A Definitive Ranking of Every MST3K Short

This post was originally published on November 17, 2015, but since MST3K is an eternal joy, we wanted to share it with you one more time. It’s our way of thanking you, the reader, for teaching us to laugh about love…again. Also, please be advised that the annual Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon will return tomorrow at noon, featuring new intro segments from Joel Hodgson and the host of the upcoming return of MST3K, Jonah Ray, and giving you a perfect excuse to duck out of uncomfortable conversations with relatives. For more information on streaming the marathon, click here. For more information about Screaming Skulls, click here. Now, on with the post!

Since the return of MST3K is a lock at this point (and some classic episodes are coming out on Rifftrax, too!) my fellow MSTies are going to be faced with a daunting task: we need a way to indoctrinate our non-MSTie friends. Compared to most cult-inspiring TV shows, MST3K is a shambling beast. They’re all two hours long! And you have to navigate which host to go with, whether TV’s Frank is there, Corbett vs. Beaulieu… it gets complicated. The best way I’ve found to avoid all of those issues is to show people the shorts. They’re quick, the hosts don’t matter as much, and they’re so deeply weird that they make for a pure, concentrated does of MST3K. To that end, I have compiled a definitive wholly subjective ranking of almost every short!

I’m leaving Commander Cody, The Phantom Creeps, Undersea Kingdom, and General Hospital out of this cause, well, there’s no delicate way to put this, they’re terrible. As with my previous ranking posts, EVERYTHING YOU’RE ABOUT TO READ IS SUBJECTIVE. I’ll begin by saying, personally: I’m a Joel, but I like Mike a lot, and I think it was really the departure of TV’s Frank that shifted the tenor of the show. I love Beaulieu and Corbett equally. I have attended live events for both Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax.

Now, the truly unique thing about the shorts is the way Joel and Mike and the ‘Bots tend to construct subversive counter-narratives as a way to push back against the shorts’ various agendas. In each ranking, I’ve tried to pull out this counter-narrative, as well as a few favorite riffs.

 

41. Catching Trouble

OK, I’m going to try to be as calm about this as I can. This horrible garbage human, Ross Allen, wades into the Florida Everglades (which used to be one of the most beautiful places on this godforsaken planet) and tortures and traps wild animals, all while the narrator goads him on and mocks the poor creatures for running away. It’s the most genuinely disturbing short on this list, and that’s before we even talk about the Seminole guide who helps this monster, and did I mention that they literally set the Everglades on fire to drive rattlesnakes out of a den? The only saving grace here is that Joel and the ‘Bots are horrified, and do everything they can to distance themselves from Ross.

Why Is It Here?
The short itself pisses me off so much that it goes at the bottom of the list. After this point, they’re all ranked according to overall quality of MST3K experience.

Counter-narrative
Joel and the Bots side with the animals, and suggest even crueler methods of animal capture in an attempt to shame Ross.

Best Riffs

  • Crow suggests chasing rabbits on a mini-bike until their hearts explode?
  • Joel: “I’m deeply ashamed of my race right now”
  • Servo: “Ross tries to towel away the evil but NOTHING DOING”

 

40. Posture Pals

Posture-Pals

This short turns standing up straight into a sport, and shames any child that slouches. Thanks, 1950s! That said, though, the short is pretty innocuous, but…so are the riffs. It’s a pleasant 20 minutes, but nothing really stands out here.

Why Is It Here?
It isn’t weird enough to be funny on its own, and there’s no counter-narrative to make it more subversive, and none of the riffs really stand out. But, no one tortures helpless animals in this one, so it’s not on the bottom.

 

39. Aquatic Wizards

Another Florida-based short! This one tells the harrowing tale of trick water-skiers at Cypress Gardens, Florida, which was about two hours away from where I grew up, and was not the one with the mermaids (that’s Weeki Wachee) and not the one with the alligators (that’s Sarasota Jungle Gardens). While Cypress Gardens is really pretty, and the water-skiers can all do lots of things that I would probably kill myself attempting, watching people water-ski is just not that compelling. But, you do get to see a 9-year-old pilot a boat pulling a 7-year-old water-skier!

Why Is It Here?
As a slice of Floridian eccentricity it’s fun, but it’s pretty forgettable compared to what’s coming.

Counter-narrative
Through the course of the short, Crow accuses the short’s narrator of being a fascist (it’s never clear why), Servo postulates an emotional breakdown for him as he realizes he’s wasted his life, and Crow treats us to a skit in which one of the water skiers breaks into the narrators recording booth and murders him.

 

38. The Sport Parade: Snow Thrills

20 action–packed minutes of things you can do in the snow. Speed skating, ice yachting(??), ski jumping, polar bear clubs, ice fishing, dog-sledding, Skijoring(???), bobsledding, and even faster bobsledding. People get hurt, a lot, and it leads to some great lines.

Why Is It Here?
Since MST3K was made in Minnesota by Midwesterners, their take on whether or not snow can ever be fun is pretty great, and like a lot of the earlier shorts it gets very, very dark.

Counter-narrative:
Winter is terrible and trying to kill you.

