MST3k Month: Who Riffs Short Shorts?
I will admit this was first inspired by the realization I had two extra days left to this month after all of the other planning. It dawned on me - several of the shorts featured on the show have become pretty famous in their own right, some even surpassing the movies they were attached to.
So, in coming up with ideas, I thought it could be fun to put together a list of five favorite MST3k shorts. What started as a pretty callous move for filler actually turned into a fun little piece to help wrap up the month in.
In further maintaining the brevity, I decided to have all five shorts fight it out to to the death to see who would get their picture featured. Coily put up a good fight, but underneath Mr. B's powder blue tunic beats the blackened, twisted heart of a killer.
Don't let that smile fool you otherwise.
Don't let that smile fool you otherwise.
Plus, I was up working the retail side of Black Friday this morning, who the Hell are you to judge me?!
...OK, got a little off course there.
As with the Mike & Joel lists, these will be posted in chronological order:
-Mr. B. Natural
Arguably the single most famous of the MST3k shorts, and for good reason - it's another case of when the show hits that great balance between a laughably ridiculous source and some brilliant riffs to play off it. In this case, care of a short put together by the well-intentioned people at C.G. Conn instruments. Wanting to make music appealing to kids (and, ya know, their instruments) they picked that time-honored marketing trick - the sexually ambiguous personification of what you want to sell. This time showing up to visit/guide/torment dumpy high school teenager Buzz. The entire premise lends itself to a lot of angles for Joel and the Bots (after Mr. B informs young Buzz that he awakened...let's go with him...Servo immediately responds "So I'm attracted to guys now?") Surprisingly, even with the bald-faced instrument hocking, they don't hit this angle up too much (the prize here being - Mr. B: "Well, sir--" Servo: "We duped 'em!") It's one of the most awkward and misfired attempts at turning kids on to music this side of Kidz Bop, albeit here being more mercifully short and considerably less tone-deaf. In short, it's just the right mix of unintentionally inept and 'pants full of unspeakable' madness that makes for great riffing.
-Circus On Ice
This short came at the front of the pretty infamous Monster a-Go-Go, which is an episode I tend to feel very mixed on overall. It has a few decent riffs, but the movie itself is just such a completely aimless, meandering mess that even Joel and the bots can only keep it afloat for just so long. Fortunately, this episode DID have this short attached to the front of it, which does make it somewhat more watchable. Further proving their ability to take almost everything Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank could throw at them, this saw Joel and the bots taking on a somewhat bizarre ice skating gala. Besides playing on he sheer number of ways ice skating in and of itself could go wrong ("Vomit sprays out in a beautiful technicolor dream!") this is a show with some downright bizarre acts in it. Between humans acting as beasts of burden ("Yes, it's dehumanized objectified circus on ice!") and a group of soldiers 'bravely' wiping out the last dragon in existence (the short's words, not mine) the guys get a lot to work with. But the prize-winner here goes to one skit involving a deer being hunted and killed. This is the kind of act that smacks of performance art and interpretive dance gone hideously awry, and Joel and the bots have a field day playing up just how wrong it gets ("Oh mom! I don't wanna watch the circus on ice anymore--" "Shut up and watch the deer get slaughtered!") It's one of those acts that time has just allowed us to appreciate the weirder elements of THAT much more, and the riffs making the weirdness even more enjoyable.
OK, so technically I'm cheating here. Watch me not care. This one's worth it. A short split over two episodes on the importance of the importance of how to properly sell a car - we start the first half off with salesman Jimmy, who is something of a pushover. One can't really blame Joel and the bots for unloading on Jimmy - he is a TERRIBLE salesman (when asked to compare his car to competition, he replies "I don't know about those things, I just know Chevrolet is better." ... Yeah...) If anything, they also do the guy a favor by playing him up with a fake criminal record ("AKA 'The Pantsless Salesman'?! or 'The Piddling Peddler?!'" Of course, the verbal abuse of his pathetic marketing is but a prelude to the craziness to come, when Jimmy's beleaguered manager decides to complain about the failings of his salesman. Dear old Dad suggests he may not be entirely devoid of blame either - which is a good point, and valid...if only it came from someone who didn't seem to be completely insane. The boss's father's behavior is the strongest source of humor for the riffs in this movie - between his swatting at unseen insects ("Gah! Flying elves are back!") and randomly putting a napkin on his head, the man completely steals the thunder on the rest of the short. The fact that Joel and the bots still make the rest as funny as that segment further speaks to the writers skills with riffing.
-Why Study Industrial Arts?
"You know, it's fun to have an idea." "There. Wasn't it fun?"
This line really helps set the tone for the at times bland, at times outright creepy film strip about...well...exactly what it says. Attached to the infamous movie The Skydivers, this short espoused the value of taking shop classes in high school.
...OK, virtues isn't necessarily the best term. Anyway, Mike and the bots got some fun material out of this one: much of the later half, which, in true educational film fashion, amounts to "and we owe it all to..." tries to really play up the importance of shop class to a growing young man's future, while the 50s aesthetic of the film leads to an extra surplus of communism jokes. Though probably the biggest laugh of this comes care of Mike and the bots taking on the start of the film strip. As the somewhat awkwardly voiced narrator describes the joy he gets from shop tools, Mike and the others sense his disturbing affinity for tools in true serial murder fashion. This leads to, at least for me, one of the biggest laughs of the short, as all three riffers take turns spinning a disturbing/fetishistic take on the narrator's unusual reverence for his shop tools. It's one of those nice reminders there, as humor styles go, the folk at Best Brains can handle dark quite well when the need calls for it.
-A Case of Spring Fever
This is the last short the show ever had, and from the second to last episode of the show's run. This holds a curious spot among the MST3k shorts in part because they'd been making jokes about this one even back during the Joel years, but it took them almost until the very end to finally feature the short. It's even more a surprise it took them this long to bring this episode into the crosshairs when one sees its concept: a doughy man, frustrated with his couch, decides to cuss out the springs, hoping to never see another again. Enter one of the most bizarre of cosmic entities to hear his complaint, and, well, as Mike puts it best: "So one clod says something and the whole world pays?" Follow this up with Coily, the aforementioned imp making it a point to repeatedly torment the doughy man, and Mike and the bots have a great springboard to play off of. Even after Coily eases off, and Doughy McPastyjowls becomes the poster child for spring advocacy to the point of exasperation, Mike and the bots mine new ground in both his zeal and his friends' annoyance.
It's an incredibly warped spin on the old educational film trope of "You'll learn to respect this thing if it just vanishes from existence!" and it made a great piece to help send the show off with.
One more piece to go tomorrow. This month's been a lot of fun, and it's gonna be a bit of a shame to see it end, but all good things must do so.
Plus, it's not like I won't have other things to write on soon enough as it is.
Join me tomorrow for the final chapter of this 25th anniversary celebration.