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"WE'VE GOT MOVIE SIIIIGN!!!"
Mystery Science Theater 3000 -- MST3K for short -- debuted on the local Minneapolis UHF station KTMA (currently CW station WUCW) in 1988. Somewhere between Sketch Comedy, improv, and a late-night movie anthology, MST3K showed some of the worst films imaginable -- or at least the kind of crappy B-movies a third-tier UHF station could afford the rights to -- intercut with framing sequences following the life of the hapless Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson), who is stranded on the "Satellite of Love" by mad scientists Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu, a reference to the hero of the 1953 film adaptation of War of the Worlds) and Dr. Lawrence "Larry" Erhardt (Josh Weinstein). During the movies, Joel is joined by Crow T. Robot (Beaulieu) and Tom Servo (Weinstein), two robots he'd contrived from spare parts, and the trio would mercilessly riff on the comically low quality of the films they watched. (Joel and The Bots were portrayed in "Shadowrama" as if they were sitting in the front row of a theater showing the movies.) The show was partially aimed towards a young audience, which made the riffing generally good-natured, unlike the bitter sarcasm of (for example) the Medved brothers of Golden Turkey Awards fame.
MST3K quickly achieved cult status; after one season, the show was picked up by the fledgling Comedy Channel (now Comedy Central). Although the riffing was a lot more sophisticated -- it was now written in advance, rather than improvised -- the show never betrayed its low-budget roots, featuring production values which deliberately mimicked the string-powered pie plates and papier-mache aliens of the films it mocked. After the first season on Comedy Central, Weinsten left; he was replaced by the big-voiced Kevin Murphy (as Tom Servo) and the generally big Frank Conniff (as TV's Frank, who became Dr. Forrester's hapless sidekick). With this cast in place, the show hit its stride and ran for six more seasons, eventually spawning a feature film. During the fifth season, Joel left and was seamlessly replaced by head writer Mike Nelson.
The film proved to be a stretch too far, however: it not only drove out original cast member Trace Beaulieu, but also led to the show's cancellation. After a period of uncertainty, MST3K was sold to the Sci Fi Channel, where it ran for three additional seasons and went through further cast changes. (By the end of the show's run, none of the original KTMA cast remained on the show.) MST3K ended in 1999, but for contractual reasons, it was rerun in random time slots until 2004.
Several episodes were repackaged for syndication in a trimmed-down version known as "The Mystery Science Theater Hour", with new framing segments parodying the introductions used by classic film channels. In general, MST3K did not lend itself to commercial exploitation; each episode ran for two hours (with commercials), and the production team struggled to obtain and keep the rights to the films it riffed. As a consequence of these issues, MST3K was barely broadcast outside the US and remains unknown in large parts of the English-speaking world. Season Three featured numerous Gamera movies, which were removed from further distribution after Sandy Frank (who had imported and dubbed the Gamera films) lost the rights to his dubs and the original Japanese studio, Daiei, refused to sell them for mockery -- well, until Shout! Factory got the rights to release them. Shout Factory's new license resulted in DVD releases of the Gamera films, as well as a special volume of MST3K's Gamera episodes. (The show's Godzilla episodes are also out of distribution, but no new deal appears to be in the works to get those episodes released.)
In the years since the show's end, distribution rights to many of the riffed movies reverted to their original owners, which means episodes of MST3K featuring those films can't be redistributed (legally, anyway). For several years, Rhino Entertainment released episodes on video and DVD; in 2008, the DVD rights were transferred to Shout! Factory, and the Rhino releases slowly went out of print. Most of the episodes released on DVD are available for streaming/rental from Netflix.
The series' philosophy of "Keep Circulating the Tapes" (a phrase found in the credits) led to much of the show being easily found online; Best Brains encourages tape trading and file sharing, and the group uploaded numerous MST3K episodes onto Google Video themselves.
The handling of the series by Comedy Central and the Sci-Fi Channel remains a cause of irritation amongst fans even today; one widely circulated conspiracy theory says the network (either one) intentionally sabotaged the series, since the show had a small but intense cult following which made the show hard to dismiss despite its modest Ratings. The odd choices of sponsors tends to underscore this idea in the minds of many fans.
Several different groups of former cast members have taken stabs at reviving the show in different ways:
- Mike Nelson's Riff Trax was the first, giving the MST treatment to popular movies and TV shows via mp3 "commentary" tracks for DVDs (as well as DRM-free pre-synched videos of the cast making fun of public domain short films). Several RiffTrax releases feature other MST3K cast members -- usually Bill Corbett, who played both Crow and Brain Guy on the Sci-Fi Channel episodes, and Kevin Murphy -- and various guest stars.
- Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett also collaborated on The Film Crew. Four DVDs were produced -- with the concept being closer to the original MST3K -- before RiffTrax began, but weren't released until late 2007.
- Cinematic Titanic -- which also uses an MST3K-esque Shadowramma -- features Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester). Episodes of this project are available on DVD and digital download. The group also takes the show on the road and riffs on films they have yet to release to DVD.
- Finally, the official MST3K website featured several flash cartoons featuring The Bots.
Several fan-made recreations of the series were created as a result of the show's fandom; the most notable is Incognito Cinema Warriors XP, which debuted in 2008 (almost ten years after MST3K was cancelled). The show was originally done as an experiment by the actors/writers to gain film experience, but when the show's debut was well received, they kept producing new episodes (and raised the production values, to boot). ICWXP has gained its fair share of praise from former MST3K cast members (including, most notably, Mike Nelson). The show has also inspired other parody series, including Unskippable , which applies the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment to video game cutscenes.
For obvious reasons, the movies shown on MST3K embody damn near every trope, cliché, and hackneyed plot device ever invented -- which Joel/Mike and the 'bots would mercilessly call out.
MST3K is the Trope Namer for:
- And His Eyes Open
- Dull Surprise
- The Freelance Shame Squad
- Just Eat Gilligan
- Keep Circulating the Tapes
- Kung Foley
- Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds
- The Mountains of Illinois
- MST3K Mantra In-Universe
- Next Sunday AD
- Nightmare Fuel In-Universe
- Pinocchio Syndrome
- Railing Kill
- Robot Roll Call
- They Just Didn't Care In-Universe
MST3K provides examples of:
If you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts
- Actor Allusion: Lots of them, if an actor is most famous for another role, like Alan Hale or Russell Johnson. And every time Peter Graves shows up, you can expect a host of Biography jokes.
- And because Peter Graves showed up in so many MST'ed movies another gag was referencing his role in the last film they saw him in.
- The Adjectival Superhero: Lampshaded by Mystery Science Theater 3000 endlessly.
- During the Joel era, he and the bots came up with ludicrous superheroes for The Fantastic 85, with such heroes as "Lint-Attachment Man", "Jazz Trio Man", "Really Deep Man" ("He's really deep, man!") and "Always-Smells-Like-Maple Man".
Crow: Oh, I got one! He's called "Man Man". He's bestowed with all the powers of a man... but he's a man.
- During the Mike era, Crow (inspired by dialogue from Riding With Death) declared himself Turkey Volume Guessing Man. He had the power to guess the volume of any enclosed space, in units of turkeys.
- A Running Gag during Puma Man.
- From The Movie: "East Man, he came out of the East to do battle with The Amazing Rando!"
- Adorkable: Mike. Although the rest of the cast certainly does count.
- Especially Joel...Nerdy, dorky & a real cutie.
- Affably Evil: TV's Frank sort of straddled the line between this and Minion with an F In Evil, as did Dr. Erhardt. Bobo and Brain Guy could also be fairly sociable when Pearl wasn't around.
- During the "Happy Thoughts" song in the Tormented episode, we cut to Frank making chalk drawings on the floor of Deep 13 and fantasizing about Dr. F's demise in a trainyard-switching accident:
"...and then the robots and I will become really good friends and we'll be roommates with triple bunk beds and we will stay up all night talking about really cool stuff and they'll think I'm really neat and then I'll invite them over to my house and we'll camp out and..."
- Even the Forresters were capable of engaging in friendly banter with Joel/Mike and the 'Bots when the mood struck them.
- AI Is a Crapshoot: Mostly averted with Joel's creations... but played straight when Mike tries to build his own 'bot.
- All There in the Manual: The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, which covers every episode the first six seasons in extreme detail and gives a basic synopsis of the KTMA season and what a viewer at the time could expect from season seven. The KTMA season and seasons 7 would later be given more detail at MST3KInfo.com, and the Sci Fi website covered seasons 8-10. (The Sci Fi pages are now defunct, but available amongst the archives of Satellite News.)
- Ambiguously Gay: Played situationally and, naturally, for laughs with the majority of the male cast.
- Amusing Alien: Tom Servo and Crow, sort of; also Gypsy to a smaller degree.
- And Now for Something Completely Different: In the Quest of the Delta Knights episode (), Pearl gives Mike a mental and physical evaluation, and Mike's perfectly healthy on both fronts. Incensed at not being able to break him, Pearl decides to analyze the situation in person, so she has Brain Guy make her and Mike switch places. A full third of the episode is Pearl doing the riffing with the 'bots. And yes, it's completely awesome.
- It also happened in a previous episode (, Last of the Wild Horses) with Mike and the 'bots switching places with Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank when an accident sends the SOL into a Mirror Universe.
- And how about the only time that Gypsy joined in the riffing? She got one riff in but was so disgusted by the badness of the film that she walked out after a few minutes.
- Animated Adaptation: In 2007 there was an official Web Animation released online that followed the adventures of Tom Servo, Crow, and Gypsy. It was not well received and shortly thereafter it was discontinued. Now, let's never speak of it again.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In Gamura vs. Guiron, the children keep talking about a civilized world without war, murder or traffic accidents.
- The Artifact: The Invention Exchanges sorta became this once Joel left. They were originally a way for Joel Hodgson to show off props from his magic show. They were eventually phased out.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The SOL gang reached the edge of the universe and became pure energy in the finale of Season 7, when the show's run on Comedy Central ended. Luckily, this didn't last long.
- Asleep for Days: In The Movie, Crow jokes that the departure of Cal Meachum prompts Joe to sleep off his depression: "I'm gonna curl up in his sock drawer and sleep for days."
- Audience Murmurs: In early seasons Joel and the bots will simulate crowd noise by muttering "rhubarb rhubarb" - however, it's always an appropriate type of rhubarb, e.g. "journalist rhubarb" or "military rhubarb." And in Japanese movies, instead of "rhubarb rhubarb", one often catches them muttering "wasabi, bok choy, seaweed".
- Awesome McCoolname in episode Space Mutiny they invent about a zillion impressive Awesome McCoolnames: Big McLargehuge, Smoke Manmuscle, Butch Deadlift, Dirk Hardpec, Punch Sideiron...
- Not to mention the incomprable Zap Rowsdower.
