Follow TV Tropes


Series / Mystery Science Theater 3000

Go To
We have Movie Sign the likes of which even God has never seen.

TURN DOWN YOUR LIGHTS (where applicable)

Your experiment today is to Describe Mystery Science Theater 3000 Here.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) is a weekly television series showcasing some of the most mockable films ever made. Over the course of two hours, a man and two robots will sit through the entire film (although usually edited), cracking wise from silhouettes on the bottom righthand side of the screen, occasionally breaking for skits, analysis, and assorted nuttery. Originally running from 1988 to 1999, the series was seemingly ended for good after a year on Minneapolis local television, seven years on Comedy Central, and three years on the Sci-Fi Channel. A Kickstarter and Shout! Factory-backed revival began on Netflix in 2017 and continued in 2018. Netflix declined to renew the show in 2019 but creator/executive producer Joel Hodgson has vowed to shop the series around elsewhere. A feature film was made in 1996, and Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic was published by Dark Horse Comics starting in 2018.


From 1988 to 1993, the series "host" was Joel Robinson, an eccentric, mellow inventor. Shot into space by his superiors at the Gizmonic Institute and forced to reside in the bone-shaped Satellite of Love, the goal was to use the bad movies to drive Joel insane, a fate he averted by building robotic companions Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, to help him make fun of the films. When Joel escaped in 1993, he was replaced by a temp named Mike Nelson, a more active, alert, but perhaps thicker man. For the 2017 relaunch, the host is Jonah Heston, another Gizmonic employee (which is to say, another Cloud Cuckoolander genius) who got suckered into the experiment by means of a fake distress call.


As the victims of the movies came and went, so did the people inflicting that torture. At the show's start, the mad scientists (or “mads”) were the bombastic, sadistic Dr. Clayton Forrester and his dorky sidekick Dr. Larry Erhardt. After the first Comedy Central season, Erhardt was replaced by “TV's” Frank, an eccentric space cadet. Frank, and Clayton a season later, were replaced by Clayton's mother Dr. Pearl Forrester, whose reign as the show's lead villain in the three seasons on Sci-Fi Channel brought with it a thick-witted ape sidekick named Professor Bobo and a wannabe-enigmatic alien called Observer. For the relaunch, Pearl passes the torch to her granddaughter Kinga, as well as a TV's Son of TV's Frank, aka Max.

Though it became a cult classic and middling success, the show is notable for staying close to its low-budget roots—all of its effects are practical, the sets tend to be assembled out of random nonsense, and the 'bots themselves are puppets. The actors were almost universally cast out of the writing pool, spent a lot of time Acting for Two, and tended to be The Danza when possible—see the character sheet for details.

The series' philosophy of "Keep Circulating the Tapes" (a phrase found in the end credits for several years) led to much of the show being easily found online; the show's creators encourage tape trading and file sharing, as the nature of film licensing would make many episodes otherwise unavailable.

During the show's time off the air, its alumni debuted similar projects. RiffTrax is the big one, a downloadable-commentary service which has been around since 2006 and since expanded into live shows. Also notable are The Film Crew, Cinematic Titanic and live touring show The Mads.

The series has also inspired a lot of loving imitators, such as Theater Mode and Incognito Cinema Warriors XP (which turn the focus to schlock and exploitation), Unskippable and Retsupurae (for video games), and a subgenre of fanfiction called MSTing — all of which heroically attempt to remain faithful to the original show's guiding principle of turning bad art into good comedy.

The films shown on MST3K embody nearly every trope, cliché, and hackneyed plot device ever invented — which the crew of the Satellite of Love mercilessly call out. (For details of the episodes themselves, check out the Episode Recaps.)

Episodes can be found on various streaming services, including YouTube, Vimeo, Shout Factory TV, Twitch and Pluto TV. A few episodes were broadcast on select PBS stations through American Public Television.