Best Riffs:

  • Crow: “Nothing like losing all your toes and fingers to frostbite!”
  • Joel: “There’s nothing quite as pretty on a sunny day as arterial spray on white snow.”

 

37. Alphabet Antics

MST Alphabet Antics

An educational short in which children are taught the ABCs through the use of surreal onamatapoetics. Some of the rhymes get a little creepy, which is only amplified by Joel and the Bots.

Why Is It Here?
It’s an interesting educational artifact, but with no real plot or action, it’s not as memorable as some of the later shorts.

Best Riffs

  • Narrator: “M is for the marching men in uniform and braid!”
    Joel: “M is for the military machine…”
    Crow: “When you put your hand in a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do!”
  • Narrator: “Q is for the queer, queer pelican. Whose beak holds more than his belly can.”
    Joel: “P is for Plagiarism from Ogden Nash!

 

36. Speech: Using Your Voice

Another educational short, this one about giving speeches! Professor E. Buehler emphasizes the importance of being “pleasing” – though he fails to define that nebulous term. He does note that public speakers should “use plenty of lip and tongue action,” which just seems like solid advice in any situation.

Why Is It Here?
I have a lot of affection for Professor E. C. Buehler, but this short is pretty dull, and Crow’s repeated jokes about wire racks don’t really elevate it.

Counter-Narrative
Professor E.C. Buehler is deeply concerned about pleasing you.

Best Riffs

  • Prof E. C. Buehler: “You must be heard. You must be understood. You must be pleasing.”
    Crow: “Do I please you? Do you find me pleasing?”
    (They cut to a young girl giving a speech.)
    Crow: “This man’s wearing a push-up bra. Now, he’s pleasing.”

 

35. Keeping Clean and Neat

MST3K-Neat

This short walks two kids, a boy and a girl, through an insane grooming regime. Seriously, they would be three hours late to school if they did all this stuff every day.

Why Is It Here?
There are far more offensive grooming shorts to come, so this one doesn’t stand out.

Counter-narrative
The narrator talks the kids into obsessive compulsive disorder.

Best Riffs

  • Narrator: “Your teeth?”
    Crow: “Comb them, too.”
  • (After the young boy shines his shoes for his day at…grade school.)
    Crow: “Does this kid have a job interview?!?”
    Mike: “It’s about three in the afternoon by now.”

 

34. Appreciating Our Parents

Tommy, a sweet little boy, sneaks downstairs one night and catches a terrifying glimpse of the adult world when he sees his mom and dad doing the dishes together while talking about bills. The loss of innocence is always so traumatic. He resolves to help clean up the house more, and thinks about all the chores his parents to to keep their family functional.

Why Is It Here?
Let me reiterate: this is a short in which you watch a little boy think really hard about his mother doing the dishes and mending shirts.

Counter-narrative:
Because the family here is loving and earnest, and it’s actually great that the kid helps out, there’s not much for Joel and the ‘Bot to work with. They do paint a portrait of Tommy’s mother’s life as one filled with desperation and resentment, which is fun. It’s called guilt, and boy does it work!

Best Riff

  • Servo: “It’s called guilt, Tommy, and boy does it work!”

 

33. Speech: Platform Posture and Appearance

MST Speech

Our friend Prof. E.C. Buehler, late of “Speech: Using Your Voice,” will teach you how to stand up straight and remember to wear a clean shirt if you’re giving a talk. It has a very 1950s emphasis on appearance and the judgment of others.

Why Is It Here?
It’s slightly snappier than both the previous speech short and “Posture Pals,” but it doesn’t exactly fly off the screen.

Best Riffs

  • Crow gives us a callback, calling Posture Pals the “definitive last word on posture.”
  • Crow (railing against the short’s emphasis on a neat appearance): “Make sure your part is gouged into your skull.”

 

32. Hired!/Hired Part II

Hired!

Sad sack gets hired to sell cars. Fails to sell cars. Boss gets very frustrated with him. The boss seemingly still lives at home, and shortly after Part II begins, dad slaps a handkerchief on his head and begins dispensing advice.

Why Is It Here?
It’s pretty slow, but the sight of a man wearing a handkerchief and swatting invisible insects just makes me smile.

Counter-narrative
The obvious one is that the dad’s crazy, and see fairies everywhere. There’s not that much else to work with.

Best Riffs

  • Servo: Look ma’am, do you know that Chevrolet has a wonderful plan for your life?
    Joel: Are you now, or have you ever been a Ford owner?
  • Crow (As handkerchief-wearing Dad): Aw, damn, fairies are back!

 

31. What About Juvenile Delinquency?

A young man must choose between the gang that inadvertently roughed up his dad, and the clean-cut kids who want him to testify about the attack before the City Council. The short’s surprisingly pro-teen stance is refreshing for a 1950s short.

Why Is It Here?
This is is the single least menacing gang ever put to 1950s film. Their sheer wimpiness adds another layer of humor to the proceedings.

Counter-narrative
One of the Delinquent’s classmates is a demon.

Best Riffs

  • Servo: (as the Delinquent): Aw, Mom, dusting is so bourgeois!”
  • Servo: (as elderly teacher who frightens the gang away): “Heh. This is my turf now.”

