Mystery Science Theater 3000 Tag

The Astral Factor

The funniest MST3K ever isn’t even an episode from the series. It’s not even an official video but bootleg audio from a live show MST veterans Hodgson, Beaulieu, Conniff, Pehl, and Weinstein-understudy Allen did in San Francisco during their final tour under the Cinematic Titanic banner, synced by a fan to a copy—a workprint, no less—of an unspeakably bad TV pilot some misguided soul pumped up into a feature film (mainly by showing off Stefanie Powers’ butt crack).


So the video really sucks, and the audio really sucks. But it doesn’t matter because the quips and jabs from these nonpareil virtuosos of movie riffing are really f***ing funny.


The film Hodgson & Co. mercilessly bludgeon like a recalcitrant piñata really is about as bad as it gets—bad script, bad production design, bad editing, bad makeup, bad clothes, bad music, lame stunts, bad fonts, and criminally bad acting and directing. To paraphrase a line from MST3K‘s legendary Manos, there’s a buffet of loathsomeness here.

But The Astral Factor achieves a level most MST episodes could only dream of because there’s a whole bevy of has-been stars on the premises, including Elke Sommer, the aforementioned Powers (“with Stefanie Powers come Stefanie responsibility”), and, in a stomach-churning cameo, Sue (Lolita) Lyon, whose production company was apparently responsible for this flaming sack of dog poopie.


The pacing of the jokes is relentless, with the crew landing solid blows at least every 20 seconds, and sometimes releasing whole barrages that left the audience in San Francisco’s Castro Theatre breathless.


Don’t come here looking for 4K HDR or the perfect aspect ratio or perfectly calibrated sound or even surround sound, let alone Atmos. (Atmos?! On a policeman’s salary!?) This is about laughing your ass off—pure, and simple, and all too rare.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

The Death & Rebirth (Maybe) of American Entertainment

Death of American Entertainment

The evidence couldn’t be more obvious that it’s time to storm the entertainment Bastille and create some new ways to be engaged and amused.


The movies have been an exhausted form since the late ‘70s—we now get off not on watching movies but movies about movies, the kind of mental masturbation that’s the working definition of the Wasteland. TV has always been a wasteland, and only gets worse as it dresses itself up in cinematic trappings and indulges in more & more depraved behavior. And we’re now a few generations in to endless legions desensitized by “cartoon” violence and shooter games.


Every current form of mass entertainment pisses on subtleties, on any kind of discerning approach, instead producing bigger & bigger adrenalin jolts and ultimately encouraging us to do nothing but wallow in the mud. It’s like we’re all taking the Milgram Experiment, and failing miserably. It’s like we’re devolving.


People have had good—as in “life & death”—reasons lately to bemoan the state of the culture and wonder how things got so bad. But they seem oblivious to the entertainment choices they make every day that reinforce our blind rush to the bottom.


But there are some promising signs of new mass entertainment out there, forms that aren’t as smartass and soulless, that subordinate all the tech that can create a false sheen of competence and instead let you connect directly with the individuals and groups doing their damnedest to create things that feel true instead of just slick. Most of it derives in some way from street theater and has echoes of minstrels and vaudeville. It doesn’t just mimic the past but feeds from it—something that hasn’t happened in a long, long time.


In my previous post, I talked about the avoidable and kind of wrenching disaster of the Kickstarter/Netflix MST3K reboot but pointed out that from that wreckage emerged some encouraging glimpses of a brighter entertainment future. Next time, I’ll go into specifics.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound &
Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Failure to Launch: The MST3K Reboot That Wasn’t

mystery science theater netflix

There have only been a tiny handful of TV shows worth watching over the past 30 years, and MST3K was the only one that gave a meaningful f*** you to the TV establishment. So I had a huge emotional investment in its Kickstarter-driven Netflix reboot—which turned out to be such a massive piece of crap that I wish they’d never even bothered.


I don’t think they could have gotten it any more wrong if they’d set out to screw it up on purpose. The host segments are too short and play it way too safe, Jonah Ray has no discernible personality, bot-voicers Baron Vaughn and Hampton Yount have proven adept at playing Tom and Crow in interviews and online videos but don’t get the chance to develop their personas at all in the series, (let’s not even talk about the new Gypsy), the delivery of every single line by every single cast member is so mechanical and forced it feels soulless, it should be a capital crime to make Patton Oswalt play second banana to somebody so obviously limited as Felicia Day, the movies don’t cover any new ground (don’t expect to see anything of the caliber of Manos here), the elaborate effort to cover up mid-segment screwups couldn’t be more lame, and trying to impose the original series’ commercial-break structure couldn’t be more forced. But forget all thatthis whole obviously rushed effort just isn’t funny.


This is a series that deserves to be shot at dawn.


But that doesn’t mean it didn’t yield anything good. In a subsequent post, I’ll talk about how stuff Hodgson probably wasn’t even aware of gave bright examples of entertainment’s future, how the seemingly animated but lifeless carcass of this misguided MST3K gave shelter to some things that are actually pretty darn good.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound &
Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.