That's right, I'm back with more MST3K! I know, I know, I've been slacking on the blog but... stuff. It happens.
Anyway, we're going to do this way the same way as my previous MST3K post(s) -- this post will cover my overview of season 4 and the two subsequent posts will cover my favorite episodes from the season and why and my favorite host segments.
So... on with Season 4!
Really, I don't know where to begin... mostly because the creative team had reached a kind of plateau. The cast and crew were mostly stable (we'll get to the "mostly" in a minute) and they had been working together for such a long time that they operated like a well-oiled machine. They churned out 24 episodes which filled a two-hour programming block without a visible hitch and while not every episode might be a laugh riot there wasn't a clunker in the bunch this season and at their weakest they were still entertaining. They had reached a point of consistency that few shows could boast.
One area where improvement could be seen was with some of the tougher movies. The gang tackled some of the arguably worst bad movies. You see, bad movies can basically be broken down into two categories -- ones which are so ridiculously bad they are actually entertaining in their badness and ones which are so bad they are boring and/or incomprehensible. In season 4 the writing and riffing team handled some real snooze-fest films. Titles like Fire Maidens of Outer Space, Monster A-Go-Go, and the infamous Manos, the Hands of Fate just to name a few. In season 3 the gang had struggled with the more boring and/or incomprehensible films like Castle of Fu Manchu (where they used crying and complaining to try to cover the fact that they just failed to come up with some witty one-liners) and the two Master Ninja movies (using that word loosely) but in season 4 the worst of the worst are considered by many to be some of their best, most inspired, riffing jobs. Not only that but Manos had a strong showing despite coming at the end of the grueling season when the team had to have been feeling the burn-out.
One thing which probably helped defeat the burn-out was the addition of two regular writers for the series. Colleen Henjum and Mary Jo Pehl were added to the writing staff -- hence why I say the cast and crew were "mostly" stable.
There was only one departure this season -- that of Production Manager Alexandra "Alex" Carr. While Carr worked behind the scenes apparently she also had one role in front of the cameras... sort of...that of the uncredited "Magic Voice" -- the dulcet tones of the Satellite of Love's computer A.I... or something -- it was never properly explained WHAT Magic Voice was. Either way, with Carr's departure there was a change in Magic Voice's... uh... voice and fans of the show will recognize that Mary Jo Pehl took over the role -- still uncredited.
There wasn't a lot of innovation this season but we do see the gang say goodbye to the movie serial installments. For the first three seasons on cable the gang had often padded out their episode run times by pairing a shorter movie with either a film short or else an episode from a movie serial. With this season they did a couple of movie serials and experimented with a couple of episodes of a soap opera (General Hospital) to fill out episodes before finally and fully settling on the shorts from here on when they needed to pad out a run time.
While your actual miles may vary I found that the gang did seem to take a while to find their feet in season 4. While, as I said, none of the episodes are bad, the first three were just not extremely funny to me and it took until the fourth episode in before I felt like they really started getting inspired. Once they got past that point, though, they turned in some really terrific episodes.
The gang also had a really nice variety in their film choices this season. They balanced traditional sci-fi with some fantasy/myth movies and peppered in some wanna-be noir pieces, 'dangerous youth' films, and even a 'post-apocalyptic' style flick. It was a cornucopia of styles of bad filmmaking and it gave the season a nice diversity to keep the riffing fresh and different.
The one thing I didn't like and was quite happy to see go was the General Hospital experiment. The show's focus had always been on the "movie experience" so throwing in episodes of a TV series just felt wrong to me. In addition, it seemed like it was a little unfair picking on a soap opera. Movies tend to have long gestation periods and layers of people involved where one would think that someone, somewhere along the chain might say "You know what? This isn't very good" and fix the things that were going wrong -- doctor the script, get a new director, get new actors... something! A soap opera on the other hand, had to be written quickly and shot even faster since it went out on the air five days a week. Also, the very nature of soap operas are built on ideas of very little character development and mostly an illusion of change without there being much actual change. Soap operas also are completely built on the kind of overblown plots that the guys tended to make fun of in movies. And on top of all of that... I just didn't find the riffing that funny. It felt like the guys were always kind of struggling for inspiration with them and there were only a few gems of humor in the installments so I was glad to see them go.
So, in the final summation -- season 4 merely continued the same good work the gang had already been doing. Plenty of funny work and a relaxed ease that really shone through on camera. There are several points in the host segments where you can see things happen which were more than likely accidents or ad-libs but the gang has reached such a level of competency that they often take it and run with it -- incorporating the accident into the episode seamlessly.
Next up -- some of my favorite episodes... and why.