Saturday, March 14, 2020

The correct order to watch MST3K

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been on my mind recently. A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my progress in completing my collection of MST3K movies, the unriffed versions. And I've made a little progress, but that's not what I'm wanting to talk about today. It's about watching the actual MST3K episodes, particularly, the order in which to watch them.

That doesn't seem like it would be an issue, but there were some peculiarities in the way the shows were recorded, and other things that make it not so cut and dry.

KTMA Episodes

First, do we include the KTMA shows? That is the original season, consisting of 21 episodes that were done for the local station KTMA TV-23 in Minneapolis-St. Paul (now WUCW) before the show went national.

Reasons to include
  • The episodes exist (20 of 21 at least), so they are part of the show.
  • 12 of the movies were not re-done during the national run and are unique.
Reasons to not include
  • It was a local show, and not actually part of the continuity of the national show.
  • Nine were re-done, and done better, in Season 3.
  • The local show, while good, pales in comparison to the national show. It's great for show buffs to see the origins, but not for regular watching. It's like a pre-season game.
I say do not include KTMA episodes, but if you do, they were broadcast in the order produced, and that's the way to watch them.

The Movie

After Season 6 and right before the first cancellation, the crew did Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. The crew riffed "This Island Earth" for the big screen. But do we count it?

Reasons to include
  • It's MST3K, just in a little different format. It's as simple as that.
Reasons to not include
  • It wasn't part of the show. Sure, all the parts are there, but it's not the show. It's something different.
  • A hard-to-resolve continuity issue arises depending on where you place the film.
I say do include the movie. That does bring up some complications as we'll see.

The 1995 Turkey Day Special

In 1995 Comedy Central wasn't as sold on MST3K as they used to be. They only ordered six episodes for the upcoming Season 7. I've never seen an explanation for this, and I assume it was a budget thing. The riffing during the movie was separate from the host segments, with no references to what was going on outside the theater. This allowed the movie riffing to be wrapped in Thanksgiving themed segments for the Turkey Day special and for the regular season (and subsequent rebroadcasts).

Reasons to include
  • It was part of the show.
  • While the movie is the same, the host segments are hilarious and should be part of regular viewing.
Reasons to not include
  • It's not really part of the show. It was a special.
  • You end up watching the same movie back-to-back.
I include it, but don't feel nearly as strongly about including it. On another day, I might say leave it out.

Production Order vs Broadcast Order vs Production Code

The order in which the shows were produced doesn't always line up with the production number. Those don't always line up with the order in which they aired.

Season 1 had a major production code vs production order issue with "Women of the Prehistoric Planet." It was the 13th produced and aired, but retained the production code 104 instead of, as would be expected, 113. Watching in production order creates a continuity issue as there is a reference to "Robot Holocaust" (Episode 110) in "Women of the Prehistoric Planet" (Episode 104). Air date order resolves this.

Season 1 also had some shows air out of order. The first two aired in reverse order, although there is no continuity issue with those two being watched in either order.

Season 3 also had air date order not matching production order. "Teenage Cave Man" (Episode 315) aired after "The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent" (Episode 317), but again, no continuity error if watched in either order.

Season 5, like Season 1, had the first two episodes air in reverse production order. And, again, no continuity issue if watched either way.

Season 6 is the real problem child. It's a mess, with the production order, production code, and air date in order at the very beginning and at the end, but all jumbled in the middle. It's hard to describe, but I'll try.
  • The episode "Zombie Nightmare" (604) was held from airing so it could be part of a college tour by the cast. It finally aired after "Kitten with a Whip" (615).
  • "The Skydivers" (609) aired after "Colossus and the Headhunters" (605).
  • "The Creeping Terror" (606) and "Bloodlust!" (607) aired in reverse order.
Those three changes really jumbled the order things aired. However, no continuity issues arise in watching any of them in either production/code or air date order.

Season 7 has the issue of "Night of the Blood Beast" (701) existing twice. And, if you include the movie, that was released during Season 7 between "Escape 2000" (705) and "Laserblast" (706). However, the Mads differ. Pearl is a regular in Season 7, but doesn't appear in the movie. And, since Dr. Forrester is "reborn" at the end of the season, the movie can't move in that direction.

Season 10 aired "Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders" (1003) six weeks after the series finale, "Diabolik" (1013). Watching in production/code order resolves the continuity issue.

My Method

So, production order? Production Code order? Air date order? The answer is ... none of those.

I am a bit of a purist, so I prefer air date order, as that's the order they were originally presented. And, that generally works, except for Season 10, and for the Movie (if you include it).

I use air date order, moving "Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders" (1003) to just before "Diabolik" (1013), and The Movie between Season 6 and Season 7. With those two adjustments, everything works.

On the other hand, watching in Production Code order almost works. You have to move "Women of the Prehistoric Planet" (104) to the last episode of Season 1. You still have to put The Movie between Season 6 and Season 7.

So, pick either order, put the movie between Season 6 and Season 7, then shift one episode (in Season 1 for Production Code order; in Season 10 for air date order) and everything works.

As I said, I prefer air date order.

Of course, it was just a show. I should really just relax.

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