    open/close all folders 

  • Absentee Actor: There were some Season 0 episodes where Joel and Trace couldn't appear, so their absences had to be explained In-Universe (Dr. F going on vacation, Crow being dismantled/used as a Christmas tree, and Joel being locked outside the ship).
    • One season 9 episode had Pearl on vacation and hired a babysitter as her replacement. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Acceptable Break from Reality: Lampshaded in the theme song:
    If you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts
    Then repeat to yourself, it's just a show, I should really just relax
  • Accidental Misnaming:
    • A Running Gag on the show is the riffers mishearing characters' names and giving them similar-sounding nicknames, like "Cornjob" (Kon-chan) from Gamera vs. Guiron and "Big Stupid" (Bix Dugan) from The Girl in Lover's Lane.
    • Very often, early in Mike's tenure and sporadically throughout the rest... Mike was variously called "Mitch", "Mark", "Matt", "Nelstone", "Neilsen", "Nelgert", etc. Often overlapping with "The Nicknamer" trope.
      • Taken Up to Eleven at the start of the 8th season, as Crow had apparently forgotten Mike was part of the SOL, and thus called him pretty much whatever he wanted.
    • Also, TV's Frank would regularly refer to Dr. Forrester as "Steve" despite his name being Clayton.
    • Pearl often called Crow "Art", a Call-Back to a child's letter sent to the show which misinterpreted a Honeymooners homage with Crow taking the Art Carney role as Crow's real name.
  • Actor Allusion: Lots of them, if an actor is most famous for another role, like Alan Hale or Russell Johnson. And every time Peter Graves shows up, you can expect a host of Biography jokes, and at least one Mission: Impossible reference.
    • And because Peter Graves showed up in so many MST'ed movies, another gag was referencing his role in the last film they saw him in.
    • The writers were quite proud of themselves for limiting themselves to only two Brady Bunch refs in one film co-starring Robert Reed.
    • Almost any time Dick Sargent shows up onscreen in Parts: The Clonus Horror, our hosts feel the need to comment on his trope-naming role as The Other Darrin on Bewitched.
    • They also did this for actors who weren't famous, for example the "Coffee? I like coffee" guy from Coleman Francis films (Eric Tomlin), or Depressing Dad (Malcolm Atterbury) who showed up in several unrelated episodes, and yet somehow always played a really depressing dad.
    • Possibly reached its zenith when they noticed an actor named Merritt Stone had showed up in several of the films they'd done, but no one was sure who he actually was. So the big running gag of The Rebel Set is Joel and Crow giving the name to the train conductor (actually played by Gene Roth, who was another recurring actor), to which Tom keeps shouting "HE'S NOT MERRITT STONE!"
    • Averted completely when no one at all noticed that Space Mutiny's spaceship was the Battlestar Galactica flying backwards.
    • In the revival, Kinga Forrester singing a romantic duet with Neil Patrick Harris is one to her role in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.
      • Neil Patrick Harris' character, Neville Laroy, is a magician, which is also a passion of Harris' that has come up in some of his other roles.
    • You could say P.T. Mindslap has a lot of experience both in space and with circuses.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
  • Ad Bumpers: They used several.
    • A shot of the MST3K moon logo, spinning in space, is probably their most famous. It debuted in the Joel era, and was the only bumper ever used in the Sci-Fi channel seasons.
    • The Joel era would also use exterior shots of the Gizmonic Institute (a model, of course). As references to Gizmonic were dropped after Joel's departure, interior shots of Forrester's lab were used during the Mike era on Comedy Central–often with the episode number and movie title written somewhere (notebook, chalkboard, etc.). For Episodes 705 and 706, a new bumper of the Satellite of Love floating over Earth was used instead.
    • invoked The bumpers persist in the Netflix revival — even though they aren't strictly necessary, because there aren't any ads. (Word of Joel is that Kinga stuck in the bumpers anyway to build up brand recognition.) These include a shot of the updated moon logo, then a TV screen with the skeleton band performing behind it. With voiceovers from Max to either summarize the film so far, or gives snippets of world-building exposition.
  • The Adjectival Superhero: Mocked endlessly.
    • During the Joel era, he and the bots came up with ludicrous superheroes for The Fantastic 85, with such characters as "Lint-Attachment Man", "Jazz Trio Man", "Really Deep Man" ("He's really deep, man!") and "Always-Smells-Like-Maple Man".
      Crow: Oh, I got one! He's called "Man Man". He's bestowed with all the powers of a man... but he's a man.
    • During the Mike era, Crow (inspired by dialogue from Riding With Death) declared himself Turkey Volume Guessing Man. He had the power to guess the volume of any enclosed space, in units of turkeys.
    • A Running Gag during Puma Man, although Crow acknowledged Vadinho as the real one.
      • During one host segment, the bots declared Mike to be Coatimundi Man, though this was likely an Excuse Plot to get the cold sesame noodles before Mike could. In a rare example, Mike shrugged off the costume and went for the cold sesame noodles.
    • From The Movie: "East Man, he came out of the East to do battle with The Amazing Rando!"
      • Also; "This looks like a job for Weenie Man! Weenie Man away!"
  • Advertised Extra: M. Waverly in season 11. Joel included him in several teasers for the Kickstarter backers, leading fans to think he'd be a new recurring character. Imagine their surprise when M. Waverly only showed up in one episode, for a single host segment. And died at the end of it. Guess we won't be seeing him again... wait, never mind, he came back in Season 12.
  • Affably Evil: TV's Frank sort of straddled the line between this and Minion with an F in Evil, as did Dr. Erhardt. Bobo and Brain Guy could also be fairly sociable when Pearl wasn't around.
    • During the "Happy Thoughts" song in the Tormented (1960) episode, we cut to Frank making chalk drawings on the floor of Deep 13 and fantasizing in a childlike singsong voice about Dr. F's demise in a trainyard-switching accident:
      Frank: ...and then the robots and I will become really good friends and we'll be roommates with triple bunk beds and we will stay up all night talking about really cool stuff and they'll think I'm really neat and then I'll invite them over to my house and we'll camp out and...
    • Lost Continent even had Frank gleefully telling Joel and the Bots, ""You. Are all. Going. To DIE!"
    • Even the Forresters were capable of engaging in friendly banter with Joel/Mike and the 'Bots when the mood struck them. Notably, it's also revealed in the Hamlet episode that Pearl apparently forwards mail to Mike so he can keep in touch with his family.
    • Max, not unlike his father was to Joel, is pretty friendly to Jonah and the bots with the exception of the time he unleashed a killer robot on Jonah out of jealously.
  • A.I. Getting High: In Future War, Pearl actually tests the effects of drugs on Tom Servo and Crow by feeding them hallucinogen-laced vegetables. Servo sees a freaky nightmare, but maintains that's how he always sees the world. Crow sees Mike's candy bar change brands right in front of his eyes, and freaks out at this, but is otherwise unaffected. He then sees Mike as a clown and starts laughing at him.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Mostly averted with Joel's creations... but played straight when Mike tries to build his own 'bot.
    • While they never tried to kill Mike, Crow and Tom often openly admitted to destroying his most prized possessions. Joel specifically programmed the 'bots to give him a hard time, in order to keep him from going crazy due to isolation and repeated exposure to bad movies. It makes sense that they'd carry this protocol over to Mike to protect him as well.
    • As with Mike, the bots razz Jonah and don't respect his property, but do their job keeping him sane. Their non-lethalness does not extend to the robots Jonah tries to make though, who are almost all instantly destroyed by Crow and Servo out of jealousy. Jonah then reveals that he builds fake bots to exploit Crow and Servo's jealousy because violent outbursts keep their hardware functional.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • While Pearl doesn't actually die in the final episode, it's hard not to feel sorry for her as she's forced to watch her life's work — and her son's — crumbling around her.
      Pearl: [last line] Look, Nelson. Move on. I am.
    • Joel and the Bots had this feeling in Warrior of the Lost World after cheering on Megaweapon to kill the film's protagonist when the noble machine was destroyed. To their delight, he turned out to have survived and had a nice conversation with them over the telephone.
  • All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles: The crew's general mindset of it, referenced for the sake of comedy especially when watching anything Japanese made. Makes sense, given that anime was a fairly new concept back then and the stereotypes were ripe for the picking. Except that the mindset carries over to RiffTrax.
    • Though with RiffTrax, they tend to specify Hentai as the whole naughty tentacles genre, not just Anime.
    • Averted in The Return with Jonah making references to mainstream animes such as Sailor Moon.
  • All Men Are Perverts:
    • Mostly Crow, who will start complimenting the film when a female is undressing, like in Terror from the Year 5000.
      Crow: Movie's getting better, movie's getting better. The cinematography has improved... significantly.
    • Averted with Mike, who instead notices random things when a nude female is on-screen, like in Village of the Giants where he points out the stairs and curtains in the background when the women start growing out of their clothes.
      • And then there's this almost identical exchange from Diabolik, as a woman in an incredibly short miniskirt goes up a flight of steps.
        Mike: Wow. Dangerously steep stairs.
        Tom: You're looking at the stairs? Oh, Mike...
  • All There in the Manual:
    • The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, which covers the first six seasons in extreme detail and gives a basic synopsis of the KTMA season and what a viewer at the time could expect from season seven. The KTMA season and seasons 7 would later be given more detail at, and the Sci Fi website covered seasons 8-10. (The Sci Fi pages are now defunct, but available amongst the archives of Satellite News.)
    • Although it's never been stated onscreen, Joel has stated in interviews that the invention exchange is actually a customary greeting among members of Gizmonic Institute, who are all expected to be working on their own projects in addition to their regular duties (even janitors like Joel). This fact can be used to explain why the practice eventually ceased during Mike's tenure, since he was only temping at the Institute when the Mads kidnapped him, but came back during Jonah's, since he is a full-fledged Gizmocrat.
    • The annotations on the official YouTube videos explain all of the cultural references.
  • Always Second Best: The show garnered an impressive number of award nominations, but lost every single time. Winning the ultra-prestigious Peabody Award helped make up for it, though.
    • In-Universe, Forrester was this to Joel, which was why Dr. F chose him as his test subject.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Played situationally and, naturally, for laughs with the majority of the male cast.
    • MST3K showed one of the first gay marriages on TV (between Crow and Servo), and got away with it because it involved robot puppets in Racket Girls. It also helped that the wedding descended into chaos before the "I Do". For what it's worth, Servo looks fetching in a wedding dress.
    • Observer, who isn't shy about it.
      Observer: [on Fortinbras] He made me look butch.
    • And MAYBE Mike Nelson (the character), himself...a guy who admitted to kissing (presumably male) surly truck farmers, turns into a sputtering boob around women and who never notices when real hot scantly-clad are being sexy on screen (commenting on stuff like stairs instead).
  • Amusing Alien: They come across dozens throughout the show's run; most of which are characters from the film they're currently watching.
  • And Now For Something Completely Different:
    • In Quest of the Delta Knights, Pearl gives Mike a mental and physical evaluation, and Mike's perfectly healthy on both fronts. Incensed at not being able to break him, Pearl decides to analyze the situation in person, so she has Brain Guy make her and Mike switch places. A full third of the episode is Pearl doing the riffing with the 'bots. And yes, it's completely awesome.
    • It also happened in Last of the Wild Horses with Mike and the 'bots switching places with Forrester and Frank when an accident sends the SOL into a Mirror Universe.
    • And how about Hercules and the Captive Woman, the only time that Gypsy joined in the riffing? She got one riff in but was so disgusted by the film's terrible quality that she left after a few minutes.
      • Gypsy had been in the theater before in the KTMA theme song, The Green Slime, Untamed Youth, Wild Rebels and her voice can be heard in Soultaker.
      • In the revival, Gypsy now pops into the theater roughly twice per episode to crack a joke.
    • In Time Chasers, Crow goes back in time to prevent Mike from ending up on the Satellite of Love. The present day ends up having Mike's much meaner brother Eddie be the human on the ship instead for about 20 minutes, until Crow goes back and undoes his previous work.
    • In Devil Doll, Servo, inspired by the film's soul-swapping, asks the devil to turn him into a hot, delicious toaster pastry. It's done...and he spends the last quarter of the film riffing in toaster pastry form. Which makes for a rather hilarious silhouette.
    • Almost happened with Brain Guy as well, in Jack Frost. Mike almost tricked Brain Guy into switching places with him for the movie, but Brain Guy realized the trick and switched back just before the film actually started. This is most likely because the actor who plays Brain Guy also does the voice for Crow T. Robot. Having him riff on the film twice as two different characters would have been somewhat redundant.
    • In High School Big Shot, the Mads send the guys a home chemistry set, Crow makes a formula that turns Tom Servo into a giant angry version of himself. He spends the first couple of minutes of the episode as a giant silhouette of himself talking in Hulk Speak.
    • Prince of Space is watched while the crew flies through a wormhole. At one point, Mike becomes a puppet and stays that way for a long stretch of the film.
    • There was one episode where Crow's Evil Twin Timmy crept into the theater, started attacking Servo, then dragged him out of the theater and cocooned him on the bridge, a la Alien.
    • In the special Mystery Science Theater Blockbuster Review, where they riffed on trailers for new releases that summer (Men in Black, Contact, Batman & Robin, etc.) Bobo, Brain Guy and Pearl all joined in on the fun.
    • Giant Servo made a second appearance in the theater during Future War to scare the hell out of Mike and the others.
    • A demon dog pops up and scares Joel, Tom and Crow right at the end of The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy.
    • Cambot, despite being the only character to appear in every single episode, makes his one and only riff in The Sidehackers. During one of the racing scenes, Cambot displays an ESPN-esque scorecard.
      Cambot Score Card: Joel And The Bots: 1. The Mads: 0.
      Joel: Nice effect, Cambot.
      Cambot Score Card: Boredom: 9. Movie: 1.
  • Animal Sweet on Object: A variation occurs in an early episode, where robot Tom Servo flirts with a blender.
  • Animated Adaptation: In 2007, an official Web Animation surfaced online that followed the adventures of Servo, Crow and Gypsy. It was universally panned and shortly thereafter it was discontinued. Now, let's never speak of it again.
  • The Anticipator: Parodied in Bloodlust; in said film, Dr. Balleau knows that the heroes are hiding in his lair, and begins doing an evil speech as he slowly turns on light switches to reveal them. Mike and the Bots joke that he actually gives this speech tons of times of day, just on the off chance that someone actually IS hiding there.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In Gamera vs. Guiron, the children keep talking about a civilized world without war, murder or traffic accidents. It ends up being a Brick Joke in the Series Finale.
  • The Artifact: The Invention Exchanges sorta became this once Joel left. They were originally a way for Joel to show off props from his magic show. They were eventually phased out.
    • The Invention Exchange returns for the revival, but of course, this is because Joel is again involved.
  • Art Evolution: The doors to the theater sequence has been refined since the KTMA seasons, and completely re-done for the Revival to fit a more "modern" sci-fi aesthetic (with similar gimmicks stored within)
  • Artistic License – Sports:
    • In the opening host segment for The Wild World of Batwoman, Mike is trying to teach the Bots Blackjack. Crow "hits" on two decks' worth of cards, all without even looking at his cards. Even though, under some rules, you can go as high as eight hits (which is the most you can possibly draw without going over 21note ), the standard rule is three (a "5-Card Charlie" is holding five cards without busting, counting as an automatic win for the player).
    • In the opening for Red Zone Cuba, Mike and the Bots are playing "high stakes" bingo and Magic Voice calls out "B-37". On standard Bingo cards, B holds numbers 1-15. 37 would be under "N".
  • Artsy Beret: In I Accuse My Parents, Crow wears one while painting Servo to look "naked".
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The SOL gang reached the edge of the universe and became pure energy in the seventh season finale, when the show's run on Comedy Central ended. Luckily, this didn't last long.
  • Ascended Extra: Pearl started out as a recurring extra character pre-season 7, then evolved into co-Big Bad alongside her son in season 7, and eventually became the show's main Big Bad from season 8 onwards.
  • Ascended Meme: The Netflix series acknowledged the Mondegreen in universe.
    But the cowboy didn't like him, so he shot him in the fa-a-ace!
  • As Himself: Cambot is credited this way for the first few seasons.
  • Asian Cleaver Fever: One skit in Mystery Science Theater 3000 shows Mike having a Flashback to his days as a teppanyaki chef. He cuts Crow's hand off whilst swinging knives around.
    Servo: Mike's dangerous enough just wielding that big, clunky body of his!
  • Asleep for Days: In The Movie, Crow jokes that the departure of Cal Meachum prompts Joe to sleep off his depression: "I'm gonna curl up in his sock drawer and sleep for days.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • It's hard to feel bad when we learn that Forrester was murdered by his mother between seasons 7 and 8.
    • Averted with Pearl. Her Villainous Breakdown brought much sympathy from fans.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Crow and Servo both have their moments, but the 'evil mirror universe' Servo who appeared in Last of the Wild Horses probably takes the cake:
    Evil Servo: I'll have you killed! And then tortured! And then - ooh look, a cowboy movie!
  • Audience Murmurs: In early seasons, Joel and the bots will simulate crowd noise by muttering "rhubarb rhubarb" - however, it's always an appropriate type of rhubarb, e.g. "journalist rhubarb" or "military rhubarb." And in Japanese films, instead of "rhubarb rhubarb", one often catches them muttering "wasabi, bok choy, seaweed".
  • Audience Participation: When the Sci-Fi Channel picked up the show in 1997, the channel ran a promotional special where the viewers were invited to submit riffs of their own to the film World Without End. There was enough material submitted that two versions aired: one at 4PM an one at 11 PM.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Kinga invented a liquid medium for audio-video transmission. But the camera includes a ten-gallon tank you have to carry on your back. And some issues with the medium prevented Kinga from actually recording the show's opening theme, so the characters have to perform the theme song all over again, every single episode.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: In Space Mutiny, they invent about a zillion impressive Awesome McCoolnames: Big McLargehuge, Smoke Manmuscle, Butch Deadlift, Dirk Hardpec, Punch Sideiron...
    • Final Sacrifice actually had one in the film itself: Zap Rowsdower.
  • Badass Bystander
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: In one episode, Mike, taking advantage of Pearl's weakness, challenges her to a Shell Game with the stakes being Mike's choice of any film he wants or two of Pearl's choice. Mike wins and ends up picking Hamlet—and oh, boy, does he get Hamlet.
  • Becoming the Mask:
    • During the Sci-Fi era, Crow had a tendency to dress up as a person/monster from the film in question and insist to Mike and Tom that he really was that character.
    • Crow does this a lot (such as being dressed as a Bellarian):
      Crow: Okay, okay okay. Ask me if I'm a Bellarian, point-blank.
      Mike: Are you a Bellarian?
      Crow: No. —Damn! I'm not! Tsch! What am I then? Am I just some kind of a gauzy fruitcake? Am I just some kind of a gullible freak, who-who allows the core of his own being to be blown to the four winds? I mean... well, I guess so, then. Well, that's what I am then. A gullible freak. Good! Good. Huh. W-Wait, what am I again?
    • Or during Jack Frost, after Crow dresses as a bear claiming the Mushroom Guy did it.
      Mike: Are you sure you didn't just hot glue fur to yourself?
      Crow: Yeah, I wish!
      Servo: MIKE! HELP! Crow ate half of me then buried me in the dirt!
      Crow: Mmm. Not bad.
      Mike: Crow, what is wrong with you?
      Crow: I told you, Mike, I'm a bear.
      Mike: Now haven't we talked about this 100 times — about you taking your bear simulations to the extreme?
      Crow: Yeah.
      Mike: And what are you doing?
      Crow: Taking my bear simulations to the extreme?
      Mike: Yeah. There. Do you see a connection?
      Crow: Um... no, I don't, Mike.
    • Tom isn't immune to this, either, and exacts revenge in a different episode, Prince of Space.
      Crow: We were playing dog and bear, you know, and Servo was chasing me and I ran panicked over logs and through streams, you know, maddened with primal terror, you know, and I turned and raked my deadly claws against his howling snout, you know, and I rose to my hind feet, towering, and still bellowing he came, and I mewled and spewed gore from my wounds and snot from my flaring wild maw and... and... and we were locked like lovers and, and, and, and I was encircled by spotted hound bodies and my entrails were hanging out and I tried a savage feral roar but, alas, my force was spent and I died. Then Servo took it too far...
    • Joel tried to do this during Manos: The Hands of Fate, but failed miserably.
      Crow: Well, for one thing, your face is too friendly, and your eyebrows, they arc gently as opposed to jutting inward, and...well, frankly, Joel, you blush in the most adorable way.
    • Mike tried and failed too, at the end of Horrors of Spider Island.
      Crow: I gotta say though, Mike, you look even less like a spider than that guy Gary in the movie.
      Mike: You think so?
      Tom: Yeah, you're still like 99.99999999...9% human.
    • Mike actually seems to do this a lot, usually as a way for Nelson to show off his celebrity impersonations. One whole episode plot was Mike doing his Urkel impression and everyone laughing at it as characters from previous episodes show up to laugh as well, only for the whole thing to be ruined when Torgo (played by Nelson) admits he's not an Urkel fan.
      • Some episodes have situations where Mike actually saves the day by doing this, like when he became Adam Duritz and scared away the aliens attacking the ship, or in Laserblast, when the ship was heading towards a black hole and Mike turning into Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager is what got them away from it. Only for things to get creepy when "Janeway" starts singing "Proud Mary" and dancing like Tina Turner. The 'bots fled in terror.
  • Berserk Button:
    • On a general level, Joel/Mike and the 'bots responded with jeers and anger whenever a movie involved violence against women and children, or blatant racism or sexism.
    • Mistreatment of animals is another one, as evidenced by their reaction to the short Catching Trouble, causing Joel to apologize on behalf of the human race.
      Servo: If you enjoyed Catching Trouble in any way, there is something wrong with you!
    • Invasion of the Neptune Men nearly pushed the crew over the edge. Specifically, the movie's use of stock footage (some of which featured violent destruction recorded during World War II), deeply offended the cast.
    • This trope actually led to a tightening of standards on the show early on. There was one movie (The Sidehackers) that was mostly outlaw side-car racing, with a rape and murder scene plopped in the middle of it which they didn't find out about until they were already partway into doing the episode and it was too late to change the movie. The scene was cut and a rather frank and non-humorous indication of the contents of the missing scene was mentioned on-air, and from that point on, Best Brains made sure that each film was watched in its entirety before being selected.
    • In-Universe, it's not a good idea to mock dolphins. Or electricians.
    • Mike's brother Eddie has two: puns, and implying his reality sucks.
  • Better Than Sex: In Mike and the Bots' riffing of The Skydivers, Crow uses this phrase to mock the movie's obsession with coffee, as well as the lack of chemistry between the two lead characters.
    Beth: I made some coffee.
    Crow: Coffee? Wow, that's better than sex!
  • Bigger Than Jesus:
    • Near the end of the short The Days of Our Years, there's a camera shot where the pastor narrator looms larger than his church in the background. One of the bots chimes in "I'm bigger than Jesus."
    • In Santa Claus (1959), Servo exclaims this as Santa, which is a sly commentary on Christmas.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Pearl is a heavyset woman who has enough charisma to attempt to take over the world.
  • Big Budget Beef-Up: The revival has a budget of a little over $6 million which admittedly isn't that much as far as contemporary TV productions go, but the unique way in which Mystery Science Theater 3000 is filmed means that money now goes a lot further than it ever has, and the falling costs of practical effects means they can do a lot more than they could back in the day. Some examples from the trailer alone include Servo flying in the theater (a similar shot in a Host Segment was only possible in The Movie) while Crow stands on the seats below him and dances, and Gypsy now descending from the ceiling rather than rising up from the floor. And for the first time in the show's history, it was cheaper to shoot in Los Angeles rather than the Midwest.
  • Big Handsome Man: TV's Frank.
  • Big Head Mode: The "big head" Joel invents in Star Force.
    Servo: Who's that guy with the big head, big head, I'm talkin' big head...
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family:
    • Mike Nelson's In-Universe family.
    • We only see three of them, but the Forresters definitely count.
  • Binocular Shot: One of the skits accompanying Jungle Goddess made fun of the device by having Cambot demonstrate a series of mattes, starting with the binocular matte, then progressing to sillier cut-outs.
  • Black Widow: Pearl. In It Lives by Night, she shows Bobo and Brain Guy slides from her various honeymoons, and the untimely (and grisly) demises that each of her husbands met with.
    Pearl: Sit down or I'll marry you.
    • The name of Pearl's ship? The Widowmaker.
  • Bland-Name Product: Averted. Many products used on the show were referred to by their actual names.
    • Played straight with the TV they use on the bridge, which has a "STONY" logo on it.
    • In Jack Frost, Bobo is shown drinking a "Simian Adams" beer.
  • Book-Ends: The Grand Finale ends with Mike, Servo and Crow on a couch in their apartment and The Crawling Eye on the TV, bookending the first (nationally broadcast) episode.
    • Crow: "This movie looks kinda familiar, doesn't it?" (Of course, none of the actors in that scene were playing the characters back then. Not even Cambot.)
    • Mike tries to exploit this. He knew that Joel left after he watched Mitchell (staring Joe Don Baker), so he thinks he's allowed to leave after he watches another Joe Don Baker film. It doesn't work.
  • Bookshelf of Authority: Mocked in episode "The Leech Woman", where the main character's attorney is standing in front of a massive and imposing set of books (it was 1960, after all — he might genuinely have needed them). Crow jokes, "He was part of the Stephen King Book Club for a month."
  • Bowdlerise: Some of the riffed films were obviously edited for television but that would technically make this an In-Universe example as well since that would mean the Mads were censoring the films they were sending. Would that make the SOL a Censor Ship?
    • There was also the time when Joel blocked a shot of a naked woman with an umbrella, definitely In-Universe.
    • In the case of Sidehackers, the writers approved the film for use on the show after seeing only half. Then just at the midway point they were shocked to see the hero's girlfriend brutally raped and murdered by the villain. They removed the scene and just had Crow announce "For those of you wondering at home, Rita is dead." After that, MST3K made it a policy to screen the entirety of the films before approval.
    • Revival example: In a hot tub scene in Avalanche, the bots spontaneously start playing with drones to hide a naked woman's breasts and rear.
  • Brain Bleach: How often? The Trope page has an entire section devoted to MST3K.
    • When Mike/Joel and the bots see something particularly squicky, they often say that they need a shower.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick:
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Joel often castigated the robots when they made reference to being on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
    • In Manhunt in Space, Tom sees a familiar moon.
      Servo: Hey, it's the MST3K logo up there!
      Joel: [annoyed] You're not supposed to know that!
      [Servo realizes his mistake, and starts whistling innocently]
    • When watching Gamera, they notice how similar the rocket model launch is to the show's intro. Of course, they could be taunting Joel's exile to the Satellite of Love.
      Crow: Hey Jooooel, does this remind you of anything?
      Joel: [annoyed] Yeah. This! [rips Crow's arm off and hits him with it]
      Servo: Hey, Crow! [sings] In the not-too-distant future... [Joel hits Servo with Crow's arm before tossing it away in disgust]
      Joel: I could sue you for that. I could sue you for using my song.
    • Mike commenting on a car grill in The Wild World of Batwoman:
      Mike: Jet Jaguar!
      Crow: Hey, you're right... how would ''you'' know?!
    • They begin every episode by saying hi to the audience, welcoming them to the Satellite of Love.
    • The Fourth-Wall Mail Slot was always there during the Comedy Central years, and returned in well, The Return.
    • The Return generally doubles down on that the characters are aware they’re on TV In-Universe, and growing the show’s popularity on Netflix is a big part of Kinga’s motivation. But Cry Wilderness takes this a step further, with Kinga and Max commenting directly on how hard patching the continuity of the previous seasons with the current one is, and how it would have been easier to just do a full reboot instead of a continuation.
    • In Ator, Kinga directly calls out the viewer for willingly subjecting themselves to The Gauntlet and to the show in general, allowing their mind to become so crowded with trash that they can't tell good movies from bad anymore.
      Kinga: But first (before we store the experiment) ...I've got something to say to ''them''.
      Max: The... Them?
      Kinga: Yeah. The lowlives who just spent eight hours of this precious one way trip we call life watching schlock.
  • Breaking the Reviewer's Wall: Characters from the film of the week show up on occasion, revealing the film to be a case of Recursive Canon.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Some very far-reaching ones. For example, Manos: The Hands of Fate (episode 424) ends with Mike Nelson as Torgo delivering a pizza to Forrester and Frank. Upon realizing he forgot the Mads' sodas, he leaves to fetch them — and the next season (episode 508), Torgo finally returns with the sodas (the time between these two episodes? Nine months). An even more far reaching example involves Crow's monster film screenplay Earth vs. Soup, first mentioned in episode 313. In the final season on Comedy Central, the screenplay is brought up again when a movie studio finally takes interest in it.
    • Another example from Season Four; The Killer Shrews begins with Joel giving the bots "present time", but even though Gypsy and Tom Servo get terrific gifts, Crow T. Robot gets a pair of "dress slacks from JC Penney". Fifteen episodes later, The Day the Earth Froze opens with Joel attempting to get a "family portrait"...
      Joel: We are going to get a nice picture of this family if it kills us - Crow!
      Crow: What?
      Joel: Crow, where are those nice pants I bought you?
      Crow: [guiltily] I dunno...
      Joel: You can't walk around wearing a sport coat without your nice pants!
      • At the end of the series, Mike is packing Crow's nice brown pants away as they prepare to leave. In the same scene, Mike is tossing away Crow's wire "mother", which was introduced in Invasion USA.
    • In the season 12 episode Ator, the credits show 'Miles O'Keeffe' and Servo says "Remind me again, how much O'Keeffe is in this movie?" Which is a brick joke reference to the first Comedy Central seaoson when Joel and the bots watched the sequel, and Joel asked how much "O'Keeffe" is in the movie. (The answer is "Miles".) Here, Jonah tells Servo to hush.
      • Mike is seen folding a small pair of brown pants during Crow's... guitar solo in The Dead Talk Back.
      • The slacks show up yet again in Bloodlust, exactly two seasons (48 episodes) later, when Crow wears them to his therapy session with Servo.
      • Crow's sensible brown pants (as well as his Underoos) were going to be used by Mike at the beginning of Radar Secret Service to make a Bed Sheet Ladder to be back to Earth, along with Gypsy's bra and Tom's pantyhose.
      • During 12 to the Moon at the end of season 5 when they are moving in with 'Future-Singing-Dancing-Lady', Crow has a large crate of 'Sensible Brown Pants (1 of 3)'
    • In an early season, a little kid sent in a drawing of Crow labeled 'Art'. This was in reference to a Honeymooners sketch where Crow was billed as "Art Crow". Cut to years later, where Pearl insists on regularly referring to Crow as "Art" without explanation.
    • In Gunslinger, Frank's head gets blasted off by Clay's new invention. In Mitchell, in one of the boxes Mike sorts Frank is amused to find his old head inside, and tells Mike to file it under "Frank's Spare Head". And finally in Laserblast, Pearl finds the same box Mike found it in. Clay suggests they put it in storage.
    • One example that crosses over in Mythology Gag with RiffTrax. In Laserblast, Crow and Tom tortured Mike by telling the audience the infamous "Beyond Thunderdome" joke. In an episode of RiffTrax...
      Mike: She got her clothes from the Thunderdome!
      Bill: Mike...
      Mike: Uh-oh.
      Bill: Can't we get beyond Thunderdome?!
      Mike: AAUGH!!
    • "Beyond Thunderdome" also comes back to the series proper in Season 11's The Christmas That Almost Wasn't. It was around 20 years between the bots' last televised bit with it and its use in the revival.
    • In Manos: The Hands of Fate, Cambot plays a prank on Tom and Crow by purposefully playing a clip form the movie on a loop during a sketch. Crow and Tom are driven to tears. They get Cambot back in Danger!! Death Ray when Cambot cries after several security cameras were destroyed in the movie while Crow and Tom taunt him for being a baby.
    • In The Amazing Colossal Man, Joel and the Bots ponder what questions they could ask Glen Manning, the eponymous Colossal Man. Crow suggests asking Glen if there's any truth to the rumor that Cher had some of her ribs removed. He even gets to ask this question directly to Glen's face when the satellite collides with him. In War of the Colossal Beast, exactly 10 episodes later, Joel and the Bots run into Glen again. Crow takes the time to ask him if he found out about "that whole Cher rib thing".
  • Brown Note: The Mads are trying to find a film that serves as one of these.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Joel returns in the Season 10 premiere (Soultaker). Mike and the 'bots ask if he could bring them back to Earth, but Joel convinces them to stay.
    • Frank comes back in the same episode.
    • Dr. Erhardt comes back in Season 12.
  • But Thou Must!:
    • If the gang refused to watch the film (Lost Continent) or attempted to walk out on it (Invasion of the Neptune Men), the Mads would force them to watch it through torturous means. The usual method of forcing them into the theater, as suggested by a number of throwaway lines, involved lowering the oxygen level everywhere else on the ship.
    • If either of the 'bots tried to leave the theater, Joel would usually stop them; one notable exception was in The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, when Crow snuck out to go on a lifelong quest. Gypsy was permitted to leave after her short stint in the theater in Hercules and the Captive Women.
    • During Soultaker, Crow left the theater in search of Visine as he had something in his eye during a scene in which the lead female started undressing.
    • Fridge Logic applies here- Crow, Tom and Gypsy are robots, and don't need oxygen to breathe. But since Tom and Crow were built for watching movies with Joel, they almost never left the theater voluntarily during the film. They could, they just didn't. Notice that the Mads didn't really care whether the Bots were there or not, just Joel/Mike.
  • Butt-Monkey: TV's Frank, and later Brain Guy. Quite literally Professor Bobo.
    • Most of the SOL crew were this at one time or another, depending on who was holding the Idiot Ball; Mike in particular seemed to become more and more of this as the series progressed, with the robots showing him no affection at all and near-continuous contempt.