 

30. Money Talks!

MST Money Talks

William, who looks to be about 12, but I think is actually supposed to be 16, muses on the awesomeness of Ben Franklin. Franklin then appears (in silhouette) to the boy and advises him on how to properly invest the six or seven dollars he earns a week. That’s fine, but why didn’t the filmmakers go with Alexander Hamilton? And why didn’t they find an actor who looked enough like Ben Franklin to actually have him appear in the short? The talking shadow thing is creepy.

Why Is It here?
The aforementioned creepiness really helps it stand out!

Counter-narrative
They make Ben Franklin considerably meaner than he is in the short, which, frankly, William deserves.

Best Riffs

  • Crow (as Franklin): “Could you have your slave press my suit?”
  • Crow: “Dead people have too much time on their hands!”
  • Servo (As Franklin): “Oh, and kill your parents. Bye.”
  • Crow (As William, awakening from his reverie): “That was my darkest vision yet…”

 

29. Junior Rodeo Daredevils

Basically watching kids get bucked off and trampled by animals who really don’t want to be there. One odd note with this short – the man who organizes the rodeo is only referred to as “Old Timer Billy Slater,” as though this was written into a contract. But what kind of contract could these people have possibly signed to end up in this short?

Why Is It Here?
Kids get trampled.

Counter-narrative
Crow is pretty sure everyone involved in this short has a drinking problem.

Best Riffs

  • Crow: “Jim Henson’s Last Picture Show Babies!”
  • Crow: “When you come right down to it, this whole rodeo’s just another excuse to crawl inside a whiskey bottle!”
    Joel: “Aw, Crowwww…”
  • Servo (About one of the daredevils): “Sam’s a vegetarian! But there’s nothing exciting about ropin’ an okra patty.”

 

28. Body Care and Grooming

This movie shames a female student for studying instead of paying meticulous attention to her appearance. The frustrating thing here is that it turns out to be full of good info on taking care of your skin and hair. But since they couch it in this weird misogyny (and obviously everyone in this film is blindingly white) the decent messages get lost.

Why Is It Here?
This is one of the most blatantly sexist of the short films, as it stresses the idea that a female student’s true purpose is to distract boys with her looks, rather than focus on her schoolwork.

Counter-narrative
Feminism! Joel and the Bots obviously take the girl’s side, and yell at the narrator for being mean to her. They also point out the short’s blindingly white universe.

Best Riffs

  • Crow: “Body Care and Grooming: they’re cops!”
  • Crow: “Expressing individualism is just plain wrong.”
  • Crow: “Cleanliness is about being snowy white.
    Joel: “It begins with the soul.”

 

27. Assignment: Venezuela

MST Assignment: Venezuela

This one is all about the U.S.A.’s reach into her neighbors to the south. A Creole oil guy goes to work in the Venezuelan arm of his company, and writes letters home to his wife and two boys, which quickly turns into an infomercial for the oil industry. I guess his wife needed to know all about the check on the gas pressure, oil barges, the patterns of pipes under the fields, and the precise statistics on how many Venezuelans are employed by Creole?

Why Is It Here?
While the counter-narrative is funny, it doesn’t stand out as much as the similar “Progress Island, U.S.A., which you’ll see further down the list.

Counter-narrative
The Venezuelans hate the oil guy, refer to him as white devil, and try to murder him at every opportunity. He tells these stories of assassination attempt to his wife in the same chipper-yet-bland tone he uses for everything else.

Best Riffs

  • Mike: “It’s like A Very Brady Venezuela…”
  • Mike: “Why, you can smell the oil. Oozing from every pore of the land.”

 

26. Cheating

MST Cheating

Imagine if one of the Dogme 95 proponents directed a film about a young boy who cheated on a math test, and how that action caused his entire life to spiral out of control. Now, I’m not condoning cheating here, but I think this short might go a little overboard.

Why Is It Here?
Johnny lives in a lightless, windowless room, he seemingly has no parents, and his teacher’s face flashes before him as he tries to sleep accusing him of terrible crimes.

Counter-narrative
Mike and the ‘Bots gently suggest that perhaps the short goes a little overboard.

Best Riffs

  • Servo: “A young Franz Kafka awaits his fate.”
  • Crow: “Geez, this kid could freak out Jame Gumb…”
  • Servo (As Miss Granby): “A contract arrived for you from a Mr… Elzebub?”
  • Crow: “Now, was this Ingmar Bergman’s first American film?”

 

25. The Selling Wizard

It’s an ad for a freezer. But they spice thing up by adding a dame! She points at the freezer, but never speaks.

Why Is It Here?
Mike and the Bots do their best, but this short’s topic is so breathtakingly dull that it never quite reaches the heights of “Out of this World,” which we’ll meet further down.

Counter-narrative
Tom Servo wants to buy one of these freezers more than he’s ever wanted anything in his life. Which I guess demonstrates the power of the ad, rather than acting as a subversive voice…

Best Riff

  • When the Selling Wizard – a new freezer – is revealed, Mike and the Bots sing 2001 Monolith noises in response.
  • Servo (in response to the narrator’s assertion the this freezer will meet each of the customer’s needs): “What if I need love?”
  • Mike (disgusted): “Meanwhile, the Soviets were launching Sputnik.”

