Ah, MST3K...perhaps the ultimate cult show. You either love this one or hate it. The sight of that silhouette on the bottom of the screen elicits either joy or eye-rolling boredom. I (as you probably guessed) am a fan of this gem of a show, which survived cancellation, network and host changes and a revolving door cast.
The premise...oh, do you really need that? Suffice it to say, it stuck true to its mission, never running out of turkey old movies to lampoon. Combine that with the off-kilter humor and performances of the cast (Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Frank Conniff, Mike Nelson and others) and you had a show that was glorious in practically every respect. Those Comedy Central days, with a mixture of bad sci-fi epics, embarassing film noirs and oh, those educational shorts, may be the best run of any show ever in TV history. I'm not trying to stir up anything, but when we're talking hosts, I honestly prefer Mike to Joel. His manner of joking was more "on" than Joel's slacker persona, and in his tenure as host the comedy became tighter overall. Once Bill Corbett came on as Crow, I think the series got its best riffing team (Murphy, Nelson and Corbett).
While the overall quality of the riffing didn't change with hosts and networks, the quality of the "host segments," those comedy bits in between sessions in the theater, suffered tremendously with the losses of Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff. Added to that was the new mandate from the Sci-Fi Channel that the host segments had to have a story arc. Gone were the one-shot weirdness of the Comedy Central days and in their place were unfunny ongoing misadventures when the gang would encounter odd creatures and sci-fi spoofs. None of it could hold a candle to the old days of the invention exchanges, Crow's screenplays, Tom's dulcet tones and anything from old Gypsy girl.
But that may be complaining too much - after all, even in the Joel era, MST3K was primarily about riffing the movies, which never went out of style. Fortunately, the Sci-Fi Channel's other mandate of only doing sci-fi movies went by the wayside and we got some more classics in the later years.
But now, sadly, it's gone. The good news is that Mike and Joel are continuing the fine riffing tradition with their various endeavors (Film Crew, Rifftrax, Cinematic Titanic). And the DVDs continue to roll out. So kick your feet up, settle back, and laugh your butt off.
Push the button, Frank.