The MST3K Journal: Season 12

After the first new set of MST3K episodes in nearly twenty years were uploaded on Netflix, things were looking up. Dark Horse had announced a six issue comic book series in which Jonah and the Bots would riff on public domain offerings of the medium. The cast hit the road for the show’s first ever live show tour. And at the end of the 2017 Turkey Day Marathon, it was announced that Netflix had ordered another season. If nothing else, it would make the “Based on the Hit Netflix Series” label printed on the comic book covers far less awkward than those on the comic book spin-off for the live-action Cowboy Bebop series.

And we all know what comes with success. Merchandising! A wide range of MST3K products hit the market, with fans ready and willing to purchase them. T-shirts, coffee mugs, key chains, beer glasses, Funko Pop figurines, and so much more.

Season 12 included the tweaking of old characters and the introduction of new ones. First off, we saw the featuring of the host’s significant other in the cast being cemented as a tradition with the debut of Dr. Donna St. Phibes, Caretaker of B-Movie Monsters. Though those of us who attended the 30th Anniversary Tour had already met her. Had this been a more serious work, the way she’s more comfortable interacting with monsters than humans could have made her into a misanthrope. But this is a comedy, so she’s instead imbued with an endearing dippiness.

Pearl clone Synthia received a much-needed upgrade. In the previous season, her character had been deliberately stiff and awkward. But that would get tedious in the long run. So, through unethical pharmacology, her mental faculties were enhanced.

But the biggest surprise had to be the return of Dr. Lawrence Erhardt. While Shout’s release of the other Season One episodes to home video helped improve the popular image of the show’s early days, there’s no question that it still had some kinks to work out. Erhardt never got an opportunity to develop the way Frank did, and now he’s getting a chance to shine. The fact that Josh Weinstein uses his normal voice is also a relief.

As for the experiments themselves, a different approach was taken by wrapping them around the binge-watching phenomenon. In this case, the episodes were binge made as Jonah and the Bots are subjected to six movies one after the other. Fortunately, we viewers aren’t required to take up the challenge if we don’t want to (though I imagine some did). Were I younger, I might have given it a try. But now, taking on the eight plus hours of content would require consuming an unhealthy amount of stimulants.

Unlike the final Comedy Central season, the fact that this one had only six episodes didn’t set off alarm bells. Streaming originals in general and Netflix Originals in particular tend to have far fewer episodes per season than traditional broadcast seasons. However, this can allow for two to three “seasons” being released in a single year (the Voltron reboot comes to mind), so it balances out. Alas, it fell victim to cynical numbers gaming. There’s a line of thought that viewing numbers for TV shows peak during the second season and it’s downhill from there. Netflix has subscribed to this theory with a vengeance and many of their shows have been handed the pink slip after two seasons. Though I suppose it could be regarded as a cold comfort that MST3K wasn’t being singled out.

But enough brooding. Time for us to undergo…

1201: Mac and Me [Grade: B+]

Traditionally, MST3K has preferred screening films that are off the beaten path. But they occasionally featured movies which had previously achieved a legendary status of sorts, such as Robot Monster and The Creeping Terror. As one of the more brazen E.T. rip-offs of the 1980s, Mac and Me has gained a certain amount of notoriety. But there’s so much more than the flagrant product placement for Coke, McDonald’s, and Skittles.

From a science fiction mechanics angle, there’s a host of issues regarding the alien family being taken to Earth. If their homeworld is in another star system, then this means that NASA has developed probes with FTL capabilities, which seems doubtful. The idea they’re from Mars has a certain attractiveness to it, especially if it takes place in the same reality as the Barsoom series of Edgar Rice Burroughs. In this case, Barsoom society would have degenerated even further since John Carter’s time. It would also explain why they’re nude. However, since we see a ringed gas giant in their sky, the least implausible idea is that they live on Titan. Though there would still be the question of how they could tolerate Earth temperatures.

One of the few positives is how lead child character Eric being confined to a wheelchair is not presented in a ham-handed fashion. The fact that they cast a real paraplegic is commendable. Unfortunately, he also had no acting experience, which becomes obvious from listening to the whiny tone in his voice whenever he attempts to emote. But what really bugs me is the swathe of inadvertent destruction in the wake of the baby alien’s shenanigans. The issue is that it gets presented as lighthearted and whimsical antics, which for me leaves a bad taste.