 

24. Johnny at the Fair

OK, so this one is ostensibly an ad for this Canadian expo fair type thing, but because all the MST3K shorts take place in a hell dimension, the way the filmmakers decided to tell us about this fair was that a tiny, helpless child leaves his parents (I mean just fucking takes off, like he’s trying to ditch them) and gets horribly lost. Then, while his heartsick parents search everywhere for him, he has lots of super keen adventures, including meeting Sugar Ray Robinson and I think the Prime Minister of Canada?

Why Is It Here?
Things get dark for little Johnny.

Counter-narrative
Johnny is goaded into each adventure by forces of evil.

Best riffs?

  • Crow (commenting on a thronging crowd of fair-goers): “Prozac at work in today’s society!”
    Joel: “It’s simulated culture like Disneyland…”
  • Servo: “Johnny feels dark hands pushing him onward. The voices in his head get meaner.”
    Joel: “For the first time in his short life, Johnny knows real fear.”

 

23. Gumby: Robot Rumpus

Robot Rumpus

Gumby programs his family’s fleet of robots (???) to do his chores; they run amok.

Why Is It Here?
I have to admit to some bias here, because the creepy Play-Doh action and 1960s film stock always makes me vaguely queasy. But even with that, this short doesn’t do much for me – the riffs are OK, but not sharp enough to push this one into the Top Ten.

Counter-narrative
The Bots take a pro-robot stance, but it doesn’t really coalesce until a robot is murdered at the end of the short.

Best Riffs

  • Servo: “I was hoping it’d be about robot rumps…”
  • Crow (on the carnage perpetrated by the robots): “Well, you use one of your old Philips analog chips in your robot, you’re gonna get this…”
  • Servo (on seeing that Gumby is displaying the murdered robot’s head like some sort of sick trophy): “AAAH THEY HUNG HIS HEAD!!! THEY HUNG HIS HEAD!!! This is worse than Seven!”

 

22. Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm

Two city kids join their country cousins on the farm for the summer! This short’s purpose is…um…I guess it’s to let suburbanites and city folk learn where milk comes from? Honestly it seems a little unnecessary, but there are lots of shots of the kids drinking gallon upon gallon of milk.

Why Is It Here?
I love Mike and Bots inexplicable hostility toward country living.

Counter-narrative
Mike and the ‘Bots scoff at country life and create a narrative in which the city kids can’t wait to get back to their old life.

Best Riffs

  • Crow: “Already the children have disturbed Uncle Jim. Uncle Jim is an edgy man who should not be riled.”
  • Servo (as Uncle Jim shows the children a chute full of feed): “See? We dump this stuff in the creek and the government pays us for it!”
    Crow (As child): “I just saw a finger…”
    Mike (weeping): “Can we go home?”
  • Mike (as the family sits down to a meal): “Ah yes. Now’s the time for Uncle Jim’s fundamentalist dogma.”
  • Mike (as one of the city kids falls asleep): “She’s dreaming of Midtown Manhattan.”
  • Crow (disgusted, as the children learn to ride horses) “Why, it’s a wonder cities even exist.”
  • Mike (As the city folk drive away): “Bye! We’ll send you that arm if we find it!”

 

21. Chicken of Tomorrow

MST Chicken of Tomorrow

This short about breeding bigger, more egg-filled chickens suddenly veers into being a short about how great “motortrucks” and petroleum are. It seriously spends the last full minutes talking about the importance of the motortruck “fueled and lubricated with quality petroleum products.” I’ll note that this short speaks more often and more fondly of trucks than “The Truck Farmer,” which we’ll encounter below.

Why Is It Here?
They try to apply space-age wizardry to chickens. It’s inherently funny.

Counter-narrative
As with most of these shorts, the horrifying mechanization of modern life, and scenes of straight-up animal cruelty, are narrated by a bland male 50s voice, and the ‘Bots shred it by taking on the voice of the chickens themselves.

Best Riffs

  • Mike: “Did America really need to be sold on the automotive industry at this point?”
  • Crow (as chicken) “Woohooo! We’re going on a trip! Where are we going?”
  • Mike (as newly-hatched chick): “Life is great. It stretches out in front of me like an eternity.”
  • Mike (as a nervous, non-laying hen): “I’ll have an egg tomorrow, man, I swear!”
  • Crow (on the cleanliness of eggs): “Lick your eggs. Or have a friend lick them!”
  • Mike (seeing the light): “Eggs are complicated. They should cost like $100 each!”

 

20. Here Comes the Circus!

It’s a circus. As such, it’s queasy and feels wrong. The clowns do an awful S&M aerial act, animals are tortured for our amusement, there’s no net. You know, the circus. There’s a running theme of Joel attempting to get the bots to be “less dark” as the shorts tended to get pretty Lynchian. This fails spectacularly.

Why is it here?
It’s a horrifying vision, to be sure, but the riffs in “Circus on Ice” give us much more pointed big-top bashing humor.

