Mystery Science Theater 3000.
By now, geek culture is so thoroughly embedded in American pop culture that it's impossible to make a distinction. We live in a world dominated by Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and summers full of sophisticated cinematic takes on comic books.
It wasn't always this way. Even in the early post-Star Wars era, there was something a little disreputable about knowledge of Ewoks, hobbits or Dungeons and Dragons. Then Mystery Science Theater 3000 came along.
The concept was straight out of your pimply brother's basement: A guy and two of his buddies (in this case, robots) sit and make incessant fun of bad movies. Many of MST3K's jokes were broad and easy to get. A few of them were for Minnesotans only--the show was produced in Minneapolis. But a whole lot of them entailed a certain level of geekery--as, perhaps, did the idea of sitting around watching robots crack jokes about I Was a Teenage Werewolf for two hours.
Pop culture started to change after MST3K's debut in 1988. Think: Would Quentin Tarantino have a career if MST3K hadn't already established that you could take junk culture and turn it into brainy entertainment? Probably, but MST3K got there first.
Now comes Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition, a four-DVD box set, to remind us of two things: that the show was influential, and that it was damn funny. Four episodes are included, with riffs on dreck like First Spaceship on Venus and Werewolf, but it's disappointing to see that classics featuring Manos: The Hands of Fate and the legendary Joe Don Baker clunker Mitchell have been excluded from the collection. We don't get the best of the worst here, and that's too bad.
But there is a three-part documentary featuring the recollections of MST3K cast members and fans, as well as video from the cast's panel discussion at ComicCon. And let's face it: Even a lesser episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is still funnier than 90 percent of what's on TV today. Geeks rule.
In Memoriam: David Brenner