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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]
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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 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.

       0 likes

  • 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.

       1 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

       4 likes

  • 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?”)

       2 likes

  • 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??

       0 likes

  • 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.

       8 likes

  • 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.

       2 likes

  • 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.

       1 likes

  • 10

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

       0 likes

  • 11
    MPSh says:

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

       0 likes

  • 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.

       2 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!

       1 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

       2 likes

  • 16
    BeefStumpKnob says:

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

       0 likes

  • 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.

       0 likes

  • 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.”

       6 likes

  • 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.

       2 likes

  • 21
    Magicvoice says:

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

       0 likes

  • 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).

       2 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.

       3 likes

  • 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.

       2 likes

  • 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.

       0 likes

  • 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.

       2 likes

  • 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.

       1 likes

  • 31
    Rich says:

    Note- Trace’s moustache absolutely DOMINATES his face!

       1 likes

  • 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.

       2 likes

  • 33
    Dan in WI says:

    Let me get this out of the way first: I don’t mind Penn Jillette. I enjoy his magic duo and act and generally find him an engaging guy. The voiceovers and the credits: I don’t see how any of that is his fault. He was paid to do a job and he did that job. He had no say about how or when the voiceovers were used. The bad guy here was Comedy Central. Penn seems to take a lot of unfair flack for it.

    This special was a throwback to better times. Comedy Central was actually promoting its flagship show. That is the rose colored pair of glasses I prefer to use whenever I re-watch this special.

    So there is one fan interviewed claiming she gets “every” joke. Liar. NOBODY gets every joke. You have a diverse writing staff pulling from very different backgrounds. It simply possible for anybody to get every joke.

    That set the “cerebral” Penn is walking around really does look a lot like the MST3K Hour Wrap set that Jack Perkins would later call home.

    The quote of the special goes to Jim Mallon “It’s basically an acknowledgment that the audiences are not as dull as Hollywood might think they are.”

       7 likes

  • 34
    Kenneth Morgan says:

    @Dan in WI (#33)

    I agree that the problem was more CC than Penn. I mean, did the network have to put on promos for “Dream On” and/or “Politically Incorrect” at EVERY SINGLE COMMERCIAL BREAK? Penn has other matters to answer for, but you can’t really blame him personally for this.

    As for the special, I agree that it should’ve been longer and more detailed. We’d have to wait years and the advent of Shout before we’d get the “making of” specials we wanted.

    Maybe it’s just me showing my age, but, with all due respect to Penn, I’d have preferred Mark Hamill to narrate this one.

       0 likes

  • 35
    Clint says:

    Is this the one with Trace’s epic Adidas turtleneck?

       2 likes

  • 36
    snowdog says:

    I grew to like Penn J later, but he was the wrong choice for the CC voice-overs and for this special. Having him riff himself comes across as forced, as in my opinion. I did have to laugh because he’s so big, they apparently made him slouch in his seat to avoid having his silhouette block the screen.

       2 likes

  • 37
    Mr. B(ob) says:

    I thought this is MST3K did a good job of promoting the show to potential new viewers which was after all the purpose, it wasn’t made for existing fans. It was short, to the point and made MST3K look hilarious so I believe it was successful and well done from that perspective. I was already a fan of the show at the time and I liked it because I felt that it gave the show the respect it deserved.

    As for Tom Shales, I can understand him (and some other fans) falling out of love with the show after creator Joel Hodgson left. The show after all was “carefully constructed around” Joel (to quote Kevin Murphy) and the tone and consistency of the show were undeniably different after Joel left, most notably in the host segments which became much more uneven in their quality and consistency post Joel. My wife and I remained affectionate toward the show until the end on Sci-Fi, but I can understand some fans, especially a professional critic, losing interest in the show after Joel’s departure. After all, in one sense it was not the same show they’d fallen in love with after that.

       4 likes

  • 38
    Bruce Boxliker says:

    They should have gotten Teller to narrate. That would have been far more entertaining.

    I find myself borrowing Joel’s line fairly regularly. I usually add a bit to it, so it ends up as: “A wise man once said, ‘The right people will get it’.”.

    I had (and still really don’t) no idea whatsoever who a lot of the critics & such were. I’ve never cared for critics – people payed to tell you their opinions? Why would I need that? I’m fully capable of formulating my own opinions, thank you. Or worse – people payed to like certain things over others.

       2 likes

  • 39
    JCC says:

    Mike with a visual call-forward to Hockey Hair in #910 “The Final Sacrifice”. 1992 was the final year he was affected by this crippling disease.

    I’m OK with people preferring the Joel years, just so long as they don’t have to make it known every chance they get. It’s a little tacky.

    In hindsight getting NPR was a huge get for this special. He is ubiqitous these days, and with good reason – he’s awesome!

    @31 – “He’s losing control of his moustache!” That is one swank ‘stache.

       5 likes

  • 40
    Terry the Sensitive Knight says:

    I wanna watch this but Penn Jillette irritates the crap out of me.

       0 likes

  • 41
    jjk says:

    I never had a problem with Penn, it was Teller that irritated me. I can’t see why anybody thought he was funny. What did Neil Patrick Harris have to do with this special? It’s been so long since I saw this I didn’t remember him in it.

       1 likes

  • 42
    pondoscp says:

    I just re watched this special again last week, I still really enjoy it. This is probably due to the fact that I saw it when it first aired, so there’s a bit of a nostalgia factor involved. For me, this special is synonymous with the 1992 Turkey Day special. Hey, that was on tv, hopefully we’ll review that (and the other Turkey Days) soon. (I’m planning on recreating the 1994 Adam West hosted TD later this year….)

       1 likes

  • 43
    jaybird3rd says:

    Penn Jillette is good in small doses and with the right material, but I can see how too much of this would become annoying. I wasn’t a regular viewer of Comedy Central in those days, so I must have missed the more egregious commercials and voiceovers.

    This is a good special, but “behind-the-scenes” specials that are produced while a show is still on the air are rarely as informative or in-depth as those that are produced years later. I see this a lot with movies: DVD releases of classic movies often include “behind-the-scenes” features that were filmed during production, which tend to be very “politically correct” and marketing-oriented, along with more recent anniversary retrospectives, which are much more interesting.

       1 likes

  • 44
    Skids Rustshot says:

    Didn’t Sci-Fi Channel do a “This is MST3K”-type 30minute promo thing before the Oscar special? Or was it after?

    http://www.mst3kinfo.com/?page_id=6423 is the URL the episode list page gives me for the specials but I get a 404.

       0 likes

  • 45
    Skids Rustshot says:

    Oh, now it works, and I look foolish: I was thinking of the Sci-Fi Oscar special, not the CC one I totally didn’t realize existed.

    Winning.

       0 likes

  • 46
    AmazingRando says:

    As someone mentioned, this seems most notable as the first chance fans had to glimpse behind the scenes. And I was geeky enough to be fascinated by all of it, especially the writing room. Also seeing Joel, Mike, Frank, everyone being themselves was pretty cool to someone who hadn’t seen it before.

    The critics and celebrities were most likely there to raise the esteem of MST3K to anyone who didn’t know about the show already–yet were disposed toward watching a half-hour special about it. Yeah, huh. But since this was before most of us were on the internet, as the lone fan in my community, it was nice to feel like I wasn’t alone in my fandom. I seem to remember one of the guys behind The Simpsons praising the show a lot, which was great, since The Simpsons and MST3K were the coolest shows on the air at that time.

    I never felt any irritation toward Penn. I liked him alright in his own stuff. The voice-overs just frequently had that “in your face” cool that TV people seem to like. Very hip, very demographic-oriented. Very Poochy. But it was probably a paycheck for Penn. Everyone takes jobs that they should later regret, I suppose.

       4 likes

  • 47
    mst3ktemple says:

    I didn’t get Comedy Central until July 1993 so I didn’t have too much history with the Penn voice overs the MST closing credits (they ended that month). The first time I saw this special was when they aired it in December 1993 as part of what was called the Coloss-A-Thon (they showed this special, Amazing Colossal Man and War of the Colossal Beast to help promote the release of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman w/ Darryl Hannah). I loved the special. Anything that helped promote the show was fine with me. I actually taped it that night and showed it to friends and family to help explain the show.

       0 likes

  • 48
    mst3ktemple says:

    @ smallerdemon – Comedy Central did a countdown that summer of the top 56 MST3K episodes with the little snippets during each show (expect I think for some reason #1 Manos didn’t have any). Thanks for sharing the Gamera clips. I have 29 of those episodes on tape and hope to transfer the clips to Youtube someday.

       0 likes

  • 49
    Brandon says:

    So, Sampo, did you ever ask Tom Shales about the whole “Joel” thing?

       4 likes

  • 50

    I agree with Clint at #35, the best thing in this documentary/promotional tool, other than Joel’s quote “We never say ‘Who’s going to get this?” We say ‘The right people will get this,’” is most definitely getting to experience Trace’s epic Adidas turtleneck. Yes

    Also, everyone looks sooooo dang young! Mike, Frank, Paul, Kevin, Joel, everybody looks like a bunch of baby faces! NPH, too!!! Doctor

    As for Penn Jillette..

    I don’t mind the guy. I used to not like him during my late teens/early twenties (you know how boys can be during that time), which had very little to do with MST3k, although his voice presence on Comedy Central and (thusly) my MST tapes was a little overbearing (“Martin Tupper IS a divorced GUY who…”).

    Now that I’m in my thirties, I’ve chilled out a bit with my outright hatred toward celebrities (generally speaking). Honestly, I like the Penn & Teller act, but it is Teller that really sells it to me (he’s like a long lost Marx Brother!) as I find his silent act to be the selling point of the whole schtick.

       2 likes

  • 51
    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.

       1 likes

  • 52
    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.

       0 likes

  • 53
    Luther Heggs aka Number 6 says:

    @50

    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.

       0 likes

  • 54
    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.

       0 likes