky Fried Chicken coupons to be used in the next campaign.

    I’ve said too much.


  3. Luther Heggs aka Number 6 says:


    That really is a damn fine and timeless turtle neck shirt. It really popped – like a more evolved form of the Nehru jacket craze of the 60s/70s.

    Tom Servo: Trace, you are due back on the Space 1999 set.

    Crow: Prescient fashions for men. By Crow.


  4. PALADIN says:

    I still enjoy this lil` special….

    When it was originally aired, I liked the insider bits with The Brains, but disdained the Host bits with Penn Jillette. At the time, what irritated me most that Jillette was not merely narrating, but PARTICIPATING by being ‘on screen’ and in a theater setting, heckling himself on the screen.

    The overall effect is that Penn Jillette was supposed to be representing ‘The MST Fan’; apparently a slovenly, bellicose Couch Potato with a gratingly nasal voice. Gee… Thanks So Much for putting a ‘face’ on our fandom. (Where is Bjo Trimble when you need her?)

    Over the years, whenever I would see ‘This Is MST’, I began to just accept and ignore Penn Jillette as simply ‘being there’…much like Death and Taxes.
    The documentary has aged well and now is great for seeing The Brains all fresh-faced and eagerly making the show in it`s prime. I have it cached as an after-ep extra on some of the MST eps that I lovingly transferred to DVD some years back. I re-view ‘This Is MST’ when it coincidentally appears after an episode. I never actually ‘go looking for it’….it`s just there…Just like Penn Jillette.


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