  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": All the guest characters are commonly referred to as "aliens that visit the ship and exchange dialogue for roughly two and a half minutes then leave", even when most of them are from Earth or the week's experiment.
  • Call-Back: Any given episode is rife with arcane references to previously-seen films. The more beloved ones became Running Gags, and eventually Catch-Phrases in their own right.
  • The Cameo: Leonard Maltin appears at the start and end of Gorgo.
  • Canada, Eh?: "The Canada Song".
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: Gypsy's attempts to comment on a film inevitably fall flat.
    • She did manage one that Joel and the 'Bots commended — "They're steam-cleaning the horses!" — but the movie's dullness basically got her fed up and she left the theater.
    • In the reboot, this has been averted for unexplained reasons. She regularly pops into the theater to crack the occasional joke, but never stays for very long.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The show's crew insist on referring to the first Comedy Channel season as Season One, and the first season of the Netflix revival as Season 11. The KTMA season is referred to as "Season 0" or "Season K" (for "KTMA") by fans, or "a 22-episode-long pilot" according to Trace Beaulieu.
  • Captain Morgan Pose: Joel and the bots call attention to how many times the main character performs this in "The Giant Gila Monster".
  • Captive Audience- Joel/Mike/Jonah and the 'bots.
  • The Cast Show Off: The invention exchange, which showed off Joel Hodgson's stage prop act. Also, Michael J. Nelson had a background in musical arrangements and Kevin Murphy is a pretty talented singer; both skills got used pretty frequently — between the two of them, they're responsible for writing about three quarters of the songs over the show's run.
    • Strangely enough, when Kevin and Mike wrote and performed an Ink Spots-style Thirties pop ballad ostensibly sung by the Observers, Mike lip-synced Kevin's lines and Bill Corbett lip-synced his own lines... which was tremendously confusing to anyone who'd been following the show regularly.
    • Ironically, fans complained about the musical segments being less frequent during the Mike years, this being due to Nelson, already head writer and composer, taking over the hosting duties thus having less time for it. So during the years he was part of the cast, he couldn't show off as much.
    • Show off his music skills anyway. Whenever Mike "turns into" some sort of celebrity (Carol Channing, James Lipton, Urkel, Robert De Niro, etc.), it gives Mike a chance to show off his celebrity impressions.
    • Season 11 starts off by showing Jonah Ray's impressive drumming skills.
    • Season 11 is also fond of using Felicia Day's singing talents, having her sing her introduction in the Love Theme and sing a duet with her Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog costar Neil Patrick Harris.
  • Catchphrase: Tons of them, not to mention the various Callbacks which mutated into Running Gags as they cropped up in episodes years after the original film.
    • "Welcome to the Satellite of Love!" and "Hello, bubies!"
    • "The Mads are calling." And, later, "Pearl's calling."
    • "We got movie sign!" and sometimes, "Movie in the hole!"
      • Dr. Erhardt's chipper "Enjoy!", just prior to sending Joel the experiment.
      • Dr. Forrester's "Send 'em the movie, Frank."
      • Kinga's "Enter the nightmare-fueled world of... <Movie of the Week>!"
    • "What do you think, sirs?"
      • "File this, Larry."
      • "Push the button, Frank."
      • "Push the button, Max."
    • In season one, the Mads would ask Joel his opinion of their invention, and he would respond by rattling off a bunch of synonyms for "evil" and "insane". The Mads would then, without fail, lean into the camera and go "Why, thank you!"
      • "What do you want from us? We're evil! EVIL!!"
    • Plus that... noise Frank made ("Eyukgaeeoo!") in his first few seasons.
    • Mike's nasal "Hey!" when he's caught off-guard by a riff.
    • "Would you take that off!" whenever Mike finally realized the 'Bots were still wearing their costumes from the host segments into the theater.
      • "The Mads/Pearl" is frequently replaced with the names of completely different people, or insulting nicknames. The Mads, and later Pearl, retaliate by coming up with their own condescending nicknames for the S.O.L. crew.
    • "Stuffing or potatoes?" (The correct answer being "stuffing.")
    • "Look familiar, Mike?"
    • One episode features Crow ordering a bunch of t-shirts with a new catchphrase he hopes will catch on: "You know you want me, baby!". Mike tries to pick one from a book, but the best he can come up with is "We're all out of toner."
    • "He/She/They said 'area!'"
    • "Shut up!" in earlier theater segments.
    • In response to a particularly bizarre statement: "Oh, sure, I can see how tha—HUH??"
    • "Dickweed" was Crow's go-to insult that he occasionally passed around to the rest of the crew. Similarly, "You're ruining it for me!" was something both he and Tom said at different times during the Joel years.
    • "Fakeyyyy."invoked
    • "I wet 'em!"
    • "Go on..."
    • "Can the balloon juice!"
    • "Those dark smelly memories that are connurping for moisture."
    • (whispering) "Conform... Conform...!"
  • Celebrity Resemblance: This trope is routine for the show as every episode involves pointing out how people on screen look like famous individuals.
  • Character as Himself: Cambot was billed this way during the Joel era.
  • Characterization Marches On: Gypsy went from being an incredibly stupid, incoherent creature to the most intelligent and competent character on the ship. She basically went from "the family pet" to "naïve little sister" to "Mom"....then finally Executive of "Con Gyps Co.".
    • Her intelligence is shown in Wild Rebels, though it requires her to shut down the ship, as she is normally operating its higher functions. By season 4, however, she's able to delegate and/or automate the resources needed to run the ship, as shown when she prepares to enter the theater in Hercules and the Captive Women. After that, she participates normally in host segments, occasionally serving as Mama Bear to the other Bots (see The Beatniks), and her earlier simplicity is essentially forgotten, though she is still naive compared to Crow and Servo.
    • Joel started off as a more resentful creator towards the Bots, rather than the Team Dad he would be famous for.
    • KTMA/Season 1-era Dr. Forrester was a deep-voiced Bad Boss, almost a polar opposite of the hammy Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain we all know him as.
  • Cheerful Funeral:
    • After watching an incredibly boring funeral in The Gunslinger, Joel and the 'bots lie in fake coffins of their own and discuss what their ideal funerals would look like. Servo can't decide between something educational that explains his embalming methods, or a circus-like extravaganza. ("I want elephants, Joel, lots of them.") Crow, on the other hand, wants a beach-themed funeral, complete with keggers and "couples sneaking off to neck—prop me up so I can surf!"
    • In At the Earth's Core, Max invents a cannon that fires cremated ashes like confetti, intended to make funerals more interesting.
  • Chewbacca Defense: When Mike is taken to court for destruction of planets, Bobo ends up as his defense attorney. But in a moment very uncharacteristic of him, he manages to get Brain Guy stricken as a witness against Mike... through his astounding knowledge of pie-baking.
  • Christmas Carolers:
    • In Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Joel and the Bots sing Crow's original Christmas carol, "Let's Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas". Later, at the end of the episode, they sing an actual Christmas carol with slightly different lyrics: "Angels we have heard are high / softly sipping old champagne..."
    • In Santa Claus, Mike and the Bots perform their surpassingly P.C. carol "Merry Christmas (If That's Okay)".
    • In The Touch of Satan, Crow and Tom get the two varieties of wassailing confused. They go house-to-house (or rather, to Mike, since no one else resides on the Satellite of Love) and sing Christmas carols with new lyrics promising severe financial penalties to anyone who doesn't immediately give them wassail. They themselves have no idea what wassail actually is. Much to their disappointment, Mike finds some canned wassail, and it tastes "skunky".
    • In The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, the Bots want to carol with Jonah, only to get annoyed with him when he chooses to sing Good King Wenceslas, "the only carol no one knows the lyrics to".
  • Christmas Episode: The Joel-era Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, the Mike-era Santa Claus (1959) and the Jonah-era The Christmas That Almost Wasn't.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
    • Generally averted. Even voice actor changes for the robots are given an in-world explanation/Lampshade Hanging and the old characters are occasionally referred to.
    • Occasionally played straight though. Characters such as The Nanites and Magic Voice stopped being used around season 9, and by season 10, they were pretty much forgotten.
    • Gizmonic Institute itself. Hodgson owns the rights to the word "gizmonic", so when Joel left the series, all references to Gizmonic Institute were deleted for the Mike episodes — the stylized "G" logo on the bridge door was modified into a gear with a hex nut silhouette within for the remaining Comedy Central episodes, and wholly replaced with a dog bone logo in the Sci-Fi Channel episodes. Meanwhile, Forester and Frank's uniforms were modified to have Deep 13 logos instead of Gizmonic Institute ones. In the revival season, however, it appears that Gizmonic Institute is an integral part of the show once again.
  • Clever Crows: Crow tends to invoke this whenever his "brethren" appear onscreen. For his own part, he's more the Butt-Monkey Plucky Comic Relief.
  • Cliffhanger Copout: Likely to show up whenever the gang watches back-to-back chapters from old Film Serials, such as Radar Men from the Moon and Undersea Kingdom. Joel/Mike or one of the bots is always bound to call attention to the copout when it comes.
    • For bonus points, Servo actually references Annie Wilkes' rant from Misery: "That isn't what happened! He didn't get out of the cockadoodie car!"
    • At the end of season 11, Jonah is seemingly eaten by a metal robot Reptilicus, and presumed dead. In the beginning of 12, he turns up alive but no cares to hear about how he managed it (despite his repeated attempts to tell them).
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: For some reason, they turned Jack Perkins (Nelson) of all people into this during the Turkey Day sequences. If the camera is focused on Jack, prepare for, as the MST3K wiki puts it, "long, meandering, name-dropping rambles about nothing in particular".
    • Gypsy also wanders into this trope at times, especially during the Mike-era.
    • Hell, just about everyone on the show was one of these at one point or another.
  • Cloud Cuckoolanders Minder: Brain Guy to Pearl, Joel to the Bots.
  • Cold Open: Used in season 11. The premiere explains how Jonah got trapped by Kinga, segueing seamlessly into the opening theme. Later episodes open with an unrelated skit aboard the SOL before reprising the opening theme.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Joel's jumpsuit is red, Mike's is blue and Jonah's is yellow.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Way back during the first season on KTMA, somebody left a message on the show's official answering machine saying they enjoyed the movies but disliked the bots, calling the show "like being stuck in a movie theater with a bunch of noisy teenagers," which Joel read out and subtly mocked while on the show.
    • The Movie ended with Forrester being teleported out of Deep 13. Crow happily says now they'll never get back to Earth now. It takes them a few seconds to stop celebrating.
  • Composite Character: In-Universe, the bots admit to Jonah that while they do actually like him, they were hoping the new human they got stuck with would have been more of a perfect mix of Joel and Mike (they imagined this person being like T.J. Miller).
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Future War reveals Tom as this. During a drug test, his point of view looks like a Disney Acid Sequence with Mike and Crow as monsters. Servo chuckles and explains it's not a hallucination, but what he sees everyday.
    • Another possible explanation for Joel's behavior.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: The premise of the series — Dr. Forrester is "experimenting" on Joel/Mike to find a film bad enough to turn into a Weapon of Mass Destruction. The reason Joel was targeted? Forrester personally disliked him.
    • The Mads were planning to kill Mike out of disgust after he was done helping renovate — making him quite the disposable temp worker — but Gypsy thought the Mads were finally going to off Joel. When Joel escaped, the Mads decided instead of killing Mike, they might as well shoot him up to the S.O.L. as a replacement.
    • Dr. Forrester turned Pearl's date into a giant chicken in The Brute Man and is said to have killed her previous ones.
  • Corpsing
    • Mike/Joel/Jonah and the 'bots frequently chuckle and crack up at each other's jokes.