- Badass Bystander
- Be Careful What You Wish For: In one episode, Mike, taking advantage of Pearl's weakness, challenges her to a Shell Game with the stakes being Mike's choice of any movie he wants or two movies of Pearl's choice. Mike wins and ends up picking Hamlet--and oh, boy, does he get Hamlet.
- Becoming the Mask: During the Sci-Fi era, Crow had a tendency to dress up as a person/monster from the movie and insist to Mike & Tom that he really was that character.
- Crow does this a lot (such as being dressed as a Bellarian):
Crow: Okay, okay okay. Ask me if I'm a Bellarian, point-blank.
- Or during Jack Frost, after Crow dresses as a bear claiming the Mushroom Guy did it.
Mike: Are you sure you didn't just hot glue fur to yourself?
- Tom isn't immune to this, either, and exacts revenge in a different episode, Prince of Space.
Crow: We were playing dog and bear, you know, and Servo was chasing me and I ran panicked over logs and through streams, you know, maddened with primal terror, you know, and I turned and raked my deadly claws against his howling snout, you know, and I rose to my hind feet, towering, and still bellowing he came, and I mewled and spewed gore from my wounds and snot from my flaring wild maw and... and... and we were locked like lovers and, and, and, and I was encircled by spotted hound bodies and my entrails were hanging out and I tried a savage feral roar but, alas, my force was spent and I died. Then Servo took it too far...
- Joel tried to do this during Manos: The Hands of Fate, but failed miserably.
Crow: Well, for one thing, your face is too friendly, and your eyebrows, they arc gently as opposed to jutting inward, and...well, frankly, Joel, you blush in the most adorable way.
- Berserk Button: Invasion of the Neptune Men nearly pushed the crew over the edge. Specifically, the movie's use of stock footage (some of which featured violent destruction recorded during World War II), deeply offended the cast. On a more general note, Joel/Mike and the 'bots responded angrily whenever a movie involved violence against women, children, or blatant racism.
- Mistreatment of animals is another one, as evidenced by their reaction to the short Catching Trouble, causing Joel to apologize on behalf of the human race.
Servo: If you enjoyed Catching Trouble in any way, there is something wrong with you!
- This trope actually led to a tightening of standards on the show early on. There was one movie (The Sidehackers) that was mostly outlaw side-car racing, with a rape and murder scene plopped in the middle of it. The scene was cut and a rather frank and non-humorous indication of the contents of the missing scene was mentioned on-air, and from that point on, Best Brains made sure that each film was watched in its entirety before being selected.
- Violence against women and blatant sexism would cause Joel and the Bots to loudly jeer a character.
- Better Than Sex: In Mike and the Bots' riffing of The Skydivers, Crow uses this phrase to mock the movie's obsession with coffee, as well as the lack of chemistry between the two lead characters.
Beth: I made some coffee.
- Bigger Than Jesus: Near the end of a short film about industrial workplace safety, there's a camera shot where the pastor narrator looms larger than his church in the background. One of the bots chimes in, "I'm bigger than Jesus."
- Big Head Mode: The "big head" Joel invents in Star Force.
Servo: Who's that guy with the big head, big head, I'm talkin' big head...
- Big Screwed-Up Family: Mike Nelson's in-universe family.
- Binocular Shot: One of the skits accompanying Catalina Caper made fun of the device by having cambot demonstrate a series of mattes, starting with the binocular matte, then progressing to sillier cut-outs.
- Black Widow: Pearl. In the It Lives by Night episode, she shows Bobo and Brain Guy slides from her various honeymoons, and the untimely (and grisly) demises that each of her husbands met with.
- The name of Pearl's ship? The Widowmaker.
- Book Ends: The Grand Finale ends with Mike, Servo, and Crow on a couch in their apartment and The Crawling Eye on the TV, bookending the first (nationally broadcast) episode.
- Crow: "This movie looks kinda familiar, doesn't it?" (Of course, almost none of the actors in that scene were part of the show when it started, except for Kevin Murphy who was a writer and excecutive producer since day 1)
- Bowdlerise: Some of the movies were obviously edited for television but that would technically make this an in-universe example as well since that would mean the Mads were censoring the movies they were sending. Would that make the SOL a Censor Ship?
- There was also the time when Joel blocked a shot of a nekkid woman with an umbrella, definitely in-universe.
- In the case of "Sidehackers", the writers approved the movie for use on the show after seeing half of the film. Then just at the midway point they were shocked to see the hero's girlfriend brutally raped and murdered by the movie's villain. They cut that scene out of the film and just had Crow announce, "For those of you wondering at home, Rita is dead." After that, Mystery Science Theater 3000 made it a policy to screen their films all the way through before approving them.
- Brain Bleach: When Mike/Joel and the bots see something particularly squicky, they often say that they need a shower.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Joel often castigated the robots when they made reference to being on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
- In Manhunt In Space, Tom sees a familiar moon.
Servo: Hey, it's the MST3K logo up there!
- When watching Gamera, they notice how similar the rocket model launch is to the show's intro. Of course, they could be taunting Joel's exile to the Satellite of Love.
Crow: Hey, look familiar?
- Mike commenting on a car grill in The Wild Wild World Of Batwoman:
Mike: Jet Jaguar!
- Brick Joke: Some very far-reaching ones. For example, Manos: The Hands of Fate (episode 424) ends with Mike Nelson as Torgo delivering a pizza to Dr. Forrester and Frank. Upon realizing he forgot the Mads' sodas, he leaves to fetch them -- and the next season (episode 508) Torgo finally returns with the sodas. An even more far reaching example involves Crow's monster movie screenplay Earth vs. Soup, first mentioned in episode 313. In the final season on Comedy Central, the screenplay is brought up again when a movie studio finally takes interest in it.
- Another example from Season Four; the episode The Killer Shrews begins with Joel giving the bots "present time", but even though Gypsy and Tom Servo get terrific gifts, Crow T. Robot gets a pair of "dress slacks from JC Penney". Fifteen episodes later, The Day the Earth Froze opens with Joel attempting to get a "family portrait"...
Joel: We are going to get a nice picture of this family if it kills us - Crow!
- At the end of the series, Mike is packing Crow's nice brown pants away as they prepare to leave. In the same scene, Mike is tossing away Crow's wire "mother", which was introduced in Invasion USA.
- Mike is seen folding a small pair of brown pants during Crow's... guitar solo in The Dead Talk Back.
- The slacks show up yet again in Bloodlust, exactly two seasons (48 episodes) later, when Crow wears them to his therapy session with Servo.
- Crow's Sensible Brown pants (as well as his Underoos) we going to be used by Mike at the beginning of Radar Secret Service to make a Bedsheet Ladder to be back to Earth, along with Gypsy's bra and Tom's pantyhose.
- During "12 to the Moon" at the end of season 5 when they are moving in with 'Future-Singing-Dancing-Lady', Crow has a large crate of 'Sensible Brown Pants (1 of 3)'
- In one of the early seasons, a little kid sent in a drawing of crow labeled 'Art'. This was in reference to a Honeymooners sketch where Crow was billed as "Art Crow." Cut to years later, where Pearl insists on regularly referring to Crow as "Art" without explanation.
- The Bus Came Back: Joel shows up again in the Season 10 premiere (Soultaker). Mike and the 'bots ask if he could bring them back to Earth, but Joel convinces them to stay.
- Frank comes back in the same episode.
- But Thou Must!: If the gang refused to watch the movie (Lost Continent) or attempted to walk out on it (Invasion of the Neptune Men), the Mads would force them to watch it through torturous means. The usual method of forcing them into the theater, as suggested by a number of throwaway lines, involved lowering the oxygen level everywhere else on the ship.
- Butt Monkey: TV's Frank
- Most of the SOL crew were this at one time or another, depending on who was holding the Idiot Ball; Mike in particular seemed to become more and more of this as the series progressed.
- Canada, Eh?: "The Canada Song".
- Cannot Tell a Joke: Gypsy's attempts to comment on a film inevitably fall flat.
- She did manage one that Joel and the 'Bots commended -- "They're steam-cleaning the horses!" -- but the movie's dullness basically got her fed up and she left the theater.
- Canon Dis Continuity: As noted in the Screwed by the Network entry, when Comedy Central changed leadership at one point, they were highly resentful of having to continue a program left by their predecessors. So much so that, even after the aforementioned screwing, despite being a major iconic figure in the channel's early history (arguably the reason they survived in the first place), any anniversary special or historical retrospective of Comedy Central presented by the channel itself conveniently ignores Mystery Science Theater 3000 as if it never happened. Yes, they seriously try to pass off their endless parade of mediocre stand-up shows, sitcom reruns, and Politically Incorrect as the REAL way they grew into the channel they are today.
- Captain Morgan Pose: Joel and the bots call attention to how many times the main character performs this in "The Giant Gila Monster".
- Captive Audience- Joel/Mike and the 'bots.
- The Cast Showoff: The invention exchange, which showed off Joel Hodgson's stage prop act. Also, Mike Nelson had a background in musical arrangements and Kevin Murphy is a pretty talented singer; both skills got used pretty frequently -- between the two of them, they're responsible for writing about three quarters of the songs over the show's run.
- Weirdly enough, when Kevin and Mike wrote and performed an Ink Spots-style Thirties pop ballad ostensibly sung by the Observers, Mike lip-synced Kevin's lines and Bill Corbett lip-synced Mike's lines... which was tremendously confusing to anyone who'd been following the show regularly.
- Catch Phrase: "We got movie sign!" and "What do you think, sirs?"
- "Push the button, Frank."
- Preceded in the first season by "File this, Larry."
- "Stuffing or potatoes?"
- "The Mads are calling" and later "Pearl's calling"
- "The Mads/Pearl" is frequently replaced with the names of completely different people, or insulting nicknames. The Mads, and later Pearl, retaliate by coming up with their own condescending nicknames for the S.O.L. crew.
- "Mitchell!" and "But Hooker's a GOOD cop!"
- And of course "Welcome to the Satellite of Love!" and "Hello, booby!"
- Plus that... noise Frank made ("Eyukgaeeoo!").
- One episode features Crow ordering a bunch of t-shirts with a new catchphrase he hopes will catch on: "You know you want me, baby!". Mike attempts to pick one from a book, but the best he can come up with is "We're all out of toner."
- Whenever a man and woman are together and one makes a lame joke: "We're a fun couple."
- "He tampered in God's domain."
- "Watch out for snakes!"
- "It stinks!"
- Not to mention "Chief!?" "McCloud!?"
- When someone is shot from a low angle: "I'm huge."
- "I thought you were Dale!"
- "We're getting into kind of a weird area here!"
- Hey, keep my area out of this! 
- Mike's nasal "Hey!" when he's caught off-guard by a riff.
- "I like it very much!"
- In season one, the Mads would ask Joel his opinion of their invention, and he would respond by rattling off a bunch of synonyms for "evil" and "insane". The Mads would then, without fail, lean into the camera and go "Why, thank you!"