Counter-narrative
Circuses are not so much “fun for the whole family” as “terrifying and evil.”

Best Riffs

  • (The clowns begin doing acrobatics.)
    Servo: “Store this image away for a later nightmare!”
  • (The clowns begin spanking each other as the revolve around a tightrope.)
    Joel and Crow just yell variations on “NO!”
  • Servo: “Yes, children’s windows of perception are open only for a moment to take in the horror that is CIRCUS.”

 

19. The Days of Our Years

The Days of Our Years

A Rod Serling-esque reverend stalks through his town, narrating all the ways accidents have killed his parishioners. It soon becomes clear that this pastor offers no words of comfort, only sorrow, and that he kinda blames the accident victims.

Why Is It Here?
The short reaches an operatic absurdity, but it’s also so slow and genuinely depressing that Mike and the ‘Bots’ best efforts still can’t puncture the sadness.

Counter-narrative
The reverend is a dark figure that carries horror in his wake.

Best Riffs

  • Crow: “If there’s a reverend in it, you know it’s gonna be good.”
  • Crow (as orphaned little girl): “I didn’t hate accidents enough…”
  • Mike: “So the leading causes of accidents are joy, sex, and old age?”

 

18. X Marks the Spot

One of the things you notice when you watch all the shorts together is that a lot of them rely on really wacky theology. Angels help with songwriting, the devil is emotionally invested in bread truck routes…it’s weird. In the WWII-era X Marks the Spot, Joe Doakes (a truly terrible driver) dies in a traffic accident, and is then dragged away to face judgment by his Guardian Driving Angel. It’s sort of like if A Matter of Life and Death took place in a Celestial Traffic Court… and somehow this all ties into the idea that bad drivers help Hitler?

Why Is It Here?
I have a soft spot for the guy playing the angel. He tries so damn hard…

Counter-narrative
The angel is apparently stationed in Heaven’s equivalent of New Jersey, and Joel and the Bots have a field day with his accents, and his, er, expressive face, but overall the short itself is so hilarious that they mostly just sit back and let it go.

Best Riffs

  • Joe Doakes: “I never hit and run!”
    Joel: “Oh, well that changes everything.”
  • On Joe Doakes’ pedestrian bad behavior:
    Guardian Angel: “He’d weave through traffic like a mouse through a maze…”
    Servo (in terrible Jersey accent): “Squeaking and calling himself Algernon.”

17. Progress Island U.S.A.

MST Progress Island, U.S.A.

This short is an ad for Puerto Rico. That’s right, a 20-minute-long ad for a U.S. Territory! It becomes strikingly clear that this short is all about getting people to visit and maybe even move to Puerto Rico on the understanding that it’s always warm, and rum flows like water, and under no circumstances do hardworking Americans have to give a shit about the native culture of the area. In the end, all the talk of progress is really just a prelude to the part about the awesomeness of rum.

Why Is It Here?
Far be it from me to dispute rum’s awesomeness. Plus the jabs here are sharper than in “Assignment: Venezuela,” which earns this short a higher spot on the list.

Counter-narrative
Mike and the ‘Bots point out that maybe Puerto Rico has its own culture, and isn’t just an extra vacation spot for rich white U.S.-ians.

Best Riffs

  • Mike starts yelling at the audience, “Look, just come here!”

 

16. What to Do On a Date

The nicest teenagers in all of human history help a poor dope named Nick get a date. The words weenie roast are deployed with some regularity, and the narrator pushes the idea of group dates, and reminds potential daters that they should always keep the other person’s interests in mind.

Why Is It Here?
Weenie. Roast.

Counter-narrative
Nick is… extremely awkward.

Best Riffs

  • Narrator: “It begins with Jeff… and Nick…and Kay…”
    Joel: “…and a human ear”
  • Joel: “Kay’s worked on the killfloor, she knows where to deliver the blow.”
  • Narrator: “Would Kay enjoy a bike trip? Or…a weenie roast?”
    All: “Nick, nooo!!!!!”

15. A Young Man’s Fancy

MST3K-Fancy

A mother coaches her daughter in luring a deeply boring man into a relationship, mostly by feigning physical weakness and stupidity. Meanwhile, the entire family crows about how great their electric appliances are.

Why Is It Here?
This short fails because, well, it’s not just sexist as all hell, but the young man actually explains all the appliances in absurd detail.

Counter-narrative
Mom’s into some kinky shit. Young Judy has terrible designs on Alexander, but Alexander only has eyes for Judy’s mom.

Best Riffs

  • Crow: “It’s dad calling from Chippendales, he’s got two shows he won’t be home.”
  • Mike (As Dad, to Alexander, as he leaves with daughter): “Double bag it, son!”

 

14. Is This Love?

Two college girls approach love and marriage in vastly different ways: one is willing to be engaged for several years to finish school, while the other wants to drop out and elope! This McGraw Hill educational short may contain the most egregious case of casting older actors to portray teens, as main character Liz is clearly being played by a woman in her thirties.

Why is it here?
The riffs are great, but it’s not quite as sharp as another marriage-related short that will appear further down.