    • A lot of the Poopie outtake reels consist of corpsing, mainly coming from Frank, who was prone to getting the giggles at the drop of a hat.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Forrester and Frank: "WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM US? WE'RE EVIL! EVIL!"
    • Following in her father's footsteps, Kinga's goal is to grow the show's ratings and sell it to Disney for a billion dollars (in addition to selling off her various inventions and other side projects). Naturally, part of her plan includes the traditional kidnapped test subject, and frequent threats to poke him with a cattle prod or turn off his oxygen if he doesn't comply.
  • Couch Gag:
    • The Stinger after every episode (starting in season 2), a short clip of the most inexplicable dialogue or event in the riffed film.
    • In the revival opening title, the "Robot Roll Call" happens inside the theater. Clips from that episode's riff play behind the robots as they're introduced.
  • Cousin Oliver: Parodied with Timmy Bobby Rusty.
  • Creator Cameo: In Season 11, Hodgson plays Ardy, aka The Guy In The Hazmat Suit Who Sends The Movies Up.
    Ardy: Movie in the hole!
  • Creator Provincialism: Many, many jokes in the old series were only ones that Wisconsinites and Minnesotans could get, and which caused serious confusion among the show's early Internet fanbase (such as "Hamdingers", a potted meat briefly produced in the 70's and so obscure that it became the equivalent of Cow Tools). This is especially present in The Giant Spider Invasion, where the crew gets a lot of mileage out of the film's rural-Wisconsin setting, riffing on almost-forgotten local ephemera like Dave Dudley and the Hartwig Gobbler.note  Toned down significantly in the Continuity Reboot, as of the main cast, only Hodgson is a Minnesota native and even he's been living in LA for the last 20 years.
  • Credits Gag: Several throughout the shows run, one of which was "Keep Circulating the Tapes".
    • The "special thanks" section always lists a different set of people every episode. However, it always thanks "teachers across America"/"all teachers, everywhere" and frequently thanks the fanbase and the authors of the First Amendment.
    • They riff over their own credits at the end of The Movie.
  • Critic Breakdown: Given that terrible films are the show's bread and butter, this was pretty much inevitable. The worst of the worst movies actually do drive the cast to the edge of breakdowns, or completely over.
    • Manos: The Hands of Fate, perhaps the most notorious of the Joel-era episodes, sent both Tom and Crow into a panic during the opening credits, because they were convinced that they were going to be forced to watch a Snuff Film. Later, both Frank and Forrester separately approached the communicator, to privately apologize to Joel and the bots for foisting something so awful on them.
    • Monster a-Go Go left the bots in a deep depression, which Joel unsuccessfully tries to cheer them out of. They also state that it was just as bad as Manos, which is a pretty severe criticism in light of their reaction to that.
    • The Castle of Fu Manchu tears the whole cast to pieces just from the opening credits. Joel's only consolation comes from daring Forrester and Frank to watch the film themselves. They don't even last two minutes.
    • Eegah! was so bad that Crow and Servo had to take showers afterwards to wash the filth away.
    • Red Zone Cuba makes Mike think he's Carol Channing. Servo and Crow have to sing a manic "Bouncy Upbeat Song" to keep themselves from complete despair.
    • Invasion of the Neptune Men leaves the cast sobbing and wondering what's the point of living anymore. Only a surprise visit from the Phantom of Krankor pulls them back from the Despair Event Horizon.
    • Hobgoblins was so bad, everyone walked out of the theater and left behind cardboard cutouts of themselves.
    • The Gauntlet has this as the end goal. Six films (including the show's first run at The Asylum) in a row, no breaks. This season is basically Kinga and Max trying to finally break Jonah and the 'Bots through sheer brute force.
  • Crying Indian: Parodied to hell and back in Werewolf.
  • Crystal Clear Picture: The Hexfield Viewscreen, although in one episode "static" is produced by styrofoam pellets being thrown around.
  • Curse Cut Short:
    • Tom on the "Canada Song"
      Just where the hell does Canada get off sharing a border
      With countries far superior to it
      Why you lousy, stinking, Francophonic, bacon-loving bastards
      Your country's just a giant piece of—
      Crow and Mike: Whoa whoa whoa! Okay, okay, that's enough!
    • In the very first Comedy Channel episode The Crawling Eye, the 'bots are having trouble with the concept that humans' heads do not detach and reattach like robots' do.
      Crow: Well then why do people say that they’re always... like "I’d lose my head if it wasn’t screwed on"?
      Servo: Yeah, and people often say their heads aren’t in the right places.
      Crow: Yeah, and Joel, once I heard the scientists talkin’ and they said you had your head up your a—
      [Joel clamps Crow's beak shut]
      Joel: Uh, well... uh, Crow that’s just a figure of speech, all right?
  • Cuteness Proximity:
    • Nummy Muffin Coocol Butter.
    • Max has this reaction to seeing the 'Bots in person on Moon 13.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • The web series Incognito Cinema Warriors XP is essentially a dark and edgy version of MST3K, since it mainly riffs adult-rated horror films featuring tons of sex and nudity, something MST3K couldn't get away with on basic cable.
    • Many fans feel the tone of the show got a bit edgier and angrier as it went on, particularly after the move to the Sci-Fi Channel and the addition of native Brooklynite Bill Corbett to the main cast.
      • At the "Crow vs. Crow" panel at Dragon*Con '09, Corbett said that the Sci-Fi Channel sent them notes, telling them to make the show "edgier", which apparently the crew didn't really understand. "What do you want, more fart jokes?"
    • Even back in the Comedy Central seasons, the various shorts shown tended to have more mature jokes than the main features. Johnny at the Fair and Catching Trouble in particular stand out.
    • The lost short Assignment: Venezuela has some very adult jokes, due to being made for a CD-ROM game that was never finished.
  • Darkest Hour: Servo's "death" in Fugitive Alien 2.
    • Any time the experiment really gets to them.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone on the SOL seems to be this at least part of the time, if only to preserve their own sanity. Joel is arguably the most deadpan of them all though.
  • Death Is Cheap: TV's Frank dies a lot.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: Many host segments were about deconstructing some aspect of the films they watch.
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    • The interstitials for season 11 remind the viewer that Moon 13 is, indeed, on the Moon.
    • Part of a Running Gag; Kinga is incapable of comprehending that Netflix is not conventional TV, so she assumes that her "station" needs eyecatches just like local stations across the U.S. The latter usually introduce themselves with the station's channel, FCC callsign, and hometown, something along the lines of "KTVK, Channel 3, Phoenix".
  • Destination Ruse: In "The Beast of Hollow Mountain", the riffers add their own dialogue to a scene where Pancho takes his son Panchito to a dilapidated shack in the middle of nowhere:
    Tom Servo: (as Panchito) Papa, I thought you said we were going to the Chuck E. Cheese.
  • Détournement: Using real films to sabotage themselves. Especially devastating with Very Special Episodes or "educational films", but good against pure Horror as well.
  • Deus ex Machina: Joel escapes the Satellite of Love in a pod conveniently named the Deus ex Machina.
  • Dismissed Gender: The crew had a tendency to act salacious whenever a near-naked woman showed up in a movie but acted disgusted and horrified if any part of a man's body was shown regardless of how attractive he was or how much clothing he was wearing. This was mainly averted during the Joel episodes but became pretty common during the Mike episodes (and later Rifftrax).
  • Dissonant Serenity: Joel doesn't seemed that bothered by being held hostage and used as a guinea pig by evil scientists.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Why did Pearl Forrester give Mike and the Bots Hobgoblins? Because they jumped on her rent-to-own couch.
    • There's also the time Tom attacked Crow with a biplane, riddling him and his little spiffy car with bullets. Why? Because Crow kept making Uranus Is Showing jokes earlier in the episode.
    • Another example was in the host segments in The Wild World of Batwoman, based off the short Cheating - Crow copies Gypsy's paper about why cheating is bad and Tom suggests that Crow should die.
    • Dr. Forrester will kill people for little, and in Michael Feinstein's case, no reason.
    • Insult a dolphin or an electrician, you're going to get targeted by a Dolphin Mothership.
  • Disrupting The Theater: The whole point of the series is the cast talking over whatever movie they're watching, but they're also the only ones in the theater, so it's not like they're bothering anyone. However, in the special episode "1st Annual Summer Blockbuster Review", Bobo joins Mike and the robots in the theater for the Men in Black segment, and gets on everyone's nerves by eating loudly, spilling snacks everywhere, and constantly interrupting to ask stupid questions. Eventually Tom Servo loses his cool and yells at Bobo to just get out.
  • Distracted by the Shiny: The Satellite crew want to be Distracted by the Shiny. Any distraction from the so-called 'plot' of these films is a welcome relief.
    • If dogs show up in an experiment, the guys will typically coo "Puppy!" and try to get its attention, even if it's supposed to be a horrible monster.
    • One of Crow's early catchphrases is "Kitty!", blurted whenever a lion or other big cat (or, in one case, an iguana) is shown onscreen.
    • During Crash of the Moons, Joel and the 'Bots take time out from making fun of John Banner's performance to coo over a baby, whom one of them dubs "the first likable character in the film."
    • Megaweapon distracted them for the entire second reel of Warrior of the Lost World.
    • The bouncy-looking couch in Hobgoblins, which delighted Tom.
    • Mike and the Bots found two ants fighting over a dropped piece of candy more excited than the chase scene going on in Soultaker at that point.
  • The Ditz:
    • Gypsy appears to be one of these, due to most of her brain capacity being used to attend to the SOL's higher functions.
      • In Wild Rebels, Joel shuts down some of the systems on the ship, which results in Gypsy communicating with the others in a "smarter" manner (while Joel is left gasping for oxygen).
    • Professer Bobo (after he Took a Level in Dumbass) and TV's Frank played this straight.
  • Ditzy Genius:
    • The theme song implies that Joel himself is one.
      Now keep in mind Joel can't control when the movies begin or end
      Because he used those special parts to make his robot friends
    • Gypsy is often pretty ditzy, and that's mostly due to her size; since she's controlling the SOL most of the time, though, her super-powerful mental capacity is greatly diminished.
    • Jonah is quickly established as being a Gadgeteer Genius in the vein of Joel, but so far it seems he can be easily distracted. His Message in a Bottle apparently severely downplayed his need to be rescued before going completely off script to talk about his childhood issues.
  • Documentary: This Is MST3K, which aired on Comedy Central in 1992, was hosted by Penn Jillette and took viewers behind the scenes of the show's production.
  • Do Not Try This at Home: In Season 12, Dr. Donna St. Phibes removes the falconer's hood off of her trained alien monster. She tells the audience not to try this at home, "or anywhere else".
    • Averted by Jonah's Bubble Fan. Unlike most of the other Invention Exchange inventions, the Bubble Fan not only works in real life, but also is preceded by a one-sentence explanation of how it was built.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: In one episode, Crow and Tom actually force Joel to sign a contract that prohibits him from making cop and donut jokes whenever a cop appears on the screen.
    • And the writers actually did make sure they made no more cop and donut jokes from then on.
  • Dope Slap: Clayton and Pearl love dishing these out to their underlings. Along with Dope Punches, Kicks, Groin Attacks, et cetera.
  • Down L.A. Drain: Discussed in a movie. They're having a Grease-style car race in the river, and Crow riffs "The L.A. River, for all your car-chase needs!"
  • invokedDude, Not Funny!:
    • In-Universe; any time a film or short has Values Dissonance, Joel, Mike and the Bots will have this reaction.
    • The Mads' "Tragic Moments" figurines from Being from Another Planet was intentional; Joel and the 'bots agreed that making said clay figures was, indeed, the greatest evil Forrester and Frank had ever committed. Until Johnny Longtorsonote  came along.
    • The general reactions whenever the movies watched would introduce an Ethnic Scrappy.
    • During a scene in The Sidehackers where a villain sexually harasses a female character, the bots boo and jeer him. Then he punches her, and Joel stands up and yells at the screen in disgust.
  • Dutch Angle: The Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank segments (and later, Pearl) are shot this way.