- "He tried to kill me with a forklift!"
- And now the news." "Here's some more news." "And that's the news."
- "Push the button, Frank."
- Celebrity Resemblance: The riffs have remarked on how Coleman Francis looks like Curly Howard.
- Channel Hop: KTMA (1988-89) to Comedy Channel/Comedy Central (1989-96) to Sci-Fi Channel (1997-99).
- Character as Himself: Cambot was frequently billed this way.
- Characterization Marches On: Gypsy went from being an incredibly stupid, incoherent creature to the most intelligent & competent character on the ship. She basically went from "the family pet" to "Mom"....then finally Executive of "Con Gyps Co.".
- Her intelligence is shown in Wild Rebels, though it requires her to shut down the ship, as she is normally operating its higher functions. By season 4, however, she's able to delegate and/or automate the resources needed to run the ship, as shown when she prepares to enter the theater in Hercules and the Captive Women. After that, she participates normally in host segments, occasionally serving as Mama Bear to the other Bots (see The Beatniks), and her earlier simplicity is essentially forgotten, though she is still naive compared to Crow and Servo.
- Chewbacca Defense: When Mike is taken to court for destruction of planets, Bobo ends up as his defense attorney. But in a Crowning Moment of Awesome very uncharacteristic of him, he manages to get Brain Guy stricken as a witness against Mike... by showing him a liar in the art of baking pies.
- Christmas Episode: The Joel-era Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and the Mike-era Santa Claus
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Averted. Even the voice actor changes for the robots are given an in-world explanation/LampshadeHanging and the old characters are occasionally referred to.
- Characters such as The Nanites and Magic Voice stopped being used around season 9, and by season 10, they were pretty much forgotten.
- Cliffhanger Copout: Likely to show up whenever the gang watches back-to-back chapters from old Film Serials, such as Radar Men From The Moon and Undersea Kingdom. Joel/Mike or one of the bots is always bound to call attention to the copout when it comes.
- For bonus points, Servo actually references Annie Wilkes' rant from Misery: "That isn't what happened! He didn't get out of the cockadoodie car!"
- Cloudcuckoolander: For some reason they turned Jack Perkins (portrayed by Mike Nelson) of all people into this during the Turkey Day sequences. If the camera is focused on Jack, prepare for, as the mst3k wiki puts it, "long, meandering, name-dropping rambles about nothing in particular".
- Gypsy also wanders into this trope at times, especially during the Mike-era.
- As does Joel on occasion, during the Joel-era.
- Gypsy also wanders into this trope at times, especially during the Mike-era.
- Completely Missing the Point: Way back during the first season somebody called in saying they enjoyed the movies but disliked the bots, calling the show "like going to the movie theater and finding it full of damn teenagers".
- That still happens today. The best thing to do is keep smiling and back slowly away.
- A similar accusation (which was mostly thrown at The Movie, but is sometimes levelled at the show as well) is that Joel/Mike and the Bots just make fun of the films being shown, rather than providing a fair, balanced commentary on their merits and flaws. Leaving aside the fact that the films usually don't have any merits to speak of, it should be kind of obvious that MST3K is a comedy show and not a film review show.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: The premise of the series -- Dr. Forrester is "experimenting" on Joel/Mike to find a movie bad enough to turn into a Weapon of Mass Destruction. The reason Joel was targeted? Dr. Forrester didn't personally like him. The reason Mike replaced him? He was a temp who happened to be working in Deep 13 when Joel escaped.
- Well, Mike actually helped Gypsy to arrange Joel's escape, but it's not certain whether the Mads actually figured this out or to what extent revenge figured into their plans for him.
- Corpsing: Mike/Joel and the 'bots frequently chuckle and crack up at each other's jokes.
- Couch Gag: The Stinger after every episode (starting in season 2), a short clip of the most inexplicable dialogue or event in the movie.
- Cousin Oliver: Parodied with TimmyBobbyRusty.
- Creator Couple: Mike Nelson is married to Bridget Jones (no, not that one) who was also a writer on the show and occasional actress, most famously playing Flavia during the Ancient Rome arc.
- Bonus points for when Mike had to, and could not, flirt with Flavia.
- Credits Gag
- Crying Indian
- Crystal Clear Picture: The Hexfield Viewscreen, although in one episode "static" is produced by styrofoam pellets being thrown around.
- Curse Cut Short: Tom Servo on the Canada Song
Just where the hell does Canada get off sharing a border
- In the very first Comedy Channel episode "The Crawling Eye" the 'bots are having trouble with the concept that humans' heads do not detach and reattach like robots' do.
Crow: Well then why do people say that they’re always…like, “I’d lose my head if it wasn’t screwed on”?
- Cuteness Proximity: Nummy Muffin CoocolButter.
- Darker and Edgier: The web series Incognito Cinema Warriors XP is essentially a dark and edgy version of MST3k, since it mainly riffs adult-rated horror films featuring tons of sex and nudity, something MST3k couldn't get away with on basic cable.
- Many fans feel the tone of the show got a bit edgier and angrier as it went on, particularly after the move to the Sci-Fi Channel and the addition of Bill Corbett to the main cast.
- At the "Crow vs. Crow" panel at Dragon*Con '09, Corbett said that the Sci-Fi Channel sent them notes, telling them to make the show "edgier", which apparently the crew didn't really understand. "What do you want, more fart jokes?"
- Many fans feel the tone of the show got a bit edgier and angrier as it went on, particularly after the move to the Sci-Fi Channel and the addition of Bill Corbett to the main cast.
- Darkest Hour: Servo's "death" in Fugitive Alien 2.
- The Danza: Joel Hodgson as Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson in the Pilot and KTMA episodes), Michael J. Nelson as Mike Nelson, Frank Conniff as TV's Frank.
- Deadpan Snarker: Everyone on the SOL seems to be this at least part of the time, if only to preserve their own sanity.
- Death Is Cheap: TV's Frank dies a lot.
- So does Servo, although he has thousands of replacements for himself. In the series finale he detonates them all.
- Detournement: Using real films to sabotage themselves. Especially devastating with Very Special Episodes or "educational films", but good against pure Horror as well.
- Deus Ex Machina: Joel escapes the Satellite of Love in a pod conveniently named the Deus ex Machina.
- Distracted By the Shiny: If dogs show up in a movie, the guys will typically coo "Puppy!" and try to get its attention, no matter if it's supposed to be a horrible monster.
- One of Crow's early catchphrases is "Kitty!", blurted whenever a lion or other big cat is shown onscreen.
- During Crash Of The Moons, Joel and The 'Bots take time out from making fun of John Banner's performance to coo over a baby, whom one of them dubs "the first likable character in the film."
- The Ditz: Gypsy appears to be one of these, due to most of her brain capacity being used to attend to the SOL's higher functions.
- In the Wild Rebels episode, Joel shuts down some of the systems on the ship, which results in Gypsy communicating with the others in a "smarter" manner (while Joel is left gasping for oxygen).
- Donut Mess with a Cop: In one episode, Crow and Tom Servo actually force Joel to sign a contract that prohibits him from making cop and donut jokes whenever a cop appears on the screen.
- And the writers actually did make sure they made no more cop and donut jokes from then on.
- Dutch Angle: The Dr. Forrester & TV's Frank segments (and later, Pearl) are shot this way.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The KTMA season has a lot of this. In no particular order... the Mads worked from within the Gizmonic Institute itself rather than Deep 13 and barely interacted with Joel at all (he spent more of his time reading out viewer letters than talking to the Mads), Dr. Forrester was clean-shaven and had a mullet and John Lennon specs, and for the first half of the season Joel had a mullet as well, the Satellite of Love looked totally different, Cambot was a separate unit that operated the video camera rather than having it integrated into his body, Gypsy had a much more primitive design (and was sometimes called "Gypsum"), Servo was painted silver, Crow had a slightly different body section, and the series used video-generated special effects for everything except the Satellite of Love, as opposed to the tabletop models seen in later seasons.
- Servo's voice gets lighter during the Mike episodes, essentially becoming Kevin Murphy's speaking voice instead of the deeper Servo voice.
- Bill Corbett's Crow sounded strange for the first few episode because he was trying to imitate Trace Beaulieu. The rest of the cast told him to relax and eventually, Crow sounded like... Bill Corbett.
- Embarrassing Middle Name: Well, names. Night of the Blood Beast gives us Clayton Deborah Susan Forrester.
- Enemy Mine: Mike and the Bots were often forced to co-operate with Pearl & Co. during Seasons 8 on their way back to Earth.
- Enforced Method Acting: Joel pulled an all-nighter building the 'bots the night before he was scheduled to shoot the KTMA pilot and was actually quite sleepy. The characterization stuck.
- Escape Pod: The means by which Joel escapes from the Satellite of Love.
- Estrogen Brigade Bait: Big, tall, strapping, hunky Mike Nelson, especially when he's shirtless on several occassions.
- Not to mention the dreamy Joel Robinson! He's had quite a few ladies misty-eyed over him.
- Even the bots are pretty cute... you know... if you're into that sort of thing.
- Even Evil Has Standards: During the interview on the 20th anniversary set, the cast is asked if they ever found a movie that was too bad to use for Mystery Science Theater 3000. They mention that a few movies they reviewed for use were great for their concept until certain scenes popped up - like for instance a rape scene - but out of all these they said that Child Bride was the worst, with Kevin Murphy calling it "Appalachian Kiddie Porn".
- In-universe, the Manos episode found both Dr. F and Frank actually apologizing to Joel and the 'bots for making them watch it.
- "Everybody Laughs" Ending: Parodied -- and taken to the extreme -- during the end credits of Devil Fish. And it goes on for maybe three minutes. Seriously, the 'bots don't let up for even a second.
- Evil Albino: The Observer. Although he's more of a Harmless Villain, really.
- Evil Matriarch: Pearl Forrester
- Executive Meddling: Despite signing a show renewal contract saying that they would not re-air Season 1 of the series, Comedy Central did just that. They also reran the "special edition" version of episode 701 (Night of the Blood Beast) that aired as part of the 1995 "Turkey Day" marathon, prior to Season 7's official start.
- When the show went on Sci-Fi, the network demanded that there be "story arcs". Kevin tried to explain that "there is no story arc in a puppet show!", but they didn't listen. The result is the stories of Bobo, Brain Guy, the camping planet, and the Rome arc. Unfortunately, since Sci-Fi haphazardly would air 3-4 episodes then rerun them (often out of order none the less), this forced them to have to include recaps at the start of each episode to fill fans in. And then, to add injury to insult, Sci-Fi ordered them to cut the number of host segments in half!
- Comedy Central's shoddy treatment of the show was one of the reasons Penn Jillette quit as their spokesman.
- More annoying, Sci-Fi Channel (during Seasons 8-9) demanded that the show could only feature sci-fi, horror, or fantasy related movies. It wasn't until Season 10 that they were allowed to do drama films again (Girl in Gold Boots, Final Justice).
