There are two types of people in the world: those who love Mystery Science Theater 3000, and those who have never seen it. If you’re in that latter group, it’s time to change that.
MST3K was a TV series of bad films, featuring colorful commentary during the films to elevate and transform them into something far better. The series followed an unfortunate human, initially Joel Hodgson as Joel Robinson and later Michael J. Nelson as Mike Nelson, paired with two cranky robots, Crow T. Robot (voiced by Trace Beaulieu, then J. Elvis Weinstein, and finally Bill Corbett) and Tom Servo (voiced by J. Elvis Weinstein and later Kevin Murphy). The three are trapped on a research satellite where they are forced to watch bad films in order to find the one that will eventually drive them insane, you know, research. To break up the film, there are small low-budget interludes often featuring the characters discussing the film, their predicament, or doing something inspired by the film, and there are also interludes featuring their tormentors (a rotating cast of hilarious folks throughout the series).
The series premiered in 1988 on a low-budget local Minneapolis TV station, but quickly made the jump to Comedy Central and later Syfy. The series later saw a revival on Netflix, but since that started in 2017, I’m only focussing on the classic seasons here.
If you have never seen MST3K before, I strongly recommend starting with Space Mutiny. I think it features the best balance of a watchable film and great commentary.
If you need just one more to convince you, check out The Pumaman, which is just an odd film, so very odd.
MST3K has an impressive legacy, with many homages and spinoffs. If you somehow make it through all of the episodes, I recommend checking out RiffTrax next, or just check it out now anyway. It’s a still-active spinoff features Nelson, Corbett, and Murphy, and it’s just as great as MST3K.
Of course the first animated series I review here is going to be Batman: The Animated Series, a 1992 children’s animated series that has aged incredibly well. There series is dark, artistic, thematically dense, and unlike anything on children’s television at the time. Collecting numerous awards and nominations throughout its run, Batman: The Animated Series redefined Batman and many other characters for generations.
Kevin Conroy voiced Batman and Bruce Wayne, and started the trend of considering Bruce Wayne as a mask that Batman wore, rather than the other way around. Wayne had a high-pitched and jovial voice, while Batman had a lower pitched rough voice. When alone (or amongst trusted friends) in Wayne Manor or the Batcave, you heard Batman’s voice, whether he was in costume or not. Bruce Wayne’s voice only came out in public when he was out of costume or on the phone as Bruce Wayne. He was Batman, and Bruce Wayne was simply a disguise that he wore for the public.
Most of the episodes are self-contained, there are a few two-parters, and one or two that reference previous episodes, but it’s generally safe to start at any point and skip around. I recommend starting with the show’s third episode and introduction of Mister Freeze, Heart of Ice. If you’re still wondering how you’d enjoy a children’s show, this is the episode that will change your mind.
Well, this is an odd one. Generation X wasn’t exactly a TV series, but it was supposed to be one. Instead, it’s a failed TV pilot episode re-packaged as a TV film. As far as I can tell, it aired only once on February 20, 1996, and it was never released on home video. Perhaps most notably, it’s the first live action attempt for the X-Men franchise, predating the first live action X-Men film by 4 years and the first live action X-Men TV series by 11 years.
Despite a cast of mostly industry unknowns, there are actually no bad actors in this TV film, just bad choices. To name just one, there are so many Dutch angles that I wondered if the production could only afford a broken tripod. I’m not sure what director Jack Sholder’s goal was here, but if he wanted to disorient the audience for almost the entire TV film, it worked! Roger Ebertonce said of Battlefield Earth, “The director, Roger Christian, has learned from better films that directors sometimes tilt their cameras, but he has not learned why.” I’m getting the same feeling here.
Like SG-1, the cast is great. Also like SG-1, there were some notable cast changes during the entire 5-season run. In season 2, Francks’s character is essentially replaced by Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex (though you may know him as Aquaman these days), and in season 4, Higginson’s character is essentially replaced by Amanda Tapping as Colonel Samantha Carter (who transitioned over from SG-1 when the series ended).
Compared to SG-1, the villains don’t feel as developed. You’ve got the Wraith, they’re basically vampires who routinely conquer the galaxy by feeding on most of the humans, slumber for decades, and do it all over again. They’re bad because that’s bad. They aren’t pretending to be a variety of established gods from our past, like the Goa’uld, they just feed on humans and we obviously don’t like that. You’ve got your re-imagined Replicators, in which they actually have a more believable origin story, but not much else. You’ve got your evil Asgard, who only show up for two episodes. And, finally, you’ve got your variety box of bad humans doing bad things.