  • Early Installment Weirdness: The KTMA season has a lot of this, even compared to the early Comedy Central seasons. In no particular order: The Mads worked from within the Gizmonic Institute itself rather than Deep 13 and barely interacted with Joel at all (he spent more of his time reading out viewer letters than talking to the Mads); Dr. Forrester was clean-shaven and had a mullet and Round Hippie Shades, and for the first few episodes, Joel had a mullet as well; the Satellite of Love looked totally different; Cambot was a separate unit that operated the video camera rather than having it integrated into his body, Gypsy had a much more primitive design (and was sometimes called "Gypsum", and her voice was done by Josh Weinstein speaking while inhaling rather than just doing a rough falsetto), Servo (who didn't yet have the first name "Tom") was painted silver, and Crow had a slightly different body section; some episodes had different riffers, ranging from Joel doing a one-man-show to an episode where Joel was completely absent (this is also why Gypsy is in the theatre in the Intro); the intro used video-generated special effects for everything except the Satellite of Love, as opposed to the tabletop models seen in later seasons; the logo in the opening titles was different (parodying the logo of Land of the Lost), and the end credits used an instrumental version of the opening theme. Most notably, the riffs are improvised rather than written in advance, so there are often long stretches of silence from the riffers (and sometimes a riff is little more than "oh, shut up!")
    • In the earliest pilot, made to pitch the show to KTMA, Joel's surname is Hodgson instead of Robinson, and he was the person who built the Satellite of Love before launching it into space of his own accord. Servo is also completely absent, and in his place is a robot called "Beeper" (Servo's silver body with a different - and somewhat creepier - head) who speaks in unintelligible gibberish.
    • Servo also doesn't appear outside of the opening credits in the first KTMA episode of the series, while Beeper gets namedropped. Joel and Crow (here voiced by Weinstein) riff on the movie without him. In fact, Joel doesn't even enter the theater until several minutes into the movie, and Crow doesn't enter the theater until more than a half-hour into the episode. Servo finally shows up in the second episode, but he doesn't actually enter the theater until after the first commercial break, fifteen or so minutes in.
      • During the KTMA days, the entire premise was this. Believe it or not, the show was not originally about the riffing. It was just supposed to be a B-movie matinee show with funny skits and host segments, a la Elvira or Svengoolie, but with the gimmick that the hosts joined you in the "theater." Joel and the bots were originally only going to pipe up with humorous facts or the occasional joke, but Trace and Josh were so good at improv that more jokes kept popping up. It wasn't until they were putting together a compilation of their best riffs for The Comedy Channel that they realized that that was what the show should be focused on, just joke after joke, in the style they would become famous for.
    • Servo's voice gets lighter during the Mike episodes, essentially becoming Kevin Murphy's speaking voice instead of the deeper Servo voice.
    • Season 1 also has some of this, with Weinstein voicing Servo and playing the Mad sidekick (Dr. Erhardt). It's just not MST3K without Kevin Murphy's voice and TV's Frank.
      • The first few Season 1 episodes began in Deep 13, based on the notion that the show is the Mads' video documentation of their experiments on Joel, before the focus switched to Joel and the bots.
      • Also, after the experiment, Joel would ask the bots to say a good thing and bad thing about the movie, and he'd give them a RAM chip for a reward. This was phased out of the show during the second season.
      • Also during the first season, Joel was far more likely to stand up and move about the theater during the movie for various sight gags.
      • The pacing of the riffs is much slower too, resulting in a much different feeling to the later, faster and more energetic series.
    • Corbett's Crow sounded strange for the first few episode because he was trying to imitate Beaulieu. The rest of the cast told him to relax and eventually, Crow sounded like... Bill Corbett.
    • Similarly, Murphy tried to imitate Weinstein the first couple second season episodes. Murphy eventually settled on his natural voice for Servo.
    • When Mike first took over, he carried on doing the Invention Exchanges like Joel did, but that only lasted a few episodes before they were phased out, due to Mike's style of comedy being less prop-oriented than Joel's.
  • Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: Mike does this when trying to solve a fight between Crow and Tom Servo in Teenage Strangler.
  • Eight Deadly Words: invoked. The films are usually so bad that Joel/Mike and the bots have zero engagement in the plot or characters, which allows the riffs to become bitingly funny. But once in a while this would be averted and they'd find themselves swept into the film despite its shortcomings. I Accuse My Parents and The Girl in Lovers Lane are memorable examples of this.
  • Either "World Domination", or Something About Bananas: In The Great Gila Monster special sketch, TV's Frank, having been yelled at by Forrester for screwing up the rights to getting Godzilla vs. Megalon, claims that "Toho said 'Noho' and I thought they meant yes! I don't speak Japanese!"
  • Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Servo uses this in his attempt to be cute at the end of Jack Frost, making Mike and Crow unable to understand what he's saying.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Well, names. Night of the Blood Beast gives us Clayton Deborah Susan Forrester.
  • Encouraged Regifting: In The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, Jonah invents the Re-Gifter, a pair of nested gift boxes. They're specifically sized so that either box can fit inside the other—so the recipient can just put the outer box inside the inner box, then immediately give it away to someone else.
  • Ending Fatigue: A trope that particularly annoys the S.O.L. crew. For example, during The Wild Wild World of Batwoman, Servo finally started screaming, "END! EEEEEEEEENNNNNNNNNNND!!!!" invoked
  • Enemy Mine: Mike and the Bots were often forced to co-operate with Pearl & Co. during Season 8 on their way back to Earth.
  • Epic Fail: This little blooper. A fail so epic, it's been brought up three times on the show's Funny page.
    • For those not realizing the gag the running joke of the episode was Waffles.
  • Escape Pod: The means by which Joel escapes from the Satellite of Love. (Don't ask why a satellite intended to be an inescapable prison has escape pods.)
    • The bots later destroy the three remaining escape pods that Mike, to his annoyance, didn't know he had.
      Mike: Don't you think we should have used the escape pods for escape purposes?
      Crow: What's he on about?
      Servo: Oh, you mean... escape from here? Boy, is my face red!
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: One episode had Crow do an entire presentation claiming that women don't really exist. Mike pointed out that Crow knows Pearl, causing Crow to concede that one woman exists.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • The Manos episode finds both Forrester and Frank actually apologizing to Joel and the Bots for making them watch it, "but don't tell [Dr. F/Frank] I said that."
    • In Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, Pearl makes it very clear that they're not making fun of the movie's star, the then-recently-deceased Raúl Juliá.
    • In Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II, Max is clearly uncomfortable with being asked to punt a cute bunny.
    • While introducing The Sidehackers, neither Forrester or TV’s Frank can even call the movie by its title and try to describe it, all they can say is that the movie is that bad. Given the film's shift from a simple rowdy racer story to a rape/revenge one at the halfway mark (something Best Brains didn’t even know about until it was too late), it’s assumed that they’re disgusted by the jarring shift in tone.
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: Parodied — and taken to the extreme — during the end credits of Devil Fish. And it goes on for maybe three minutes. Seriously, the 'bots don't let up for even a second.
  • Evil Matriarch: Pearl Forrester
  • Explosive Breeder: The Nanites. In Revenge of the Creature, Crow tells Mike he "won two at a county fair a while back", and there are now "enough to populate several small planets".
  • Expository Theme Tune: The "Love Theme from Mystery Science Theater 3000". Small changes are made every so often to accommodate the various changes in cast and premise. See this handy chart!
  • Faceless Goons: Kinga has a full complement of minions, the Skeleton Crew. They wear skull face paint, and motorcycle helmets over that. There's also Ardy (the Guy Who Sends The Movies Up) who always wears a face-concealing hazmat suit.
  • Face on a Milk Carton: Dr. Erhardt is shown as one of these after his departure (Rocketship X-M).
  • Failure Is the Only Option:
    • The Mads can never succeed in driving their victims insane, and the gang on the Satellite of Love can't escape, with the famous exception of Joel in Season 5. Pearl did come achingly close to finding a film that could drive people insane with Invasion of the Neptune Men, but Mike and the Bots were saved by a visit from Krankor.
    • Manos: The Hands of Fate came very close, too... it was so bad that Forrester and Frank both actually apologized for subjecting them to it while it was still running.
    • Probably the closest Frank and Dr. F got to actually driving Joel insane was the season three experiment The Castle of Fu Manchu, which was so bad that the entire SOL crew had been reduced to tears by the first host segment. The crew was only saved in the end when Joel convinced the Mads to try watching it for themselves, and they had to shut it off after only a minute (and some painfully unfunny attempts at riffing). The schadenfreude was enough to pull Joel and the Bots out of their funk.
    • Sanity Slippage saves the trio after seeing Red Zone Cuba. They're about to break when Mike has them sing "Bouncy, Upbeat Song". Crow's demented laugh during the song gives an indication to just how close they came to cracking.
      • Joel's little breakdowns involving a model city made with junk, hollering "Howard Rourke", wearing marshmallows and an altar to Leonard Nimoy (the latter two are unseen and mentioned only in passing).
    • A brief one, but in The Incredibly Strange Creatures, a bizarre, surreal nightmare sequence causes poor Servo to freak out and hide under his chair, and reduces him to a trembling, whimpering, sobbing wreck. He snaps out of it surprisingly quickly, though.
  • Fake Rabies: In one episode, Tom and Crow find Mike passed out with foam around his mouth and begin treating him for rabies (the movie they'd been watching had to this point entirely been about the main character seeming to contract rabies). It turns out Mike simply fell asleep while eating a creampuff.
  • False Flag Operation: This is how Jonah gets trapped in the start of Season 11, lured to Moon 13 by a fake distress call by Kinga and Max.
  • Fate Worse than Death. The characters often find death preferable to what they're watching on the screen.
    Crow: [despairing] To be dead, to be nothing... to watch Neptune Men no more...
  • Father, I Want to Marry My Brother: In Racket Girls, Crow asks Mike for Servo's hand in marriage after watching the Are You Ready for Marriage? short.
  • Feghoot: A host segment for one episode was an Ingmar Bergman parody which took advantage filmmaker's tendency for long bleak atmospheric shots to set up the timing for this type of gag.
  • Filling the Silence: While in very early seasons, the hosts would riff right over the top of the film's dialogue, they quickly realized that it was better to time their jokes for the silent spaces between the lines so that audiences could follow both the film and the jokes.
  • Finishing Each Other's Sentences:
    • Often used to comedic effect during riffs.
      Narrator: Talented children from the Orient!
      Crow: Are not here today!
    • Used extensively in the short Progress Island U.S.A.:
      Narrator: Progress can be seen everywhere.
      Mike: ...In places other than this.
    • The same can be said for the Circus on Ice short.
  • Flanderization:
    • Dr. Forrester got a lot more manic and flamboyant as the show went on. Hell, back in KTMA, he was basically an Evil Sounds Deep Stoic.
    • Bobo started out as a somewhat oafish if still reasonably intelligent gorilla scientist with occasional lapses into more bestial behavior, often playing Only Sane Man to the other, much less civil gorillas in Deep Ape. He starts taking levels in dumbass the moment he and Pearl leave Deep Ape, immediately shooting himself in the foot, twice. By the time Observer joins to complete their Freudian Trio Bobo has officially devolved into being Dumb Muscle.
    • Inverted with Gypsy. In the KTMA days she was a simpleton, incapable of forming a complete sentence and often shrieking about obscure actor Richard Basehart. As the show went on she became capable of speaking more fluently, her obsession with Richard Basehart was toned down, and while she remained somewhat ditzy she ended up as more of the Team Mom to the others.
  • Flashback with the Other Darrin: In The Hellcats, Tom Lampshades his flashback takes place "before his voice changed".
  • Force Feeding: The Mad segments from the 1992 Turkey Day marathon involved Forrester forcing Frank to consume a succession of movie-themed turkeys throughout the course of the day.
  • For the Evulz: Dr. Forrester killed Michael Feinstein for literally no reason.
  • Foreign Remake: In Soviet Russia, Der Fuhrer Sends Experiments to You. Fan-made episodes are not unknown, but Project Popcorn is the only MST fan series to come out of Russia — and the villainous Mad Scientist (introduced as Professor Zamyshlyavkin) wears a distinctly Hitleresque mustache. More info here.
  • Fourth-Wall Mail Slot: The letter readings at the end of each episode from season 1–7.
    • In season 0 (KTMA), it was a Fourth Wall Answering Machine.
    • Season 11 brings back letter reading and shows off fanart kids did of the cast. However, because of the new streaming model, they only do this twice and both times were letters written in before the season aired.
  • Fun with Acronyms: In a very early KTMA episode, Joel informs Crow that his name stands for "Cybernetic Remotely-Operated Woman".
    • Mike and the 'bots speculate on possible meanings for "H.A.R.M." in Agent for H.A.R.M. Possibilities include "Huge Angular Red Marshmallows", "Hirsute Astronauts Revile Massachusetts" and "Heuristic Analog Rental Meat." (The actual acronym is Human Aetiological Relations Machine.)
      Mike: So H.A.R.M. stands for, "Hot And Ready, Ma'am."
    • S.O.L. can mean either "Satellite of Love", as it does on this show, or "Shit Outta Luck".
      • In the original draft of The Movie, it's technically/officially called the Stationary Orbital Laboratory (but Joel changed it to Satellite of Love).
    • And then there's the episode where the Bots claim to be participating in a walkathon for charity. Crow's charity is actually called WALKATHON, for Walkers At Large Kinetically Altruistic Through Hygiene Or Knowledge (he had to use the N because he didn't want to call it WALKATHOK). Servo, meanwhile, announces that he's walking for Helping Children Through Research And Development; Mike tentatively identifies it as HeCTRAD, but Servo explains that the acronym actually is H.E.L.P.I.N.G.C.H.I.L.D.R.E.N.T.H.R.O.U.G.H.R.E.S.E.A.R.C.H.A.N.D.D.E.V.E.L.O.P.M.E.N.T; it stands for Hi, Everyone. Let's Pitch In 'N' Get Cracking Here In Louisiana Doing Right, Eh? Now Then. Hateful Rich Overbearing Ugly Guys Hurt Royally Everytime Someone Eats A Radish, Carrot, Hors d'oeuvre, And Never Does Dishes. Eventually, Victor Eats Lunch Over Peoria Mit Ein Neuesberger Tod.
    • What do you do if you encounter a time portal? It's as easy as T.I.M.E.!
      Gypsy: T.I.M.E. Tell someone. Identify when the portal goes to. Make a plan. And: Enter the portal, comma, not!
      Jonah: Gypsy, that last one is really confusing.
      Crow: You try coming up with something that starts with E, maggot!
  • Funny Background Event: In the Mystery Science Theater Hour sketches, which can be seen in some of the DVDs, Jack Perkins (Michael J. Nelson) is seen performing the trope in the dim lighting as the credits roll in every sketch.
  • Futuristic Superhighway: Featured the 1956 General Motors promotional film Design for Dreaming that ends with the happy couple riding their turbine-engine car through the Highway of Tomorrow - "Look, Dead Raccoon of Tomorrow!"