- In a more extreme case, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. It was so botched that the cast ended up having to vent their anger in a Season 7 episode where they had Crow's idea for a film be butchered in similar fashion.
- In-universe example: Mike, acting as a studio exec, completely altering Crow's TV series treatment of The Final Sacrifice. Now, the title is different, the show is set in America instead of Canada (possibly Pittsburgh; but they'll still shoot the film in Canada), the main character (now with a different gender and name) is living in an apartment with a bunch of other girls (thus completely changing the genre). Also, Mike wants recurring, "tasteful" full frontal nudity of Rowsdower.
- Explosive Breeder: The Nanites. In the Revenge of the Creature episode, Crow tells Mike he "won two at a county fair a while back", and there are now "enough to populate several small planets".
- Expository Theme Tune: The second and best-known version appears above. Small changes were made every so often to accommodate the various changes in cast. See this handy chart!
- Or if you're more into visuals, here's a remix of them all. And by all, there's no exceptions.
- Expy: GSN's "Faux Pause" which had two hosts making fun of game show episodes. It didn't last long.
- Face on a Milk Carton: Dr. Erhardt is shown as one of these after his departure.
- Failure Is the Only Option: The Mads can never succeed in driving their victims insane, and the gang on the Satellite Of Love can't escape, with the famous exception of Joel in Season 5. Pearl did come achingly close to finding a film that could drive people insane with Invasion of the Neptune Men, but Mike and the Bots were saved by a visit from Krankor.
- Manos: The Hands Of Fate came very close, too... it was so bad that Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank both actually apologized for subjecting them to it while it was still running.
- Probably the closest Frank and Dr. F got to actually driving Joel insane was the season three experiment The Castle of Fu Manchu, which was so bad that the entire SOL crew had been reduced to tears by the first host segment. The crew was only saved in end when Joel convinced the Mads to try watching it for themselves, and they had to shut it off after only a minute (and some painfully unfunny attempts at riffing). The schadenfreude was enough to pull Joel and the Bots out of their funk.
- Sanity Slippage saves the trio after seeing Red Zone Cuba. They're about to break when Mike has them sing "Bouncy, Upbeat Song". Crow's demented laugh during the song gives an indication to just how close they came to cracking.
- Don't forget Joel's little breakdowns involving a model city made with junk, hollering "Howard Rourke", wearing marshmallows & an altar to Leonard Nimoy (the latter two are unseen & mentioned only in passing).
- Fake Rabies: In one episode, Tom and Crow find Mike passed out with foam around his mouth and begin treating him for rabies (the movie they'd been watching had to this point entirely been about the main character seeming to contract rabies). It turns out Mike simply fell asleep while eating a creampuff.
- Fate Worse Than Death. The characters often find death preferable to what they're watching on the screen.
Crow: (despairing) To be dead, to be nothing... to watch Neptune Men no more...
- Father, I Want to Marry My Brother: In episode 616, Crow asks Mike for Servo's hand in marriage after watching the Are You Ready for Marriage? short.
- Finishing Each Other's Sentences: Often used to comedic effect during riffs.
Narrator: Talented children from the Orient!
- Flanderization: Dr. Forrester got a lot more manic & flamboyant as the show went on & Professor Bobo got a lot more stupid (see Took a Level In Dumbass concerning Bobo).
- Force Feeding: The Mad segments from the 1992 Turkey Day marathon involved Dr. F forcing TV's Frank to consume a succession of movie-themed turkeys throughout the course of the day.
- Foreign Remake: In Soviet Russia, Der Fuhrer Sends Experiments To You. Fan-made episodes of the show are not unknown, but Project Popcorn is the only MST fan series to come out of Russia -- and the villainous Mad Scientist (introduced as Professor Zamyshlyavkin) wears a distinctly Hitleresque mustache.
- Fourth Wall Mail Slot
- Fun with Acronyms: In a very early KTMA episode, Joel informs Crow that his name stands for "Cybernetic Remotely-Operated Woman."
- Mike and the 'bots speculate on possible meanings for "H.A.R.M." in Agent for H.A.R.M. Possibilities include "Huge Angular Red Marshmallows," "Hirsute Astronauts Revile Massachusetts," and "Heuristic Analog Rental Meat."
- S.O.L. can mean either "Satellite Of Love", as it does on this show, or "Shit Out of Luck".
- And then there's the episode where the Bots claim to be participating in a walkathon for charity. Crow's charity is actually called WALKATHON, for Walkers At Large Kinetically Altruistic Through Hygiene Or Knowledge (he had to use the N because he didn't want to call it WALKATHOK). Servo, meanwhile, announces that he's walking for Helping Children Through Research And Development; Mike tentatively identifies it as HeCTRAD, but Servo explains that the acronym actually is H.E.L.P.I.N.G.C.H.I.L.D.R.E.N.T.H.R.O.U.G.H.R.E.S.E.A.R.C.H.A.N.D.D.E.V.E.L.O.P.M.E.N.T; it stands for Hi, Everyone. Let's Pitch In 'N' Get Cracking Here In Louisiana Doing Right, Eh? Now Then. Hateful Rich Overbearing Ugly Guys Hurt Royally Everytime Someone Eats A Radish, Carrot, Hors d'oeuvre, And Never Does Dishes. Eventually, Victor Eats Lunch Over Peoria Mit Ein Neuesberger Tod.
- Futuristic Superhighway: Featured the 1956 General Motors promotional film "Design for Dreaming" that ends with the happy couple riding their turbine-engine car through the Highway of Tomorrow - "Look, Dead Raccoon of Tomorrow!"
- Gag Nose: The "big noses" the Mads invent in Star Force.
- Gargle Blaster: A non-alcoholic recipe known as the Killer Shrew. Joel takes one sip and passes out from sugar shock, while Frank goes completely hyper after he tries it.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Just track down the lyrics to "Tubular Boobular".
- Joel's infamous riff in "Castle Of Fu Manchu" involving bicycle seat covers.
- The riffs during a scene involving runaway truck rigs on a hill in "Riding With Death", non-stop buttsex double-entendres that get more blatant & dirtier with each riff...culminating in one of the Bot's crack about "...and now, I'll be nudging yer sweet honey pot...", to which Mike puts the kabosh on the whole thing.
- Which of course, leads to this:
Mike: Drained and satisfied, I'm tracin' lazy circles on yer' supercab now.
- Joel's "Pocket Pool" Invention Exchange.
- In "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell", there's a bearded guy with white frosty stuff on his face. One of the Bots responds: "Guess what IIIIII'VE been doing!!"
- The writers oftentimes say things like "You can get away saying certain things with a puppet that you couldn't with a person". Notably Crow's "I wanna decide who lives and who dies!" line from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
- Too many to list individually, but they tried to get away with as many innuendos and double entendres in each episode as possible. Kevin Murphy is on record saying that basically the writers wanted both kids and adults to laugh at the same jokes, but for different reasons.
- In The Movie (riffing This Island Earth), when Tom Servo blocks the hull breach with his hoverskirt, he starts cooing in delight as the vacuum of space sucks at him from underneath, declaring, "I'm experiencing a sensation altogether new to me and frankly, I love it!" When Mike removes him, he growls, "Aw, darn!"
- There was a subtly dirty running gag throughout the Kaiju / Attack of the 50 Foot Whatever films, when the stock footage was deployed showing missiles ... erecting themselves, Joel and the bots would greet the sight with a chipper "Good morning!"
- God Test: Parodied when the gang land in Roman Times. Pearl claims they are gods, and Brain Guy has to use his powers to demonstrate. "Behold! From nothing I produce this... spoon."
- Godwin's Law: Invasion of the Neptune Men.
- Go-Karting with Bowser: Pearl may be trying to drive Mike insane with torturous movies so she can take over the world, but that doesn't mean they can't chill on her porch together and share some YooHoo.
- The invention exchange between Joel and Dr. Forrester is another example.
- During Quest of the Delta Knights, Pearl briefly swaps places with Mike, and when the segment is over, Mike is playing poker with Brain Guy and Professor Bobo.
- Got the Whole World In My Hand: The Forrester Family Crest.
- Grand Finale
- Have a Gay Old Time: Naturally, since they did mostly older movies (what they could afford) they had a lot of fun with this trope.
- Heroic BSOD: Invasion of the Neptune Men nearly broke Mike and the Bots (and the audience). It took an intervention by Krankor to save them.
- Rocket Attack USA had a similar effect after its Downer Ending.
- Manos: The Hands of Fate did it almost before the opening sequence ended.
- Before Manos, the absolute low point was The Castle of Fu Manchu, which reduced Joel and the Bots to tears of hysteria on the bridge every time they tried to discuss the maddeningly confusing plot. Frank and Dr. Forrester actually thought they'd won, until Joel challenged them to watch the film themselves -- after thirty seconds, even they were sick of it.
- Heroic RROD: The Fugitive Alien 2 episode is famous for (temporarily) killing Tom Servo, leading to Joel desperately trying to resuscitate him.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Dr. Forrester and Frank, when they weren't killing each other in funny ways.
Dr. Forrester: Frank, I'm out of the shower! I need you to towel me off!
- Rule of Funny in full force here. Basically, other than being extremely dysfunctional, what Frank and Clay's true relationship was seemed to shift from episode to episode. It all depended on what gave them the most opportunities for laughs. This had to end by the time Pearl, Clay's mother, became a regular...her relationship to Dr. Forrester had to be unambiguous, for obvious reasons.
- Except for the time he put her in a home, of course.
- Rule of Funny in full force here. Basically, other than being extremely dysfunctional, what Frank and Clay's true relationship was seemed to shift from episode to episode. It all depended on what gave them the most opportunities for laughs. This had to end by the time Pearl, Clay's mother, became a regular...her relationship to Dr. Forrester had to be unambiguous, for obvious reasons.
- Hilarious Outtakes: MST Poopie, made even funnier by the bots' puppeteers rarely -if ever- breaking character when things go ker-flooey.
- Hypocritical Humor: In the "1st Annual Summer Blockbuster Review", after Bobo keeps talking and making noise throughout the Men in Black trailer, Crow remarks:
Crow: I hate people who talk in the theater.
- I Lied: The Mads (and Pearl) do this a lot. What do you want from them? They're EVIL.
- I Am Not Shazam: Invoked: At the end of the episode "Jungle Goddess", Joel and the bots hold a spoof of the film they just watched; as they take their bows, Joel introduces Crow as "Art Crow" in reference to Art Carney of The Honeymooners fame. However, one young fan who wrote in referred to Crow as "Art" in her letter, believing it to be his real name. This would eventually hang over him to the point that Pearl Forrester would refer to Crow as "Art".
- The Igor: Dr. Ehrhardt, TV's Frank.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Many, but intentionally.