Of this set of host segments, my personal favorite is their parody of the McDonald’s birthday party. Gypsy as Grimace is particularly inspired. The attempts at the long distance whistling communication of the aliens in the movie is also worthy of some chuckles.

  • Favorite riff: I want to see the movie this composer thought he was scoring.
  • Stinger: The alien family goes shopping.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Courtney summons Debbie to supper. Also, two random women talk about buying smokes.

1202: Atlantic Rim [Grade: C-]

The big question is how did Red end up as part of a classified mech project instead of being drummed out of the service with a dishonorable discharge? Contrary to what Hollywood would have folks believe, regulation flouting mavericks aren’t high on the list of candidates for elite units. They’re more likely to spend time pulling KP. The only type of “elite” units they could plausibly be assigned to would be more akin to what’s seen in The Dirty Dozen.

From a movie viewing perspective, this character type can be made tolerable if leavened with sympathetic traits. No such luck, as Red goes through the narrative as a boorish jackass. Another obnoxious, cliché-riddled archetype present here is the bloodthirsty military officer who always advocates the most destructive course of action in the form of Geise. Just to make sure the audience knows he’s supposed to be evil, he has an eyepatch.

Though there are plenty of idiotic moments, the one that really sticks out occurs during the climactic battle. Apparently prior to that moment, the technicians had not seen fit to let the operators know that their mechs came with melee weapons. You really feel sorry for Graham Greene, who I’ll admit I only know from his appearances in the film version of Maverick and The Red Green Show. I get that even upper tier actors can end up in turds like this, what with there being more actors in Hollywood than roles and how the rent don’t pay itself. Still, it must be a major embarrassment for someone of his stature to be in an Asylum movie.

Host segments are a bit hit and miss. The song “Get in Your Mech” falls into the usual perils of doing something deliberately bad, while the bro boasting is just tedious. On the positive side, Max’s Supposi-Story invention is an interesting way to make AP English reading a literal pain in the hinder. The pouring out a drink for all the hapless extras killed in the movie is also worth a chuckle. Though I imagine Graham Greene’s dignity would call for its own dedicated bottle.

  • Favorite riff: I know they didn’t have the money to rent emergency vehicles and crowds. But calling in a bomb threat? That’s beyond the pale!
  • Stinger: Red half-drunkenly describes the monster battle.
  • Alternate Stinger: An MP gets the Monty Python treatment.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. The submarine operators exchange panicked reactions. Dr. Adams and Tracey talk about the halo headbands.

1203: Lords of the Deep [Grade: B]

Hollywood is infamous for the incestuous nature of its creativity, which means that it’s not particularly unusual for two or more similarly themed movies to come out at about the same time. One of the more notorious examples that comes to mind is A Bug’s Life and Antz. The year 1989 saw no less than five science fiction and horror movies with an underwater setting (six if you want to count The Rift, which didn’t get released until 1990), with The Abyss being the most prominent of the lot. Of them, Lords of the Deep may be the weakest.

Like so many films screened on MST3K, character actions come about more to advance the plot rather than resulting from any sort of natural behavior. Particularly distracting is O’Neill, whose actor may be even more mush mouthed than Timothy Van Patten in the two Master Ninja pseudo-features.

With Dobler’s cartoonish villainy and McDowell’s sanctimonious posturing, my inner contrariness received a severe poking. Part of me dearly hopes the crewmembers “rescued” by the aliens either get eaten by them or they experience the old chestnut about how Hell is being locked in a room with your best friends.

Host segments are a fun lot, especially the one with the blob that forces Jonah to recount humiliating experiences from his childhood (which has a Mike era vibe to it). Dr. Donna St. Phibes and her Habitat for B-Movie Monsters is a fun addition to the cast. Thankfully, we get to see her again in Season 13.

  • Favorite riff: This scene brought to you by Movie Filler. When your feature isn’t quite feature length, try Movie Filler.
  • Stinger: The alien gets friendly.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Barbara and Claire talk about the goop found inside Chadwick’s suit.