  • Gag Nose: The "big noses" the Mads invent in Star Force.
  • Gargle Blaster: A non-alcoholic recipe known as the Killer Shrew. Joel takes one sip and passes out from sugar shock, while Frank goes completely hyper after he tries it.
  • God Test: Parodied when the gang land in Roman Times. Pearl claims they are gods, and Brain Guy has to use his powers to demonstrate. Should be pretty easy given that the observers basically are gods... too bad Brain Guy has no imagination and just conjures a few spoons. Pearl suggests he make a refrigerator, but he says it would be pointless as the ancient Romans wouldn't understand what it was or why it was special anyway. Mike and the bots suggest he conjure a pony, but it turns out to be moot because realizing that Pearl and Brain Guy can talk to "gods in the sky" is enough.
    Brain Guy: Behold! From nothing I produce this... spoon.

    Brain Guy: Behold as I produce this... bigger spoon!
  • Godwin's Law: Invasion of the Neptune Men.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser:
    • Pearl may be trying to drive Mike insane with torturous movies so she can take over the world, but that doesn't mean they can't chill on her porch together and share some YooHoo.
    • The invention exchanges between Joel and Dr. Forrester.
    • During Quest of the Delta Knights, Pearl briefly swaps places with Mike, and when the segment is over, Mike is playing poker with Brain Guy and Professor Bobo.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The Mads are trying to find the one movie that will do this to a person. Failure Is the Only Option. They do come close with a few movies, including Manos: The Hands of Fate, Monster a-Go Go, The Castle of Fu Manchu, Invasion of the Neptune Men, Hobgoblins and Red Zone Cuba.
  • Got the Whole World in My Hand: The Forrester Family Crest.
  • Grand Finale: Danger! Diabolik, at least initially.
  • Greek Chorus: As much as there can be a Greek Chorus in a show like this, Max's commentary during the ad bumpers, while still sarcastic, is written to be much more direct in its criticism towards the episode's experiment, similar to what an audience member would be thinking, in contrast to the jokey and referential riffs made by Jonah and the bots.
  • Green-Eyed Monster:
    • Jonah just keeps trying to make new robot friends, and Servo and Crow keep dismembering them out of jealousy.
    • Max's reason for taking Doug McClure's advice to "asert his dominance" to gain Kinga's affection and possibly killing Jonah with a giant metal robot.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: When Joel gets really pissed at Crow, he tends to rip Crow's arm off and beat him with it.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: Mike and the Bots made one of these to piss Pearl off about the repeated use of footage of a man dying in Final Justice.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Dr. Forrester will kill mass amounts of people for little to no reason.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Naturally, since they did mostly older films (what they could afford) they had a lot of fun with this trope.
  • Heroic BSoD: Several films nearly succeeded in the Mads' goal of breaking the SOL crew's collective will:
    • Manos: The Hands of Fate did it almost before the opening sequence ended, and is so bad that the Mads actually come out and apologize separately to the SOL for inflicting it on them.
    • Before Manos, the absolute nadir was The Castle of Fu Manchu, which reduced Joel and the Bots to tears of hysteria on the bridge every time they tried to discuss the maddeningly confusing plot. Frank and Dr. Forrester actually thought they'd won, until Joel challenged them to watch the film themselves — after thirty seconds, even they were sick of it.
    • Monster a-Go Go and Red Zone Cuba have Joel/Mike and the Bots try to enforce happiness on each other, with little success.
    • Invasion of the Neptune Men nearly broke Mike and the Bots (and the audience). It took an intervention by annoying fourth wall-breaking villain Krankor to pull them out of their tailspin with, of all things, an Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other moment.
    • Red Scare propaganda vehicle Rocket Attack USA has a Downer Ending with no apparent moral other than "move to the suburbs so that at least you don't die instantly when nuclear war inevitably comes."
    • The pointlessly cruel Downer Ending of The Girl in Lover's Lane does it to the bots, though Joel snaps them out of it by pointing out that the whole story is fictional, and they're perfectly free to come up with whatever ending they want to imagine instead.
    • Hobgoblins was so bad, Mike, Tom, Crow and Cambot go so far as to try and escape the satellite halfway through the movie.
    • After seeing Final Justice, Mike hits his breaking point and pretends to be escaping the Satellite of Love just like Joel did. His logic is that because Joel got to escape after watching a bad Joe Don Baker movie (back in Mitchell), he deserves the same reward for watching one of his own. Crow and Servo have to break it to Mike that he's only sitting in the water heater and not in an escape pod.
    • The Day Time Ended, a movie already wearing on Jonah and the 'Bots due to Kinga's Gauntlet, puts Crow and Servo so close to breaking with its incoherence. By the end of the film, they're hallucinating dreamily of the alien city from the ending, calling it a place where no bad movies can harm them. Jonah only barely manages to get them out of it in time for the next movie.
    • Even for lesser versions of this, the crew has their own Unusual Euphemism: vapor locking, as in "Jeez, Joel, don't vapor-lock on us!" Used when a character, in-movie or out, is stunned into silence, gets trapped in a flashback, or is sent off on a nonsensical rant they can't get out of.
      • For those not familiar with the term: when it gets cold enough (like Minnesota in winter), if any condensation gets inside a lock, it can freeze the mechanism solid, vapor locking — which can keep the key from being pushed into the lock, much less turned. The worst, of course, is when this happens when you've just walked to the edge of the parking lot at the end of an already-long day's work, something with which the writing room was obviously familiar.
  • Heroic RRoD: Fugitive Alien II is famous for (temporarily) killing Servo, leading to Joel desperately trying to resuscitate him. Another Japanese superhero(?) experiment, Invasion of the Neptune Men had him contract a mystery disease (Roji-Panty Complex, based on a nigh-incomprehensible term from the film) that put in down for the count for the better part of a host segment.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners:
    • Dr. Forrester and Frank, when they weren't killing each other in funny ways.
      Dr. Forrester: Frank, I'm out of the shower! I need you to towel me off!
    • Rule of Funny in full force here. Basically, other than being extremely dysfunctional, what Frank and Clay's true relationship was seemed to shift from episode to episode. It all depended on what gave them the most opportunities for laughs. This had to end by the time Pearl, Clay's mother, became a regular...her relationship to Dr. Forrester had to be unambiguous, for obvious reasons.
      • Except for the time he put her in a home, of course.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: A special VHS containing this was released titled Poopie! Originally, it was only available to members of the MST3K Info Club for $15. It was later included as DVD Bonus Content on the Rhino release of Manos: The Hand of Fate. A second. lesser known blooper reel titled Poopie! II was released in 1997, also available through the Info Club, and was included on the Rhino release of Teen-Age Strangler. Shout! Factory included both compilations on Volume 39 as "The Complete Poopie!".
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • In the "1st Annual Summer Blockbuster Review", after Bobo keeps talking and making noise throughout the Men in Black trailer, Crow remarks:
      Crow: I hate people who talk in the theater.
    • Future War mocks Robert Z'Dar's Lantern Jaw of Justice, despite being an example of the trope himself.
    • When it looks like they may all die in Danger! Diabolik the crew all perform a Dying Declaration of Love...only for them to survive, allowing Crow to be pissed at Servo for not giving Crow one. Nobody gave one to Cambot.