- Incredibly Long Note: Kevin especially is able to hold one of these, in The Leech Woman. Tom loses it and acts like Ma Clampett from Beverly Hillbillies screaming *Jeeeeeed* for THE ENTIRETY OF THE ENDING CREDITS. 57 unbroken seconds. (This is a bit of a fake example, however--if you listen closely, you can hear where the scream was edited to sound really long.)
- Crow in "The Mole People holds out a very long "AAAAAAHHH" on his fall down from cutting his mile-high pie.
- Mike's "screaming" in this host segment semi-qualifies.
- Info Dump: Joel (especially in the early seasons) and Mike would sometimes--redundantly--explain the premise in the opening host segment. Only in Stranded in Space was it mentioned that the Mads were selling the experiments as a cable TV show. Wild Rebels is also the only episode where the theater is referred to as the Mystery Science Theater.
- In Memoriam: Season 5's "Village of the Giants" was a tribute to then recently-deceased Frank Zappa.
- In-Series Nickname: Loads and loads of them.
- Instant Home Delivery
- Insult Backfire: In season 1, Joel would routinely scold the Mads for making their inventions so sick/evil/twisted, prompting Dr. F and Larry to respond in unison, "Thank you!" In the season 3 episode "Earth vs. The Spider," Dr. F did this again with Frank, causing the two to pause and look at each other uncomfortably for a few seconds.
- Intercontinuity Crossover: Mike, Tom, and Crow riffed on the Season 2 premiere of Cheap Seats.
- Interspecies Romance: Mike's descendants indulged in this with various species of apes in the intervening years before the Season 8 premiere.
Crow: Do you realize a robot just sang a love song to a turtle?
- In the Blood: The Forrester Clan has apparently been isolating people and exposing them to bad media on a regular basis for at least a thousand years.
- Is This Thing Still On?: In the Mitchell episode, Frank accidentally contacts the Satellite of Love by leaning on The Button. Since Joel and the 'bots are on survival test maneuvers, Gypsy is the only one to respond. She overhears the Mads discussing how to kill temp worker Mike - and thinks they're planning to off Joel, which leads to Joel's escape from the S.O.L.
- In another episode, Mike decides to try calling the Mads instead of letting them call him. He catches them in the midst of some extremely unmasculine activities (Dr. Forrester exercising on a treadmill while listening to Sheena Easton on his Walkman; Frank wearing a facial mudpack and pigging out on ice cream in front of a daytime talk show). Clayton, predictably, panics when he realizes the line is open.
Dr. F.: ...Oh my God -- Frank! Switch on the game! Switch on the game!
- Jumping Out of a Cake: In "I Accuse My Parents".
- Kneel Before Zod: In The Movie, Forrester forces Mike and the 'bots to worship him. In fact, his first words to the audience is "Hello, and welcome. I'm Dr. Clayton Forrester, and soon you will all bow down before me."
Forrester: Say, come to think about it, I don't believe you bowed down before me recently.
- Kubrick Stare: Mike could be quite unnerving on the rare occasions he did this.
- Don't give matches to Mikey!
- Crow can pull off a nice one too due to the way his head is shaped.
- Lantern Jaw of Justice: Rigorously mocked wherever it appears, but Dr. Clayton Forrester has an evil one... and even invents "chinderwear" for his chin-butt.
- Made all the more hilarious when Frank and Dr. F. switch chinderwear during a cut away.
- Mike has a rather impressive, manly chin, hence being described in real life by Kevin Murphy as a "Roast Face", quoth Murphy, "He has this big, meaty, roast-of-a-face....".
- Larynx Dissonance: A segment from the KTMA era had Gypsy apparently recovering from a cold Joel didn't know about and speaking in a more (naturally) girly voice (even singing Marilyn Monroe's take on Happy Birthday to You), but it turned out to be Tom Servo throwing his voice.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: Crow in the first four episodes of season eight.
- Loners Are Freaks: Crow decided to return to the Satellite of Love after exploring the Edge of the Universe for a whole five minutes, and spent 500 years redecorating. After Mike, Tom, and Gypsy returned, he couldn't remember Mike, changed his beak, and for some reason carved fertility statues in an attempt to woo himself.
- He also got involved in the illegal donut trade, and won a pair of nanobots in a county fair, and explored the "lower levels" of the Satellite of Love and discovered the mole people living there.
- Long List
- Long Runners: One year on Minneapolis local TV, seven years on Comedy Central, and three years on Sci-Fi... the show so nice, they canceled it twice.
- Long Title: "The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vice Presidential Command Performance Academy of Robots Choice Awards Preview Special".
- Which itself lampshades the fact that AMPAS have used legal muscle to keep anyone not officially connected to them from using the terms "Academy Award" or "Oscar". Another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Oscar special was called, with similar circumlocution, The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Little Gold Statue Preview Special.
- Mad Scientist: Half of the cast.
- Magic Countdown: Referenced in "Time Chasers" during the airplane fight scene.
Tom Servo: Ten, nine, eight, seven... (camera cuts back to bomb, which says 7) uh, seven... six, five, four... one, zero... (bomb now says 4) uh, four, three, two, one... (bomb now says 3) three, two, one, (bomb now says 2) two, one, whatever.
- Not to mention the plane goes down halfway through saying 'one'.
- Mama Bear: Gypsy to Tom and Crow in "The Beatniks". Joel is being mean and cheating at Rock, Paper, Scissors, (since their hands can't move) and slapping the bots on the arms when they lose. Shortly before the commercial sign goes off, Gypsy comes in and knocks Joel over, and comforts Tom and Crow by saying, "My babies!"
- Marathon Running: On Thanksgiving Day, during the Comedy Central era; they called each one the "Turkey Day" marathon. Best Brains would produce special host segments and bumpers to tie the episodes together. One year they had Adam West hosting. The show premiered Thanksgiving 1988.
- They were less than thrilled when it came around on them, and previously planned episode air dates were abruptly preempted by marathons of other Comedy Central shows. So much so that they cut a promo for their next episode where they talked openly about the possibility of being preempted yet again. (As an additional Take That, the promo featured an appearance by CC's then-opaque and very intrusive network bug.)
- Memetic Mutation: Strangely in-universe, since oft-quoted movie lines where altered over the course of the show's many seasons to suit different situations (and possibly just for the hell of it).
- The prime example might be the "I thought you were Dale" reference, which the riffers broke out for close-up shots of hands. Even though the writers figured out they had their references crossed - the hand shots were from a dish soap commercial, while the line was from a cereal ad - they continued to throw in the riff throughout the show's run.
- Minion with an F In Evil: TV's Frank.
- Missing Episode: There are two types.
- The first is the kind where they can't clear the film rights for home video release, and are therefore legally missing. At any given time about half the series falls under that header, but YouTube and file-sharing make it a non-issue.
- The second is the kind that are really, legitimately missing, as in nobody has access to them even through more underhanded means. There are only three of these; the first three KTMA (local broadcast) episodes--understandably so, as the series had yet to find a fanbase (and thus no one recorded the episodes) and aired only in one market (driving down the number of potential tape holders.) Jim Mallon, the show's executive producer, recently revealed he had copies of said episodes, which he had converted to digital media and put up clips on the show's official site. However, the movie rights for those three episodes remain uncleared, and (due to the crew's low opinion of their KTMA work) are unlikely to see release any time soon, and are therefore still not accessible and therefore still missing.
- Mondegreen: In-universe examples include "Cornjob" (Kondo, or "Kon-chan", of Gamera vs. Guiron); "Pile-on Pete" (Pilot Pete, The Painted Hills); "Crank-Whore" (Krankor, Prince of Space); and, of course, The Toblerone from Escape 2000.
- "With a pickle mine/We kick the nipple beer/Steady as a goat/We're flying over trout..."
- Monochrome Casting: Please don't say the robots count as non-white cast members.
- Motor Mouth: The Nanites generally speak in a rapid-fire technical jargon.
- The Movie: Subverted, as it was screwed by the distributors. Each episode, by way of the premise, is already feature-length (90 minutes) - but the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Movie was not only 20 minutes shorter than any episode of the series, but 14 minutes shorter than the film featured, This Island Earth. This was because the distributors' test audiences apparently felt it went on too long, even though fans of the show (those most likely to see the film) were already well-accustomed to the show being as long as a film.
- The Musical: Mystery Science Theater 3000 LIVE! events were basically this.
- My Beloved Smother: Pearl Forrester, and HOW. For example, she forces Clayton to play the trumpet (with a ruler as punishment), whines loudly CLAYTON! every few seconds when she's sick, and even when she is happy when Clayton is reverted to childhood in the first series finale, she reveals she killed him when he grew up to do stupid movie experiments all over again. (That doesn't stop her from doing the same thing "in revenge" for her son's death at her hands.) Before we even meet Pearl, Dr. Forrester admits that his mother's overbearing ways were the source of his evil, "fueling my badness".
- My Little Panzer: Some of Dr. F's Invention Exchange items fall into this category; while most (if not all) of his inventions are indeed meant to be hurtful, those aimed toward kids (such as the flame-throwing Godzilla or the "Unhappy Meal") were met with particular disdain by Joel and the 'Bots.
- My Name Is Not Durwood: Very often, early in Mike's tenure & sporadically throughout the rest....Mike was variously called "Mitch", "Mark", "Matt", "Nelstone", "Neilsen", "Nelgert", etc. Often overlapping with "The Nicknamer" trope.
- Also, TV's Frank would regularly refer to Dr. Forrester as "Steve" despite his name being Clayton
- Network to the Rescue: When the Comedy Channel picked up Mystery Science Theater 3000, it was a little-known, low-rating cable network which was losing viewers to the more popular HA! Network. HA! offered Comedy Channel a merger to boost profits for all involved, but saw the Channel's lineup as being of little value and wanted to scrap the lot of it. Comedy Channel, however, saw Mystery Science Theater 3000 as their flagship series and refused to go through with the merger if it the show wasn't kept around. HA! relented, and not only picked the show up again but signed it for three, 26-episode seasons on the initial contract, and increased its per-episode budget so it wouldn't have to rely on public-domain films. A few years later, Comedy Central, the network formed out of the merger, suddenly had no love for the show that basically put it on the map and canceled it.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Subverted by Observer, who is supposed to be omnipotent, but has some odd limitations.
Observer: I'm not that omnipotent, Pearl!
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Mike has a few of these, most notoriously the whole planet-destroying dealie.
- Naughty Nurse Outfit: Crow has sexual fantasies of Tom in a nurse's outfit.
- No Fourth Wall: The SOL crew would directly address the audience at least once an episode. The camera was a character mentioned in the opening theme. The characters had a "Commercial Sign" to warn them that the show was about to take a break.
- Joel Hodgson has stated that Forrester was selling the results of the experiment to Comedy Central, which explains people addressing the camera and "Commercial Sign". Sort of odd that the originator of the MST3K Mantra would be explaining plot elements...