Counter-narrative
Liz is ancient, and has been friends with Peggy’s parents for 50 years.

Best Riffs

  • Mike and the Bots insistence on having each of the characters refer to Liz as “Mom”
  • Mike (As Peggy, on her future husband): “Well, he’s great in the sack and he likes to get high, so…”
  • (As McGraw Hill‘s other educational short titles scroll down the screen)
    Mike: “Know your Ointments.”
    Servo: “What’s That Down there?”
    Crow: “When He Wants it Rough…”
    Mike: “Procreation Not Recreation.”
    Servo: “Oh No! Pleasure!”

 

13. Out of this World

Out of This World

This short’s theology implies that devils and angels micromanage American industry. A devil and an angel work together in…I guess it’s the bread sales division of Limbo? I don’t know, this gets really confusing. They make a Job-like bargain…well, OK, it’s not like Job at all. The Devil (Red) wants a new set of asbestos points for his pitchfork (“you’d think Hell would just provide those…” Crow points out) and the Angel (ummm…Whitey) wants new strings for her harp. So they battle for the soul of a bread salesman, Bill Dudley, with Whitey masquerading as an investigative journalist writing a piece about modern wholesale bread delivery…while trying to tempt him to be lazy? Since the angel is a girl, it gives the short plenty of opportunities to have the bread guy to lecture the girl on all the ways she’s wrong. Most of the riffs are directed at the campy acting of the devil, with a few skewering the usual 1950s attitudes.

Why Is It Here?
The idea of trucking routes being the site of giant cosmological battles makes for a great over-the-top short.

Counter-narrative
Servo occasionally speaks for Whitey as though she’s actually an up-and-coming reporter looking for a scoop, while Mike and Crow take over the breadtruck driver’s life of quiet, suicidal desperation.

Best Riffs

  • Servo (in an enlarged and less intelligent state): Movie BAD. Movie go ‘way. HATE movie! (the riffing heals him.)
  • Mike: “Mr. Marco, you want my coffee ring today? Sure be a shame if something bad happened to your store here.”
  • Crow (as Whitey): “But…why does the strip club need bread?”
  • Mike (as the truck driver, cheerfully): “Sometimes I wanna put a bullet in my head!”
  • Servo: “It’s going to turn out the bread truck driver’s Jesus…”

 

12. Circus on Ice

Hooo boy. OK, so people dress as animals, and then skate, and a bunch of women are dressed as zebras, and another woman whips them, and then a more famous skater comes out and acts out the death of a fawn. “Prelude to an Afternoon of a MURDER” says Tom. It’s honestly horrifying, and even for a Joel-era short the riffs get dark.

Why Is It Here?
The topic of the short is crazy, and feels to me like something that only could have happened in post-WWII America. But more importantly, Joel and the Bots keep pace with the horror, highlighting all the awfulness on display with jokes as sharp as…ah, fuck it. As sharp as an ice skate. There.

Counter-narrative
The usual one about circuses and evil.

Best Riffs

  • Joel: “You know guys, there’s nothing sadder than gutshot fawn… on ice.”
    Crow (as child): “Mommy I don’t like it! Can we go home???”
    Tom (as mom): “Shut up and watch the fawn get slaughtered!”
  • Joel: “Aw, she skated over her own intestines.”
    Servo: “Prelude to an Afternoon of a MURDER.”

11. Century 21 Calling

Two blindingly white teens run around the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, harassing people of various ethnicities. They legit just start groping a Japanese lady. It’s really upsetting.

Why Is It Here?
Future prediction is always fun, but future prediction about a now totally obsolete communications system is hilarious.

Counter-narrative
The first half is about the kids being Nazis. The second half explores the possibilities of Bell Telephone facilitating mob hits and affairs. Plus, the boy wants to go to the peepshow, but the girl won’t let him.

Best Riffs

  • Mike: “Ah, great, gifts from Germany braunschweiger, cars with heaters that don’t work, and identification papers.”
  • Bill (as teen commenting on his white supremacist leanings): “I dunno, I just seem to be drawn to that German exhibit…”
  • Mike (as a pavilion worker dials a phone): “The hit is ordered.”
  • Servo (In response to the jaunty Century 21 song): “But you can’t escape death!”
    Mike: “Don’t examine your soul, just get speed dialing!”
    Crow: “Someday you’ll ache like I ache!”

 

10. The Truck Farmer

MST The Truck Farmer

A rousing celebration of modern slavery year-round farming. We check in with farms in Florida, Texas, and California, and learn about how machines and lots and lots of pesticides make winter vegetables better. NB: This short gives zero trucks. Seriously, it’s called “The Truck Farmer” but they never show us a truck. The only shipping we see is done by train.

Why Is It Here?
I love it when a short with a very specific agenda is skewered with a strong counter-narrative.

Counter-narrative
Joel and the Bots helpfully point out how little the actual workers are making, and how harsh the lives of migrant farm worker will be, despite the innovations in trucking. Which, again, we never see.

Best Riffs

  • Narrator: “Here in the Rio Grande delta, Mexican citizens who cross the Rio Grande border, help.”
    Crow: “They make it sound so nice.”
    Joel: “A pre-teen is put to work. Her beauty will soon fade.”
  • Crow: “Worship the truck farmer at the church of your choice”
  • All: “HAIL TRUCK FARMER.”

 

9. The Home Economics Story

MST The Home Economics Story

Male narrator tells the story of Kay, who makes the radical decision to study home economics at Iowa State University.

Why is it here?
The short itself is a fascinating mix of progressive and conservative, and Joel and the Bots tear into each conservative moment with some great feminist commentary, but, as is usual for Joel, real humanism and concern for the women.

Counter-narrative
Feminism! Also drug use, free love, and dabbling in existentialism. It’s interesting to note, though that the short itself is encouraging women to plan college educations and careers for themselves, with marriage as a sidenote, and that they give young women useful ammunition to convince their parents it’s a good idea.

Best Riffs

  • Servo: “Would she smoke thin black cigarettes and reject the Triune God?”
    Joel: “Now she’ll race down to the Jean Luc Godard festival at the campus theater!”
    Joel (As Kay, about her mother): “Won’t you ever accept my Marxist ways?”
  • Joel (as a child in day care): “WHAT??? You mean we have to be subjugated to men???!!!”

8. Why Study Industrial Arts?

MST Why Study Industrial Arts

A young man asks another whether he should study industrial arts. This leads to ten minutes of discussion of why woodshop classes are good. This is sort of the boys’ version of “The Home Economics Story”, but Mike doesn’t really take the boys’ side here…

Why Is It Here?
As may have become clear, I love it when the shorts take an ominous turn.

Counter-narrative
The young men who study industrial arts are all channeling homicidal tendencies, and fear romantic entanglements. One gets the sense that the makers of MST3K were the targets of bullying from boys like those in the short…

Best Riffs

  • Crow: “I keep Popular Mechanics under my mattress!”
  • Narrator: “I feel real good cause I’m a craftsman!”
    Mike (nervously): “And n-not a killer!”
  • All (Singing to the tune of Sade’s hit, “Smooth Operator”): “Tool operator…tool operator…”
  • Crow: “This is the film the boys had to watch while the girls went to the gym and watched The Other Film…”

 

7. Design for Dreaming

MST Design For Dreaming

The Waldorf Astoria hotel hosts the 1956 General Motors Motorama, and a dreaming woman is whisked away by Tuxedo Mask for a vision of the future. She gets to use a high tech Kitchen of Tomorrow, and test drive the Cars of Tomorrow, each of which is paired with designer Fashion of Tomorrow.

Why Is It Here?
Visions of the future are always hilarious, and Mike and ‘Bots are vicious about the capitalist ethos on display.

Counter-narrative
Tuxedo Mask is actually the Devil.

Best Riffs

  • Crow: “This is a rebuttal to Roger and Me!”
  • (As the Cars and Fashions of Tomorrow are revealed)
    Crow: Bonnie and Clyde’s Death Car!
    Servo: Fonzi’s Death car!
    Mike: “Unfettered avarice by Madison Avenue!”
  • Mike: “Look out, the bridge to the future is out! NOOOO!!!”

 

6. Are You Ready For Marriage?

Are You Ready for Marriage?

Two extremely nice, earnest teens, Sue and Larry, want to get married, but their folks say they’re too young. Why are you always such squares, folks? They go to get advice from the campus church’s marriage counselor, who uses an elaborate graph, some string, and something he calls “Cupid’s Checklist” to make it quite clear to them that they are not, in fact, ready for marriage. He also refers to physical chemistry as “boing,” and tells the kids that “It takes more than boing to make a successful marriage.”

Why is it Here?
Like “Is This Love?” above, this takes a pair of kids through all the elements of a successful relationship, but here the jokes are more varied, and the graphs are so ridiculous it vaults the short up the list.

Counter-narrative
Sue was in the Marines, and barely got out of Vietnam in time.

Best Riffs

  • Crow (As Sue, whose voice is uncannily similar to June Foray’s): “Gee, Bullwinkle…”
  • Crow (as Sue’s commander): “Marines, we are leaving!”
    Mike (As Sue): “Oh, sorry, back in Danang there…”
  • Sue: “Do we really understand marriage?”
    Mike: “That’s the breaded thing with the mayonnaise, right?”
  • Crow (singsong, on the odds of Sue and Larry getting married): “College is gonna change everything!”
  • Crow (as the marriage counselor): “Never make light of ‘boing’, son.”

 

5. Last Clear Chance

Last Clear Chance

The Dixons live a happy life on a farm until The Angel of Death, disguised as a friendly cop, visits them. He lectures them on proper driving (and much Like “X Marks the Spot,” this short features spectacularly bad driving) with a specific emphasis on train safety. And yet, within seconds the young Dixons…um…get themselves hit by a train.

Why Don’t They Look? Why Is It Here?
The absurdity of the cop specifically telling the kids not to get hit by a train, and then they immediately go out and get hit by a train, which is seriously not that easy to do, is just delicious.

Counter-narrative
The cop is evil!

