Mystery Science Theater 3000 has a very simple premise, summarized in the epic opening song: Two mad scientists (Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff) launch Joel Hodgson, a janitor, into space and force him to watch B-movies in order to find out if there’s a B-movie bad enough to be used for world domination. I know it sounds crazy, but even the theme reminds you to “just repeat to yourself, ‘it’s just a show, I should really just relax.’” In order to deal with the strain, he builds four robots for company: Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo, Gypsy (Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Jim Mallon), and Cambot (who films silently). They proceed to sit through terrible B-movies and mock them endlessly, in a process they call “Riffing.” With some people, this would create an awkward experience. Fortunately, this was a team of professionals who turned the movies into fascinating works of satire.
This episode features 3 distinct parts. First, it contains the short “Hired,” which is basically a hilarious satire of Glengarry, Glen Ross. It is also referred to as “Hired 2: Electric Boogaloo.” The second part is watching the movie Manos, the Hands of Fate. Manos is the worst movie ever made. Cinematography, acting, directing, effects, lighting, sets, costuming… if there’s an Oscar for it, Manos did it worse than anyone else. Hell, the title barely makes sense. In fact, the movie was produced, directed, and written by a fertilizer salesman as the result of a bet he made with a screenwriter in a bar. The only upside to the film is the character of Torgo, who is pointlessly over the top in every way, including that he has cloven feet and goat legs… that are never really shown. The third segment is the appearance of Torgo’s pizza. Yes, the mad scientists order pizza from a character in the movie they’re watching. It takes 2 hours to arrive, and when it does, Torgo (played by future MST3K host Mike Nelson) forgets the soda in the car, has sat on the pizza to warm it… and tries to keep the crazy bread in his pants.
In between these parts, Joel and the robots tend to mess around during the “commercial breaks,” doing things such as the Invention Exchange, where Joel invents a machine that combines two bad Sunday comics into a good one (Like Mrs. Lockhart murdering Cathy).
The key to this episode is that the crew of the Ship of Love (the set of MST3K) have so much to work with. Never before has a movie been so gloriously bad as Manos. It is the unicorn of terrible movies. Were I to live to be 1000, I might never see its like again. It even has the Mads show up occasionally during the breaks to apologize for how bad the movie is, and they’re the ones supposedly looking for the world’s worst movie. The cast takes almost every line, scene change, lighting change, and the ever-glorious Torgo’s theme music (which replaces the closing theme of the episode) and make them into hilarious critiques of everything from film to society to family to goats.
It’s telling that the only positive review of Manos on Rotten Tomatoes is actually based on the MST3K episode.
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