- This is explicitly stated in earlier seasons of the show, and in fact the episode Angels Revenge has an invention exchange specifically designed to raise the show's ratings: Dr. Forrester invents a pill that turns the Mystery Science Theater 3000 cast into the cast of Renegade.
- In one episode, Tom Servo even mentions how a planetoid in the movie they were watching resembled the Mystery Science Theater 3000 logo -- until Joel shut him up by pointing out he wasn't supposed to know that...
- In the Gamera episode, when the movie's title character is tricked into being launched into space in a manner uncannily similar to the circumstances of Joel's marooning, Tom Servo busts out into the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme song, much to Joel's annoyance.
- If you watch the intro closely, it's obvious that the rocket is the same one from Gamera (complete with Japanese characters on the tail), making this situation much like the Mystery Science Theater 3000 logo one above.
- Some of the TV specials (e.g., the CBS Morning Godzilla trivia quiz) preserved some of the fourth wall, in an odd way. While all the characters were fully aware of their canonically fictional status in their own television show, the 'bots were interviewed in-character, as if they, like the human hosts, were playing themselves. So the characters were fictional while simultaneously not being fictional. This is a concept that any Muppet Show fan would understand immediately.
- Notable Original Music: Mike Nelson was a capable musician and Tom Servo's voice actor (Kevin Murphy) had a rich baritone voice. Ironically, once Mike became the host his additional duties prevented him from composing songs as frequently as in the earlier seasons.
- "Tibby, Oh Tibby"
- "The Creepy Girl Song"
- "A Clown in the Sky"
- "Hike Up Your Pants!"
- "Let's Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas"
- "A Danger to Myself and Others"
- "Tribute to Pants"
- "Tubular Boobular Joy"
- "Bouncy Upbeat Song"
- "The Canada Song"
- "Loving Lovers Love"
- "To Earth!"
- Master Ninja THEME SONG!
- "He tried to kill me with a forklift!" And of course, the Fugitive Alien Medley from Star Force.
- Old Shame: They requested that Comedy Central cease airing Season 1 episodes shortly before Season 4's premiere, although they still recycled some of the better material.
- To quote the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Colossal Episode Guide: "Q: Why have you requested Comedy Central not air the season 1 episodes? A: Because they weren't very good."
- Also the KTMA episodes. As Joel explained in the "So Happy Together" retrospective (from Shout Factory's MST3K: Gamera DVD release):
Joel Hodgson: We don't count any of the KTMA's as "real" shows. I mean, granted, if people really love Mystery Science Theater and they feel they must go back and watch them, I think it's fine just to kind of learn about like, what it was like when we were starting out. But none of us feel really great about them, because we just weren't writing them. It was just the beginning of it. But along the way, we figured it out.
- The Other Darrin: Tom Servo's, Crow's, and Gypsy's voice actors were all eventually replaced.
- Lampshaded when Mike turns briefly into a "werecrow" and Crow tells him, "Your voice will change about every seven years."
- Beginning in the season where his voice changes, Crow's line in the opening song changes to "I'm different!" in his new voice (the only thing different about him).
- Also lampshaded in the first episode of the Sci Fi era (and presumably when the voice-change happened) where Mike actually realizes that Crow's voice has changed and keeps on calling him up on that fact.
- And again in the Soultaker episode, when Joel comes back and immediately notices that Crow sounds different: "Oh, you changed your bowling pin!"
- When Murphy replaced Weinstein as Servo's voice actor, it was explicitly explained as Joel tweaking Servo's voice box and personality.
- Apparently an irate fan sent them a large banner that read "I HATE TOM SERVO'S NEW VOICE!", which Kevin Murphy proudly hung in the Best Brains offices.
- Lampshaded when Mike turns briefly into a "werecrow" and Crow tells him, "Your voice will change about every seven years."
- Our Doors Are Different: The camera--er, Cambot--moves through a series of variously designed doors in between the host segments and theater segments.
- Our Werebeasts Are Different: In one episode, Mike briefly transforms into a "werecrow," complete with metal claws, head-frill, and beak.
- While Servo grew blond hair & turned into a "Were-Mike".
- Overly Long Gag: Doubled up in episode 307, Daddy-O: first, Joel's obsession with the fruit-slapping scene in the final host segment leads Frank to delay the button-pushing by offering Dr. Forrester fruit several times. Finally, when Frank does push the button, the credit crawl only lasts until "written by: Michael J. Nelson - head writer", returning to Deep 13, where it's discovered that the Miracle Growth Baby (a holdover from episode 306) has broken the keyboard, and Frank seems unable to hold the button down long enough to get past Mike's credit. Dr. F finally solves the problem with Alt-F7, allowing the rest of the credits to finally roll. But don't take my word for it...
- Then there's Crow's guitar solo in The Dead Talk Back, and Mike's Urkel impersonation in San Francisco International Airport (which only ends by Torgo's appearance as the Only Sane Man). This leads to the bots preemptively stopping Mike's Fonzie impression in Angels Revenge... with a cannon.
- Bobo making a sandwich at the end of "The Undead".
- In the episode "The Sword and the Dragon", Crow and Servo take nearly five minutes to do the joke about slits and piers.
- Painting the Fourth Wall: Cambot has given "commentary" watching the movie of the week exactly twice -- first to display a timer during a race scene in The Sidehackers, and then with a dripping water overlay effect during a scene in which cameras are being destroyed in Danger Death Ray.
- The Pete Best: Josh Weinstein. Josh was only 17 years old when the Comedy Channel picked up the show. The age gap between him and the other performers, as well as his objection to the less improvisational and more scripted new nature of the show after its transfer to cable, caused friction which led to his leaving the cast just as the show was beginning to take off nationally.
- Planet Eris: Anything can happen in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 universe--not just on the Satellite of Love, but anywhere. Anything.
- Plank Gag: Mike refers to the trope by name in San Francisco International Airport and gleefully demonstrates, injuring Tom Servo and Crow in the process. Later in the Sci-Fi era, a skit in "The Giant Spider Invasion" had Servo with a long canoe on his head, explaining the concept of "portage". As he turns his head this way and that, he repeatedly bashes Crow's and Mike's faces.
- Playing Gertrude: Mary Jo Pehl, who played Dr. Forrester's mother, Pearl. Pehl is two years younger than Trace Beaulieu, who played Pearl's son, Dr. Forrester. Additionally, both villains look about the same age.
- They at least tried to give the actress a late middle aged frumpy house wife appearance in season seven when she was playing opposite Trace. Its only when he left and she became the main mad that the actress's look was updated and matched her real age more closely. It could be explained by the same Timey-Wimey Ball that Pearl says gave her a chance to raise Clayton again.
- Poor Man's Substitute: Paul Chaplin and James Moore as Crow and Servo, respectively, in the 2007 webtoon.
- Promoted Fanboy: Bill Corbett.
- Put on a Bus: Poor, poor Dr. Erhardt "goes missing" in between Seasons 1-2; Joel leaves the SOL and returns to Earth in an escape pod in Season 5; TV's Frank is taken up to "Second Banana Heaven" in Season 6. Also, this happens (sort of) to the entire remaining cast in the Season 7 finale.
- This was a frequent occurrence in the KTMA days. Whenever a cast member went on vacation, their characters' absence was Handwaved. Examples are Crow being frozen when Trace Beaulieu was unavailable, and Joel being thrown out of an airlock when he took a break.
- Raise Him Right This Time: Subverted. In Dr. Forrester's final appearance, he is transformed into a baby, and his mother says she'll do this, but he turns out just as bad as before, so she kills him.
- Rapid-Fire Comedy: Inherent to the show's premise.
- Rearrange the Song: The lyrics of the theme song change according to significant changes in the cast and/or plot.
- The theme was rearranged for a solo piano for the Mystery Science Theater Hour.
- Remote Body: The Observers play with this. They claim that their bodies are operated remotely (as their brains are located in bowls), but if their brains are more than a few feet away from their bodies they become completely helpless.
- Repeat After Me: In "The Indestructible Man", Crow and Tom force Joel to sign a contract that will prohibit him from making any "cop and donut" jokes ever again. When Joel says that they have to sign it too, he begins to read the contract and ask that they repeat after him:
Joel: I, state your name...
- Rewind, Replay, Repeat: In the episode which featured Daddy-O, Joel becomes obsessed with the "apple-slapping" scene and replays it over and over, mouthing the line "I want an answer!"
- Ridiculously-Human Robots: Although this was always present, it became more and more pronounced as the series continued.
- The Rival: Subverted (for now, at least) with Cinematic Titanic vs. Riff Trax. Mike Nelson claimed in an interview for the show's 20th Anniversary, that he approached Joel and the Cinematic Titanic crew, when Cinematic Titanic launched, about staging a blood feud between his camp (Riff Trax) and Joel's group (Cinematic Titanic) to drum up sales for their respective projects. Joel turned him down.
- Robot Buddy: The other half of the cast.
- Rockers Smash Guitars: Played with a number of times.
- Rule of Funny: Observed whenever possible.
- Running Gag: The show had many, some of which have lived on at Riff Trax. Notable bits include:
- When a flashback occurs and a child version of a character appears, Mike/Joel or one of the bots will proclaim, "Jim Henson's _____ Babies," the blank usually being the name of the younger character. In the episode Being From Another Planet, they even said, "Jim Henson's Baby Babies."
- All angry mobs are actually large groups of Packers fans. ALL of them. Doubles as a Take That when you remember that the cast and crew of the show are primarily Vikings fans.
- And you can tell the pain of the cast after the Packers won the Super Bowl in 1997 as during The Giant Spider Invasion had them all yelling drunkenly as the on-screen groups rioted: "Packers won the Super Bowl! Yee-hoo!" while then shouting such phrases as "Free Mumia! Free beer!" and "U.S. out of North America! AND PACKERS!!!!"
- Whenever a couple are arguing, Mike always responds with "Sure they argue, but the sex is great."
- Servo singing "I Don't Know How To Love Him"
- "No one will be seated during the breathtaking (insert mundane activity) scene."
- Tom Waits references.
- Any time a movie features primates, the riffing will inevitably include poo flinging jokes. When Riff Trax posted a Youtube video of Mike, Kevin, and Bill writing up jokes for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans knew right away what the joke topic would be BEFORE they even watched it.
- When a character is cornered and afraid, Crow will usually launch into shouts of "Keep away from MEEEE! Keep awAAAAY!"
- "It was Callahan! The big one! He did this to me!" when a particularly sleazy character appears.
- Whenever policemen show up, Servo will say "A'right, show's over folks, nothin' to see here" in an Irish accent.
- Whenever women are seen at work, there's a good chance everyone will start conversing in midwestern, 1950s-ish voices. There's no better way to describe it. "Ah, geez, work work work. That's all we do here, oh yah."
- The correct response to any character in a sci-fi movie demanding something be switched over to analog is Mike claiming 'It has a warmer sound!'
- Whenever goofy, light-hearted music is played, Joel will often cry out "It's the kookiest/nuttiest/wackiest (item) in town!"
- If they're riffing a Japanese movie, it's likely a joke about Godzilla, Cram School, or "super-violent porn cartoons" will come up... along with plenty of cracks about the alarming length (or, more accurately, lack thereof) of the shorts that grade-school-age Japanese boys always seem to be wearing in these movies.
- HE'S NOT MERRITT STONE!!!
- "__________ of the Ollllllld West."
- "I can't come back--I don't know how it works!" and other variations on The Wizard of Oz's last words.
- Whenever a movie has to be censored for bad language, the bots will often respond to the silence gap with "Huh?"/"Hmm?" or mock the incomplete sentence.
Melvin: Oh, Carol the waitress, Simon the... (silence)
- This joke:
Crow:"Where is Siegfried?"
- "Can't you see what I'm trying to tell you? I love you." Whenever a B-movie monster puts his arms around a woman in a way reminiscent of Groucho hitting on Margaret Dumont.
- If the crew is able to make a series of linked riffs during the opening credits, they'll declare it "The [Insert Subject Matter] Sketch". For example, in the beginning of The Unearthly, they make a series of comments referring to the lives of the crew documented in various independent magazines such as Video Watchdog and Gorezone before Joel admits to reading Newsweek.
Tom Servo: The Fan 'Zine Sketch, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you!
- "It's a good plan _______/ It was a good idea to ______/ He/she was a nice woman/man ______"
All: AT FIRST!
- Humming the M*A*S*H theme anytime a helicopter is shown.
- In Red Zone Cuba, "I'm Cherokee Jack!" and "You shove off!"
- Mike/Joel and the bots making joy buzzer sound effects whenever somebody shakes the hand of an obviously evil character.
- "Look familiar, Mike?"
- Every time Rocky's name gets mentioned in Fugitive Alien, Crow says, "Again?" (save once, when he says, "Uh, Adrian, cut me, cut me!"), the many Kens, and "He tried to kill me with a forklift!"
- Since The Phantom Creeps, one of the recurring riffs was, "How forrrtunate, thees vill zimplify EVERY-zing!" in Bela Lugosi's accent.
- Spoofing Marlo Thomas/That Girl anytime an attractive brunette with a flip hairdo, or some other big 1960's medium-length hairdo appears on screen, i.e.; Mike blurting out "Oh, Donald," in the episode The Wild World of Batwoman.
- Crying 'Attica!' whenever someone is in a cell.
- Crying out references to the cheesy 1974 television film Killdozer when a bulldozer is on screen, usually consisting of "It's Killdozer! Clint Walker, no!" Clint Walker was a star in the film. A Killdozer reference also showed up in a Riff Trax short, "Join Hands, Let's Go!".
- "Oh, I hate to shoot a butt like that!" Used mostly in Season 1, particularly "Radar Men From The Moon".
- Sanity Slippage: This happens a lot. Such as Mike believing he's Carol Channing, or the ending segment to Red Zone Cuba.
- Sapient Cetaceans: Parodied during the episode "Devil Fish." Mike and the bots make the mistake of talking disparagingly about dolphins -- only to have a "Dolphin Mothership" show up and start attacking them. It takes some serious kissing up in order to get them to leave. (Later on Mike and the bots start talking smack about electricians, only to discover that they have a mutual protection pact with the dolphins. Whoops.)
- Sarcasm Mode: Most of the cast, but Tom Servo employs it to the maximum, usually prefaced by an "Ooooooooooooooohh!" He even once blew his own head off using it.
- Screaming At Squick: Frequent. One running gag in the Joel era was for all three riffers to simultaneously scream "Eewww!!" when something particularly nauseating happened on screen.
- Screens Are Cameras: The Hexfield Viewscreen
- Screwed by the Network: Twice.
- Selkies and Wereseals: Referenced in "The Space Children"; Mike comments, "There's a Selkie caught in the oil slick."
- Series Fauxnale: The season seven finale has the satellite sent drifting through space by Dr. Forrester and reaching the edge of the universe, where Mike and the Bots turn into pure energy. When the show was renewed, they all find themselves right back where they started.
- Shadow Archetype: Timmy from Fire Maidens from Outer Space episode.
- Shaggy Dog Story: A host segment for one episode was an Ingmar Bergman parody which took advantage filmmaker's tendency for long bleak atmospheric shots to set up the timing for this type of gag.
- Shout-Out: We'll start with the ship being named the "Satellite of Love", and just say there's a lot more where that came from. A lot more.
- While it'd probably overload the page to list specific instances in every single episode, there are a couple more worth noting in the show overall. Trace Beaulieu took the name of his character Dr. Clayton Forrester from the protagonist of The War of the Worlds and Joel Robinson's last name came from that of the protagonists of Lost in Space.
- Particularly commonly referenced is The Lord of the Rings -- the greatest example being Torgo's conversion to Torgo the White in experiment 624. Keep in mind that the series ended before the LOTR movies were even made, giving this a Viewers Are Geniuses vibe, back then at least.
- It's commonly speculated that there's at least one Star Trek reference in every episode.
- Almost all Joel-era episodes contained a reference to The Wizard of Oz.
- In part 2 of Fugitive Alien, Tom Servo bursts into the song "Underground", by another famous Tom. Not the last time Servo would sing that song.
- Servo also keeps saying that "We are twenty-two minutes to Weathership Tango Delta".
- The basic plot of the show (guy trapped on a spaceship with only robots for company) was inspired by the movie Silent Running.
- The much-beloved door hallway that was seen as a hallmark of the show is actually a reference to Get Smart.
- Sick Episode: Joel and the Bots fight off the common cold in the Hellcats episode.
- Skunk Stripe: Dr. Forrester; it runs through both his hair and his mustache.
- Snub By Omission: When Comedy Central has anniversary specials highlighting the history of the channel, and going over all their programs, Mystery Science Theater 3000, is never ever highlighted, or ever mentioned.
- Solemn Ending Theme: "Mighty Science Theater", the song that plays over the show's closing credits, which is a much slower, ponderous version of the theme sung over the opening credits.
- Sound Effect Bleep: Demonstrated in "Agent For H.A.R.M." when Crow tries to defend Mike, who's on trial for mass murder. Crow's endless string of obscenities doesn't help Mike's case, obviously.
- In the "2nd Annual Summer Blockbuster Review", Crow is repeatedly bleeped from saying Godzilla because they'd get sued for even saying its name.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Regarding the constant, out of place jazz music that permeates "Secret Agent Super Dragon".
Joel: Man, this is a swingin' boiler room!
- Spaceship Girl: Magic Voice (who announced commercial breaks) and Gypsy (who was wired into the SOL and kept it running)
- Species Surname: Crow T. Robot
- His whole name, according to High School Big Shot, is "Crow T. Hewett Edward Robot" making him "Crow T.H.E. Robot"
- What's more, the "T" itself stands for "The".
- Spiritual Successor: The cast's follow-up series named above (Riff Trax, The Film Crew, Cinematic Titanic); Cheap Seats also qualifies.
- Spoiler: Invoked. Mike/Joel and the Bots tend to get impatient with particularly predictable plot twists and spoil them for comedic effect.
Tom Servo: And the door opens and his friend is a Soultaker; just get on with it.
Servo: And... his eyes open.
Tom Servo: Yeah, she's a werewolf. Get on with it.
- Stairwell Chase
- Status Quo Is God: Lampshaded by Joel in the KTMA version of Phase IV: "You know, this is beginning to be a lot like Gilligan's Island!"
- The Stinger: In episode 205, "Rocket Attack USA", at the end of the credits they replayed a Big Lipped Alligator Moment involving a blind man, as if to say to the viewer, "yeah, that actually happened". Thus was a tradition born.
- The Stoner: A popular theory concerning Joel Robinson & Joel Hodgson.
- Stop Trick
- Story Arc: Utilized during season 8, mostly due to Executive Meddling, but abandoned in the last two Sci-Fi seasons.
- The final season began with a minor arc about Pearl trying to get "certified" as an official mad scientist ("It's illegal to take over the world if you're not board certified"), but this was also quickly abandoned.
- Suckiness Is Painful: The very point of the experiment.
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The Observers are a parody of this concept. Almost every claim they make about how advanced they are is immediately shown not to be true, though they are in denial about it. For example their most common claim is that they don't have bodies. On the other hand, they really do have powers.
- Surrounded by Idiots: One episodes with Tom and Crow raising Hell; Joel laments "I'm surrounded by idiots of my own design!"
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: When Joel Hodgson left, head writer Michael J. Nelson was promoted to leading man. As well, after the first Comedy Channel season, Dr. Larry Erhardt was replaced with TV's Frank, and after the sixth, Frank was replaced with Pearl Forrester, Clayton's mother. Finally, for the Sci-Fi Channel seasons, The Mads were replaced by a returning Pearl, and her sidekicks Professor Bobo (from a Planet of the Apes-like future Earth) and Observer (a/k/a "Brain Guy", an albino superbeing who carries his brain in a pan).
- Perhaps averted, as Joel & Mike, Erhardt & Frank, and Frank & Pearl had little in common personality-wise, which is really what the trope's about.
- Pearl as a substitute for Clayton fits this trope. Their personalities are a little different but their roles, motivations and even their temperaments are largely the same. This is out of necessity as the role they fill is essential to the show's premise.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Spoofed in The Leech Woman:
Man: Officer, I'm Mrs. Talbot's attorney. If she's in any trouble, I have a right to know about it.
- Syndication Title: In the mid-'90s Comedy Central edited some episodes down to one hour, added new introductory segments with Michael J. Nelson as "Your Host" (a parody of Jack Perkins, longtime host of A&E's Biography series), and syndicated them as The Mystery Science Theater Hour.
- Take That: The host segments during Night of the Blood Beast" appear to be digs on the filmmaking process that the crew had to deal with while making The Movie version of Mystery Science Theater 3000
- Also a few less subtle digs, such as The Sandy Frank Song.
- They also seem to have genuine contempt for Japanese animation and think it's all super violent and/or porno.
- During Laserblast, Mike and the bots spend the entire duration of the credits ribbing Leonard Maltin for giving the film two and a half stars out of four, and compare other films to Laserblast's rating.
- Talking to Himself: There was always at least one actor overlapping between the mad scientists and the 'bots. It got even worse in the Sci-Fi Channel era, when both Tom and Crow's actors were also playing Pearl's assistants.
- Team Mom: Gypsy sometimes acts as this on the SOL.
- Theme Tune Roll Call
- They Killed Kenny: TV's Frank.
- Spookily predicted in the 1991 episode Fugitive Alien, in which the main character was called Ken; after the villain reveals to the heroine that Ken was the man who killed her brother, Joel pipes up with "Those bastards!"