1204: The Day Time Ended [Grade: B+]

What the hell was that? It’s as if several writers were given the same broad synopsis and their separate products were mashed together by a demented AI. Certainly, I’m hard-pressed to figure out how the supernova connects with the streaking pixie or the flying Betamax or the glowing obelisk or the claymation monsters or anything else. My best guess is that it’s intended to be a science fiction reimagining of Armageddon. If any of you can think of something better, I’d be interested to know.

Host segments are reasonably competent, with the song “Concepts” being a real showstopper of a number that is easily the best song of the season. I’m also betting Professor Harold Servo had later visited Terrence Dudley when he was writing the Doctor Who serial “Four to Doomsday”. The appearance of Dr. Erhardt in the closing was also a nice touch.

  • Favorite riff: That may have been a real accident. This movie can’t afford to wreck a car.
  • Stinger: The little green guy pleases Jenny.
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Beth and Jenny have multiple non-male conversations.

1205: Killer Fish [Grade: C+]

While this may be yet another attempt to cash in on the Hostile Aquatic Life trend started by Jaws, at heart it’s a crime drama. And as is often the case, this means none of the characters are particularly sympathetic or likable. Rather like Diabolik, but without the wave of massive collateral damage. This is probably for the best though. All too often, attempts to provide moral justification in this sort of movie caper end up being forced and unconvincing.

Even the non-crook characters are unappealing. Ollie, with his obese form, nasal voice, and stereotypical Ugly American Tourist mannerisms, was pretty much doomed to be piranha chow from the start. Speaking of stereotypes, Margaux Hemingway (granddaughter of author Ernest Hemingway) conforms to the ones about models who take a shot at screen acting. That lisp is particularly distracting.

One thing that can be said for Lee Majors, though. He may be at best a mediocre actor, but he has a really intense stare.

Host segments continue to be strong. The speculation as to what the aquatic menace might be before it’s revealed is worth some chuckles. I especially like the possibility of killer Snorks. Even better is the Apollo 13 style logic puzzle attempt to rescue the cast, further confirming that Ollie was always doomed.

  • Favorite riff: Kids, this is what happens when you fall in during the Jungle Cruise at Universal Studios.
  • Stinger: “That’s it. Laugh it up. It’s art”
  • Alternate Stinger: Agree.
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Ann asks Kate about their presence, and she explains. Also, when Kate and Gabrielle exchange goodbyes at the airport.

1206: Ator, the Fighting Eagle [Grade: A]

Some attempts on cashing in on a trending blockbuster are more obvious than others. Take the final movie screened in this season. It pretty much copies the plot points of the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian, filling it out with results from a D&D random encounter table. Granted the basic premise is as old as the hills and has been done a zillion times. But you’d think they could have filed off the serial numbers of their knockoff a little better.

But that’s hardly the only issue. The fight scenes are lackluster, with it being obvious that the combatants are deliberately striking the weapon of the opponent rather than aiming at the actual opponent. Just like when you did stick sword fighting as a kid. As is often the case in these Pecs & Pulchritude movies of the 1980s, the production values are pretty sad. Especially with the so-called Spider God that gets realized with what looks like oversized pipe cleaners and a web that’s obviously rope. Even so, it manages to be entertaining in a mindless sort of way. It probably helped that there were no real attempts at comic relief.

Compared to prior series conclusion episodes, the host segments are realized in a different fashion. With Laserblast and Diabolik, the movie was practically ignored in favor of focusing on everyone going their own ways. Here, the material is inspired by the movie. I particularly liked the design of the Kiog puppet, which I believe may be the first true soft puppet the show has featured. I guess they just didn’t realize they would be cancelled, though the conclusion where Jonah and the Bots go off on tour while Kinga and Max are trapped in a theater screening Mr. B Natural kind of works as a series finale.

  • Favorite riff: Even though he’s an owl now, it’s really weird that you still live with your ex.
  • Stinger: Griba kicks Ator where it counts.
  • Alternate Stinger: Perfect!
  • Bechdel Test: Pass. Two of the Amazons comment to each other about the commotion that draws them away from their guard duty.

Bechdel Test totals as of Season 12: 105 Pass, 90 Fail, 1 Ambiguous

And so ends the Netflix Era. It was shorter than we might have hoped. But at least we now have the Gizmoplex. Until then, remember that the spirit of music is within all of us.

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