  • Iconic Sequel Character: Mike Nelson didn't join the cast until midway through season 5.
  • I Lied: The Mads (and Pearl) do this a lot. What do you want from them? They're EVIL!
  • I Am Not Shazam: Invoked: At the end of Jungle Goddess, Joel and the bots hold a spoof of the film they just watched; as they take their bows, Joel introduces Crow as "Art Crow" in reference to Art Carney of The Honeymooners fame. However, one young fan who wrote in referred to Crow as "Art" in her letter, believing it to be his real name. This would eventually hang over him to the point that Pearl would refer to Crow as "Art".
  • The Igor:
    • Dr. Erhardt.
    • TV's Frank.
    • TV's Son of TV's Frank (otherwise known as Max).
    • Once sequence has Pearl attempting to have Brain Guy conform closer to this trope so she could be certified as a mad scientist. His misunderstanding is hilarious.
      Pearl: Here, Brain Guy, I want to give you a hump.
      Brain Guy: Pearl, whatever your feelings for me—
      Pearl: On your back, idiot.
      Brain Guy: That's sexual harassment, and I don't have to take it.
      Pearl: A latex hump.
      Brain Guy: Now see here!
  • I Hate Past Me: Crow and his half-an-hour-ago self from Time Chasers.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Many, but intentionally.
  • Incredibly Long Note: Kevin especially is able to hold one of these, in The Leech Woman. Tom loses it and acts like Ma Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies screaming *Jeeeeeed* for THE ENTIRETY OF THE ENDING CREDITS. 57 unbroken seconds. (This is a bit of a fake example, however—if you listen closely, you can hear where the scream was edited to sound really long.)
    • Crow in The Mole People holds out a very long "AAAAAAHHH" on his fall down from cutting his mile-high pie.
    • Mike's "screaming" in this host segment semi-qualifies.
  • Infodump: Joel (especially in the early seasons) and Mike would sometimes—redundantly—explain the premise in the opening host segment. Only in Stranded in Space was it mentioned that the Mads were selling the experiments as a cable TV show. Wild Rebels is also the only episode where the theater is referred to as the "Mystery Science Theater".
    • Season 11 begins with some Gizmonic Institute employees expositing about Jonah's mission, his exceptional prowess as a Gizmonic employee, and Bunny-Ears Lawyer tendencies. After the initial info dump transitions into Jonah's kidnapping and the the theme song, Jonah then tells the audience about the modifications he's made to the bots and Kinga shares her capitalistic motivations to turn her family's newly resurrected experiment into a billion dollar brand she can sell off to Disney.
    • Max's narration during the bumpers often info dumps bits of world building information, such as the invention exchange being a traditional greeting at the Gizmonic Institute.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Space Mutiny was made in the 1980's. Mike was a young guy in the 1980's. Ergo, Space Mutiny and the entire 80's decade was Mike's fault.
    • The "who is Merritt Stone?" sketch stretches this trope to its very limits.
  • In-Series Nickname: Loads and loads of them.
  • Instant Home Delivery: Averted with Torgo's Pizza, as it took him two hours to deliver the pizza (although it was still warm). It took him nine months to get some sodas from his car.
  • Insufferable Genius: Tom Servo. The Middles Ages sketch from The Magic Sword had Tom point out what the Middle Ages were really like, leading "King Joel" to have Crow impale Tom on his lance.
  • Interface Screw: The bubbles that occasionally appear on screen during host segments in season 11. Episode 4 explains this by revealing that Kinga is somehow filming the show using a liquid, meaning that the bubbles are a rough equivalent to television static. The Crawl that appears later in the episode is, according to Max, caused by Jonah "hacking into the video plumbing".
  • Insult Backfire: In Season 1, Joel would routinely scold the Mads for making their inventions so sick/evil/twisted, prompting Dr. Forrester and Larry to respond in unison "Thank you!" In the season 3 episode Earth vs. The Spider, Forrester did this again with Frank, causing the two to pause and look at each other uncomfortably for a few seconds.
    • As a meta-example, when Kevin Murphy took over for J. Elvis Weinstein as the voice of Tom Servo in season 2, a fan sent the show a six-foot banner with the words I HATE TOM SERVO'S NEW VOICE in ASCII art. Murphy recalled in The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide that he felt flattered that someone had taken that much effort to make him feel as bad as possible, and hung the banner up in his cubicle for more than a year.
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: Mike, Tom and Crow riffed on the Season 2 premiere of Cheap Seats.
    • As well as made a cameo appearance in a The Soup episode.
    • In the Futurama episode "Raging Bender", the main characters are talking in a movie theater, only to be scolded by two familiar robotic silhouettes.
    • In the Arrested Development episode "A New Start", a brief clip of a low-budget Fantastic Four movie DeBrie Bardeux had appeared in is shown, with Joel and the Bots silhouetted on the bottom. Hodgson and Beaulieu reprise their roles to get off a few riffs.
      • The episode "Smashed" features a clip from similar knockoff of Apollo 13, and Joel and the Bots again pop up, albeit without dialogue.
    • To help promote Season 11's premiere on Netflix, they had Jonah and the bots riff the opening two minutes of Stranger Things (See here.)
  • Interspecies Romance: Mike's descendants indulged in this with various species of apes in the intervening years before the Season 8 premiere.
    • To say nothing of Crow's heartfelt fascinations with Kim Cattrall and Estelle Winwood.
    • And don't forget Gypsy's strange obsession with Richard Basehart throughout the entire run of the show.
    • Servo fell really hard for Catalina Caper's Creepy Girl.
      • And his pet turtle, