Q: What IS it about this show?
A: Well, Joel said something very profound about his show in an interview in 1990: "It's about liberty, in a small, goofy way," he said. And that is probably at the heart of it. It appeals to an innate human desire to unabashedly say what you think. And for young kids, that seems to be the principle draw: the whole notion of grown-ups in power being heckled and ridiculed for their obvious inadequacies is irresistible.
But there's more going on here, or this would just be "Beavis & Butthead." More importantly, MST3K is a call to arms in a war most thinking people are waging every day: the battle against the mediocrity that floods our lives. MST3K is an object lesson, a demonstration that we don't have to -- and shouldn't -- passively accept the garbage we are spoon-fed on a daily basis. Indeed, the series places the 'bots and their human companion on the front lines of that battle. It's in this way that MST3K rises above mere heckling and becomes a compelling metaphor about fighting the good fight.
But beyond that, there is no mistaking the genius at work here. It shines so clearly that toddlers are instinctively drawn to it and senior citizens smile knowingly -- even if neither gets the Courtney Love jokes. From Joel's forehead-slappingly simple concept to its loopy yet graceful execution, the show has a cool elegance, an endearing off-kilter brilliance. It engenders an astonishing loyalty in its viewers -- a loyalty that stems in part from the way it makes its viewers feel like they are "in on" a very special secret. It manages the near-impossible by being one of the most delightfully unpredictable programs on national TV, while also being one of the most re-assuringly formulaic. "The show," as devotees simply call it, rewards knowledge and insight, punishes inattention and passivity. But most importantly, it always has been -- and continues to be -- really, genuinely funny.
In the theater, the give-and-take rhythm between movie and commentary can be, at its best, dazzling and exhilarating; while the host segments often build to the kind of antic cartoon chaos (reminiscent of Monty Python or a Warner Brothers Looney Tune) that is a tonic for anyone who feels trapped in a dreary, workaday world. The overall result is an entertainment experience that leaves its viewer a little happier than when he or she found it.
MST3K won't run forever. But it should.