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Rewatch: Mystery Science Theater 3000

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.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 ran for an impressive 11 years. You can stream many episodes for free on ShoutFactoryTV, and you can probably find the rest on YouTube (after all, many episodes of the series ended with “keep circulating the tapes”).

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Nostalgia Review Video

Rewatch – Batman: The Animated Series

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.

Mark Hamill voiced The Joker, and quickly became a fan-favorite Joker for a whole generation, perhaps more. Arleen Sorkin voiced Harley Quinn, the series was actually the introduction for the now fan-favorite character. Michael Ansara voiced Mister Freeze, a haunting voice that I will always and forever read his character with. Adam West (yes, the 1960’s Batman), voiced The Gray Ghost, a television hero from Wayne’s childhood. These are just my favorites, but there are many more.

This clip is from the Mask of the Phantasm spin-off film, but it’s the best quality I could find with both Conroy and Hamill as their characters.

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.

Batman: The Animated Series had two spin-off films. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm hit theaters, and Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was direct-to-video. Both are definitely worth watching too. As for the show itself, you can stream Batman: The Animated Series on DC Universe, or buy the complete series on iTunes for $79.99. Batman: The Animated Series is a genre-defining success that still holds up to this day, and I hope you agree!

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Nostalgia Review Video

Rewatch: Generation X

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.

If you aren’t familiar with the Generation X comic series, you’d be forgiven for thinking this wasn’t part of the X-Men franchise, that is if you just missed the few incredibly short references to the Xavier School for Gifted Children. All of your fan-favorites are here! Banshee (Jeremy Ratchford), The White Queen (Finola Hughes), Jubilee (Heather McComb), Skin (Agustin Rodriguez), M (Amarilis), Mondo (Bumper Robinson), Buff (Suzanne Davis), Refrax (Randall Slavin), and Dr. Russell Tresh (Matt Frewer)! Not ringing any bells? Yeah, I understand. In fact, Buff and Refrax are totally new characters subbing for Husk and Chamber due to special effects budget concerns. The standout is of course Frewer as Dr. Tresh, as there is an incredible eccentricity to his portrayal that makes Jim Carrey’s Riddler look tame.

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 Ebert once 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.

Generation X is not a terrible TV film, it’s actually one of the more entertaining TV films I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking to fill an hour and a half of your time, get some friends together and watch it! You can watch Generation X via the YouTube video embedded above or download it from The Internet Archive.

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Nostalgia Review Video

Rewatch: Stargate Atlantis

Stargate Atlantis is technically the second spin-off of Stargate SG-1 (read the Rewatch review here). Stargate Infinity came first, but it’s not great and largely no longer considered canon, so I like to think of Atlantis as the first true spin-off.

The show premiered in 2004 during the 8th season of SG-1, so a lot of the universe’s ground work was already laid. They’re able to focus exclusively on the new worlds, technology, and cultures of the Pegasus Galaxy without getting bogged down with explaining previous Stargate lore. The show initially followed the team of Joe Flanigan as Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, David Hewlett as Doctor Rodney McKay, Rainbow Sun Francks as Lieutenant Aiden Ford, and Rachel Luttrell as local recruit Teyla Emmagan, all under the leadership of Torri Higginson as Doctor Elizabeth Weir. The series begins with the discovery of Atlantis in the far-away Pegasus Galaxy, and we very quickly and accidentally awaken the Wraith, the primary villain of the series, who literally feed on the humans. It’s time for our heroes to quickly get to work both exploring the galaxy and stopping the enemy they inspired, which when you put it that way, sounds a lot like SG-1, and that’s a very good thing 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).

And finally, in season 5, Tapping left the show and was replaced by Robert Picardo as Richard Woolsey. You may remember him as The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, and speaking of doctors, Jewel Staite as Doctor Jennifer Keller was upgraded to the main cast this season.

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 Atlantis ran for 5 seasons, and though it was canceled before it could be given the ending its creators intended, the ending it did receive wasn’t a cliffhanger and offered a lot of closure. Stargate Universe (read the Rewatch review here) followed in 2009 as the final spin-off of SG-1, and I’ll get around to reviewing it as soon as I’m done rewatching it. You can stream Stargate Atlantis on Hulu or buy the complete series on iTunes for just $49.99. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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Nostalgia Review Video

Rewatch: Stargate SG-1

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 Jaffa First 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.

Besides running for 10 seasons, Stargate SG-1 was followed by Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum, both straight-to-DVD films which wrapped up the show’s remaining plots. Two successful spin-offs followed the show, which I’ll get around to reviewing eventually. Stargate Atlantis (read the Rewatch review here) began in 2004 during Stargate SG-1’s 8th season, running for 5 seasons, and Stargate Universe (read the Rewatch review here) followed in 2009 for 2 seasons. 2002’s animated Stargate Infinity is loosely considered a spin-off and fun if you have kids to watch it with. 2018’s Stargate Origins completely ignores any continuity established by any of the television shows and is actually pretty terrible.

You can stream Stargate SG-1 for free on Amazon Video if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber or buy the complete series on iTunes for just $99.99. If you love military science fiction, if you love long-running and engaging characters, or even if you just love the original Stargate film, watch at least two episodes of Stargate SG-1, and I guarantee you’ll be sufficiently locked in for the rest of it.