From: New York Times*

Date: July 12, 1991

Headline: Comic's Notebook

Subline: [] a New Cable Channel, Looking for a Laugh

Photo(s): Joel Hodgson, the host of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," with one of his heckling props. [Crow.]

Author: O'Connor, John J.

Page(s): [unknown]


While new to New York, "Mystery Science Theater 3000"--known to true fans as "M.S.T. 3000"--really took off last year on HBO's Comedy Channel. The star is 30-ish Joel Hodgson, whose skill as a "prop comic," creating odd objects for his act, won him frequent invitations in the mid-1980's to "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night with David Letterman." But disillusioned with the fast track, Mr. Hodgson returned to Minneapolis where, in partnership with Jim Mallon, former manager of a television station, he developed "M.S.T. 3000."

The idea is almost wickedly simple. In an outer space set that looks like a reject from an old Flash Gordon serial, Mr. Hodgson plays Joel, a laboratory technician shot into orbit by his nasty bosses, Dr. Clayton Forester [sic] (Trace Beaulieu) and Dr. Lawrence Ehrhardt (Josh Weinstein). Joel is condemned to watch, as the theme song explains, "cheesy movies, the worst ever made."

So each Saturday at 10 A.M. and 7 P.M., he and his hand-made robot pals, Tom Servo, Crow, Gypsy and Cambot (voices provided by Mr. Beaulieu and Mr. Weinsteain), sit in silhouette at the bottom-right corner of the screen and offer their running commentaries on some of the world's dopiest movies. The art of heckling never had it so good.

Tomorrow's main feature is "Time of the Apes," a Japanese production dubbed in English. The child stars have been renamed Johnny and Caroline. Opening with still shots of apes ("Hey," wonder our kibitzers, "who took these pictures, anyway? Diane Arbus?"), the movie wastes no time in getting to an earth tremor ("What was in the oatmeal?") presaging an earthquake that will leave the youngsters trapped in a cryogenics lab's freezing machine ("I hate these Minnesota winters").

They then wake up in a land run by apes and are forced to flee through forests ("Look up there: Ned Beatty!") and hide in caves ("Well, it's not much but it's close to the bus lines.") There are, of course, innumberable close calls ("Get back to the Ponderosa and tell Hoss we're in trouble.")

Meanwhile, around the commercial breaks, Joel and his friends return to the main set to play around with whatever tickles their decidedly odd fancy. One intermission tomorrow offers, in line with the apes motif, Joel's version of the famous Scopes trial.

"I'm your host, F. Lee Bailey," he announces in front of a life-size cardboard cutout of Judge Wapner. On his recommended reading list is "Welcome to the Monkey House" by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Touching every base from goofily adolescent to high-tech surreal, and outfitted cleverly with Mr. Hodgson's signature props, "M.S.T. 3000" is ingenious and often inspired television. And relatively, it's done for peanuts.