Best Riffs

  • Mike (as the Dixons pull into the cemetery): “Never Let this happen to you. Don’t make the mistake these people made. Don’t die.”
  • (During a cavalcade of traffic signs)
    Crow: “All nude girls!”
    Servo: “Whites Only”
  • Mike (As the cop): Trains are blameless, holy creatures!”
  • Crow (as cop): Will you come identify this bucket full of your brother?

 

4. Once Upon a Honeymoon

Once Upon a Honeymoon

Like “X Marks the Spot” and “Out of this World,” “Once Upon a Honeymoon” posits that divine entities have nothing better to do with their time than micromanage middle class Americans. Here, a Marriage Guardian Angel has to make sure Jeff, a songwriter, goes on a honeymoon with his wife, who spends the short singing about how much she wants to redecorate her home. She really wants to put phones in every room.

Why Is it Here?
First, it’s a musical! Second, the campiness of the angel combines well with the crushing banality of the short to create a perfect distillation of MST3K.

Counter-narrative
Jeff is a coke addict at a creative dead end.

Best Riffs

  • Mike: “Meanwhile, soldiers are dying in the mud in North Korea…”
  • Crow (As Jeff): “Here’s how far I’ve got. ‘La.’”
  • Crow: “Honey, your cocaine is all over the phone…”
  • Servo: (as it ends): What the hell was that about, anyway???”

 

3. A Case of Spring Fever

A Case of Spring Fever

This is basically It’s a Wonderful Life, except with springs instead of suicide attempts. A demonic sentient spring torments a man who wishes springs didn’t exist. This inspires so many questions. Like, Why? And, Who commissioned this? Why isn’t it over yet? Was there a time when people hated springs and wanted to ban them?

Why Is It Here?
This one is short, terrible, and so utterly inexplicable that I had to put it up near the top.

Counter-narrative
None. I think Mike and the Bot’s are in shock, actually…

Best Riffs

  • Servo: “I’ll show Coily – I’m gonna digitize everything!”
  • Crow: “Where does Coily fit into God’s plan for us?”
  • Crow: “Jam Handy reminds you to keep your preserves in a convenient place.”

2. A Date with Your Family

MSTDateFamily2

Ohhh this one. This is one of these great bullying 1950s shorts that wants to keep the divisions between genders and ages so rigid it verges on self-parody. For instance: “The women of the family seem to feel that they owe it to the men of the family to look relaxed, rested, and attractive at dinnertime.” And that’s just the opening salvo. “These boys treat their dad as though they are genuinely glad to see him.” The narrator hammers home the idea that dinnertime should be relaxing and “pleasant,” and the short’s use of passive voice, a badgering tone, and words like Father, Brother, and Junior rather than proper names all add to the sense that we’re being blamed for something.

Why Is It Here?
Mike and the ‘Bots tear into this one – pulling every thread of conformism, sexism, and the short’s mandate to keep up a front of bland pleasantries no matter what your emotional life looks like.

Counter-narrative
Mother and daughter are plotting to poison the men of the family, Father is desperately gritting his teeth through the ordeal of spending time with the family, brother and Junior feed off of each other in a parasitic ballet. It’s fucking great. Then, there’s the postman’s visits to mother…

Best Riffs

  • Mike: “Hey, I like my family as a friend!”
  • Mike (as younger son): “Father, I had a feeling today…”
    Servo (as Dad): “Well, don’t, son.”
  • Mike (as they sit down to eat): “Their stomachs, knotted like fists…”
  • Crow: “Emotions are for ethnic people.”
    Narrator: “Pleasant unemotional conversation helps digestion.”
    Servo: “I can’t stress ‘unemotional’ enough.”
  • Narrator: “With your own family you can relax. Be yourself. Just be sure it’s your best self.”
    Crow: “And be sure no one knows the real you.”

 

Finally, our Number One Supremo Mystery Science Theater 3000 short is….

1. Mr. B Natural

MST Mr. B Natural

The spirit of music visits a young nerd named Buzz and makes him cool by helping him join the school marching band….wait. Did that work? Even in the ’50s?

Why Is It Here?
This is the Manos of shorts – a notorious mix of cross-gender casting, nerdy white 1950s teens, and interpretive dance choreographed in Hell itself.

Counter-narrative
They’re too traumatized to create a full attack on this one, but the obvious one is that Mr. B is a force of evil at work in the world.

Best Riffs

  • All (chanting at Buzz): “Conform, conform conform….”
  • The best riffs in this one are often their incoherent screams of horror, and each of the Bots’ impressions of Buzz being terrified and calling for his mother.
  • Narrator: “The best instruments are uniform. Each instrument is exactly like every other of the same kind.”
    Servo: “Just like you and me!”
  • Joel (As Buzz, practicing): “Am I hip yet? When do the chicks start coming around?”

 

So, there you have it. A ridiculously comprehensive list for all of your MST3K Shorts needs. Remember, the spirit of music is inside all of us, stand up straight, don’t play chicken with an oncoming train (no matter how much it teases you), and above all: don’t ever turn you back on a coiled spring.

Leah Schnelbach hopes that you found this list pleasing. Come discuss weenie roasts with her on Twitter!

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