- Thing-O-Meter: The episode featuring Angels Revenge has Tom Servo invent the "Shame-O-Meter" to measure the amount of shame the actors must be feeling.
- Throw It In: The crew frequently left in the less serious bloopers -- robots falling apart, the actors cracking up at each other's lines, et cetera -- because they felt it added a certain something to the show.
Crow: ... Oh, my God. Well, I'll be in my trailer.
- During the short before Robot Monster, Servo's puppeteer sneezes loudly while in the theatre and (inadvertantly or on purpose) jerks the puppet. The cast treat it as though it was Servo who sneezed and keep going, with Crow telling him 'gesundheit' and Joel patting him on the shoulder and giving a confused "You're not supposed to do that."
- Any time a bot gets damaged - even in takes that aren't used, Trace and Kevin always remained in character. For example, when Crow and Servo are dressed as ninjas and horse playing with "Snacktion" action snacks, at the end of the skit, Crow knocks Servo's head off accidentally, to which Servo freezes and Crow sheepishly states, "Uh... I broke him."
- In another segment, Servo and Crow are tackling Mike as Secret Service Agents "for his protection". If his foot is exposed, they yell, "Foot!" and pound it back down. Servo's head inevitably pops off - to which Crow screams, "HEAD!" and both bots scream panicked, "HEAD! HEAD! HEAD!"
- Time Travel: For the eighth season, the show was moved from "Next Sunday, AD" to the year 2525 (Man is not, in fact, still alive), then to Roman Times, and finally back to the present.
- Title Montage: The opening theme featured many clips from episodes of the show. The clips changed every so often to keep things from getting monotonous or out-of-date (especially with the cast change from Joel to Mike, it wouldn't make sense to feature Joel clips in the Mike opening, for example).
- Title Please: Although each episode is named after whatever movie they're reviewing, no episode title is present on the screen. However, during season 6, the bumpers before commercials would feature the title of the movie on a film canister or other object.
- Toad Licking: When the gang riffed Jack Frost, there was a talking mushroom man; the characters wondered what a talking mushroom would eat to get high, and the only answer anyone can come up with was, "I think they lick toads."
- Too Dumb to Live: Most of the characters on the show, at one point or another -- TV's Frank has a particularly persistent case.
- Took a Level In Badass: Pearl Forrester became a lot more aggressive and less matronly when she became the principal villain during the Sci Fi Channel era.
- Took a Level In Dumbass: Professor Bobo. When we first meet him (in Revenge of the Creature), he's actually a reasonably intelligent scientist. But he proceeds to get dumber and more childlike with each episode he appears in after that.
- While never quite descending to true dumbassedry, Mike Nelson seemed to become ever more goofily incompetent and hapless during his time on the SOL.
- Trademark Favorite Food: During the early seasons the 'bots really had a thing for RAM chips.
- Trust-Building Blunder: In the Gamera episode.
Servo: I'm letting go...
- Twenty Minutes Into the Future: Sort of. The theme song specifies "Next Sunday, AD", and most of the series seems to take place in something reasonably approximating the year in which it was made.
- Helps to know that during its KTMA run, it actually did run on Sundays!
- Thanks to Netflix and simillar services, "scrolling up cinemas" doesn't seem quite as farfetched as it did during ether PBS or MST's presentations of Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. Still working on that 'putting people into baboons' thing, though.
- Uncanny Family Resemblance: Eddie, Mike's brother in Time Chasers.
- Unconventional Smoothie: The Killer Shrews episode involves a drink called the Killer Shrew, which includes a candy bar with the wrapper on, among other very sugary foods.
- Unlucky Everydude: Joel, and especially Mike.
- Unfortunate Implications: Discussed and endlessly ridiculed in the films screened during the show.
- Unreliable Narrator: In a KTMA episode Servo has 'flashbacks' of earlier events on the satellite. One involves a very out-of-character Joel yelling at the 'bots and actively smacking them around (he makes Gypsy cry!) while smoking a cigarette. He growls out "Listen, I'm not normally this way, it's just Servo's perception of me" and ends up stalking off to his trailer.
- Urban Legends: The show's rivalry with Sandy Frank; for years it was widely rumored that Frank (angry at the mockery of his films and how the show went so far as to make a song mocking him) personally refused to re-licence the many films he owned that the show featured as revenge for the way they mocked him. The truth was more subdued: seeing the show's popularity (and the fact that many of his episodes were among the most popular that the show featured in the early years) he simply tried to extort more money from Best Brains by raising his asking price to renew the license for usage of his films.
- Values Dissonance: In-Universe. Once in a while, the show would feature a movie or short that had some instance of this. The riffers would always react to any display of Values Dissonance in a movie, usually by boo-ing or shouting at the movie. Some examples: a home economics short that suggested women go to college to learn how to be good housewives. A short that showed a typical day of a trapper finding and capturing animals from the wild to ship them to a zoo. And the end of Manos: The Hands of Fate which showed the little girl as one of the Master's wives. At least one movie was actually edited for this reason: Invasion of the Neptune Men, a Japanese monster movie which featured actual aerial bombardment footage of Japan during WWII to show destruction of the city by the invading Neptune men. A shot was still included of a building with a picture of Adolf Hitler on the side (it was an advertisement for 'Mein Kampf') being destroyed, leading to the riff: "They blew up the Hitler building!! What's next, the Mussolini Mall?!"
- Verbal Backspace
Tom Servo: "I have no sense of proportion. I'm a disgrace to my uniform!"
- Viewers Are Geniuses: One of the pillars of the humor is an impenetrably dense barrage of very, very specific pop culture references (and not so pop: an off-the-cuff Sophocles reference is not unheard of). Kevin Murphy once mentioned that he imagined the people who did get the obscure references would feel like the show could read their mind. A lot of their references were subject to Memetic Mutation, too, such as the "I thought you were Dale" meta-reference. Getting every single joke in an episode usually requires multiple viewings and consulting a fan website (there are entire websites dedicated to deciphering the more obscure references).
- Impressively, they maintained this not only until the series' final season, but the spiritual spin-offs continue the tradition as well.
- Most notably Parts: The Clonus Horror; the show's usage on Mystery Science Theater 3000 was what fueled that film's director to sue Warner Brothers Studio and Michael Bay over how their film The Island blatantly plagiarized his work. Fans of the show raised enough awareness of how The Island was a direct rip-off of Parts that Robert Fiveson felt he could take the big studio and director to court and actually stand a chance against them.
- Still, some of their jokes are literally inaccessible to anyone who is not them. Case in point: In response to a character in the movie carrying a keyboard, one of the robots says "Stop her, she's got Mike's keyboard!" Mike Nelson's girlfriend had taken his keyboard with her when she moved out a week or two before. Viewers, of course, had no way of knowing this.
- Vocal Evolution: When New Yorker Bill Corbett took over as Crow the little robot gained a soft Brooklyn accent and a slightly effeminate lisp. This hilarious combination only lasted a few episodes as Corbett gradually found his own voice for Crow with a more generalised accent.
- Tom Servo, twice: Josh Weinstein found Servo's "Mighty Voice!" midway through the KTMA season, and Kevin Murphy initially played Servo's voice close to Josh's portrayal, before easing into a more natural performance.
- The vocal changes to Tom and Crow were directly referenced and Hand Waved in-universe; the change from Josh's voice to Kevin's was explicitly laid to Joel tinkering with Tom's voice chip (which is also how they explained the different voice Josh began using in the KTMA era), while Crow's change was initially chalked up to something happening in his five centuries on the SOL while Mike and the others were noncorporeal, later suggested by Joel in his visit during Soultaker that Crow had changed his bowling pin (his beak).
- Trace Beaulieu also used what has been described as a "baby voice" for Crow in the early Comedy Channel episodes (KTMA-era Crow spoke with a slightly stilted delivery somewhere between C3P0 and the Lost in Space robot). Around seasons 2 and 3, his performance became more natural.
- Wham! Episode: One word: Mitchell.
- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: In Devil Fish, Pearl invokes the Trope when all that's left is the Captain's Dinner - with Bobo being Captain. You can guess things go horribly wrong.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The Nanites and Magic Voice were pretty much forgotten about in Season 10. We never even learn their ultimate fate in the finale.
- In a couple season 2 and season 3 episodes, there were contests for viewers announced. The results of those contests, such as the "What's the Deal with Kenny" from the first Gamera movie, were never revealed.
- What the Hell, Hero?: The 'Bots' reaction to the inscription on the plaque Joel left behind during the Mitchell experiment.
Servo: Joel leaves, and his last words are from a George Pal movie?!
- Also any time Mike blows up a planet... or wrecks the occasional orbiting satellite.
- When I Was Your Age: In the Horror of Party Beach episode, Mike and the Bots sing a 50s-style song to educate "the young people" about sodium (It Makes Sense in Context). After it's over, Crow goes into a non-angry version of this ("...with your pierced I-dunno-whats...")
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Occasionally. For example, in Horrors of Spider Island, Crow asks Mike if it's true that if a woman survives a plane crash she becomes languid and helpless and sex-starved (and also murmur a lot). Mike decides to find out by crashing the Satellite of Love, somehow leaving him, Crow, and Servo dressed as women.
- Servo is usually the one to be crossdressing due to his natural feminine shape. Lampshaded in one episode in which Servo exasperatingly says that he can't wear anything like pants because his hoverskirt won't allow him to.
- Who's on First?: A variant is performed in one of the skits in "Invasion of the Neptune Men", only the subject is Japanese theater. When Mike is asked by Crow and Tom if he likes any Japanese theater, Mike responds: "Noh." Cue Sustained Misunderstanding.
- With Friends Like These...: Joel and Mike's relationship with the 'bots. Apparently, Joel created the 'bots with programming that caused them tease/razz him, in order to create companions that would give him hell and keep him sane.
- When Joel installed protocol modules to make them nicer and easier to deal with, he realized it left him hollow, and promptly removed the modules before the start of the experiment. Considering the experiment that week was "Manos", one has to wonder how the "nice" Tom and Crow would've handled it (although Hired Part II]] probably wouldn't have been as funny).
- With Lyrics: Numerous examples, including:
- "He tried to kill me with a forklift..."
- "Come on and buy some crap from us / You know that you want to / And the white race will salute you / As you prance and gad about!"
- "The Girl in Lovers Lane / With Jack Elam, not Jack LaLanne."
- "He's a high school... big shot. He's a big shot... in high school..."
- "He's a failure la la la, what a loser la la la, total failure, total failure, total failure laaaa!"
- "Puma Man, he flies like a moron."
- A Wizard Did It: The theme song specifically points out that you're not supposed to ask questions about how it all works.
- You're Not My Father: On at least one occasion Crow has informed Joel that "You're not my real father!"
- You Say Tomato: They love to deliberately mispronounce names. For instance, Tom Servo pronounces Chi Chi Rodriguez as Chai Chai Rahd-rigweez.
- Also a reference to WKRP in Cincinnati