It's Turkey Day, which means, for fans of venerable '90s cable series Mystery Science Theater 3000, it's also "Turkey Day," a chance to gorge on one of the funniest shows ever made and talk back to some of the worst movies ever. When the series was on the air, whatever network was airing it at the time would usually give over much of Thanksgiving to air real cinematic turkeys, hence the moniker. And thanks to the magic of the internet, you can relive those memories today.
MST3K (as it's known by those in the know) began its life on KTMA, a small local station in Minneapolis, before making its move to the Comedy Channel (which would become Comedy Central). It would last seven seasons there, then another three on the Sci-Fi Channel.
The show's low-rent production values and goofy robot puppets were just a vehicle for what it was really about, which was ridiculing the absolute dregs of pop culture. In every episode, the host (first Joel Hodgson and later Mike Nelson) would gather with his robot pals (acerbic Crow and avuncular Tom Servo) in a movie theater to mock a bad movie, sent in hopes of driving him insane by mad scientists back on Earth. This framing story would shift as the show went on, but the idea of watching and mocking terrible movies never did. The references ranged from the highbrow and literary to the intensely lowbrow, and the show was one of the most dazzlingly weird of its time.
Its creative personnel have largely moved on to trying to recreate it, in their latter-day projects RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic. But nothing can quite live up to the sheer, ridiculous audacity of the original.
And now, thanks to the magic of Vimeo On Demand, you can watch 83 episodes of the show, either renting or buying them. (The series produced 197 episodes in total, plus one feature film, but many of these episodes are caught up in rights issues by those who own the copyrights on the original movies.) Shout! Factory is hosting another Turkey Day YouTube livestream this year, but if you're feeling more adventurous, you should program your own. To assist in this process, we've picked eight episodes available through Vimeo that should make your Thanksgiving fly by with snark and wit.
Eight essential episodes
"Pod People": Start with this third season entry, which shows the series figuring out just how weird it could get and contains the immortal line, "Trumpy, you can do stupid things!" Use it in your everyday life.
"Time of the Apes": Does a Japanese movie about some people who wake up in a futuristic world ruled by apes sound familiar at all? Yeah, it did to Joel and the 'bots, too.
"Eegah": The show's fifth season is likely its best, featuring a solid hand-off from Hodgson to Nelson in the hosting job and some of the show's best riffs. This caveman epic gives you a taste of what's in store.
"The Painted Hills": Vimeo has three episodes that have never been legally available anywhere before now. This is the best of them, and you may not have seen it in years.
"Mitchell": Joel leaves the series' central Satellite of Love. Mike will replace him in the next episode, but this one gives him a suitable farewell tour.
"Santa Claus": Just as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade always concludes with Santa riding into town, let your Turkey Day marathon continue with this amazing episode, featuring the big, red guy battling Satan. You know, like he always does.
"Racket Girls": One of the best reasons to watch MST3K was for the weird educational short films the program would dig up, and "Are You Ready for Marriage?" which opens this episode is one of the best.
"Hamlet": Okay, this might not be the absolute best episode of this show, but the idea of Mike and the 'bots taking on Shakespeare's immortal classic is so weird that you can't pass it up, right?
Of course, you might reject our choices, opting instead to watch episodes still only available on DVD (like "Manos: The Hands of Fate," perhaps the show's finest hour), or checking out the many rips of old VHS copies of episodes on YouTube (where essentially everything MST3K has been collected).
The important thing is that you remember to avoid your family in favor of watching television. The gang on the Satellite of Love wouldn't have it any other way.