Despite those shortcomings though, there are some fascinating individual villains, in particular Christopher Heyerdahl as Todd the Wraith, who forms an often tenuous alliance with Atlantis when the Wraith hives start fighting each other over their food supply. Wraith fighting Wraith is definitely advantageous for both sides, but they always know where they really stand with each other, and Todd has a solid wit when it comes to calling our heroes’ bluffs. Every episode with Todd guarantees plenty of delightful dialogue sparring. And it’s always fun when Robert Davi shows up as Commander Acastus Kolya, a mostly one-note character, but one who is played with a captivating singular conviction.
As I mentioned earlier, the cast is great, but a few really stand out. Hewlett really shines as McKay, and has the most character growth throwout the series, along with some impressive solo episodes. He grows from a cowardly, selfish, know-it-all scientist; to a cowardly, selfish, know-it-all scientist who is happy to return fire with the enemy and take charge of rescuing his team. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but if you were to watch the first and last episodes back to back, it’s quite a range given how Hewlett handles the character. Picardo shines if only for one brief season as Woolsey. He started in SG-1 as a paper-pushing policy-enforcing overseer, but once he’s actually put in charge of Atlantis, he begins to learn that policies don’t have all the answers. His growth is similarly subtle, but Picardo again puts some impressive range into it. And last, but not least, David Nykl as Radek Zelenka. Zelenka is often paired with McKay as his top subordinate, perhaps equal, perhaps even his better. He’s not part of the main cast, but he almost always manages to save the day when he’s around, and he presents a delightfully humble balance to McKay.
Stargate SG-1 is the best and most balanced series to have ever aired on television. Ok, so some of you who have followed me for a very long time are thinking, “He’s making the same mistake he did on Splash Panel, reviewing the best too early on!” and you’re right. I guess I just find it hard to move forward with my mind constantly drafting the review of my favorite, so it’s time to get this out there.
Beginning in 1997, Stargate SG-1 was more or less a sequel to 1994’s original Stargate film. There are some notable small differences for whatever reason, but the point is, if you’re a fan of the original movie, there’s no reason you wouldn’t be a fan of this series too. It expanded the mythos, characters, and the overall Stargate universe for 10 whole seasons, 2 straight-to-DVD films, and 2 successful spin-offs. If you were sad that there was never a film sequel to Stargate, this is far better than you could have ever hoped for.
The series follows Colonel Jack O’Neill and Doctor Daniel Jackson from the original film, joined by new characters Captain Samantha Carter and Teal’c. The series kicks off quickly when we learn that Ra of the original film was not the only alien posing as a god in our galaxy. In fact, his entire race, the Goa’uld, make quite the habit of it. Stargate Command quickly assembles several SG teams to both explore our galaxy’s vast Stargate network, and to take down these false gods whenever they can. Our main cast makes up SG-1, in particular Teal’c joins during the first episode. Cementing the show’s premise, he’s a former JaffaFirst Prime of Apophis (like a second-in-command), who turns on his master when he realizes that SG-1 may be the first who can convince everyone that the Goa’uld who have dominated the galaxy are nothing more than false gods.
The cast takes about a season to really mesh together, but that may very well be a story element too, as Carter and Teal’c really haven’t worked with O’Neill and Jackson before, and O’Neill and Jackson weren’t exactly the best of friends either. There really isn’t one stand-out actor here, Richard Dean Anderson as O’Neill, Michael Shanks as Jackson, Amanda Tapping as Carter, and Christopher Judge as Teal’c are all outstanding and bring constantly believable depth and emotion to their characters.
Where Stargate SG-1 shines for all 10 seasons is its balance, and I really have never seen a show balanced this well since. It manages to maintain long over-arching plots with constantly returning enemies (Cliff Simon as Ba’al is a personal favorite) alongside fun stand-alone episodes with relative ease, and much of that is due to the engaging characters. Like a good book series, you aren’t watching the next episode based on its synopsis, you’re watching to see what these characters do next. The world that the Stargate film crafted seemingly never stops growing, and you will easily find yourself watching all of it. There is no “best episode” in this case, it’s simply a wonderfully engaging experience.
As with any long-running series, there are cast changes, but surprisingly not many for a series of this length. Shanks left the show after season 5, replaced by Corin Nemic as Jonas Quinn, who was then replaced by Shanks when he returned in season 7.
Anderson retired after season 9, replaced by Ben Browder as Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell for the final season. And if you thought Browder wasn’t enough to bring back the Farscape nostalgia, don’t worry, Claudia Black also joins the team in the final season as maybe-reformed and possibly ex-thief Vala Mal Doran. The incredibly low cast turnover really helps you engage with the characters for the entire length of the series.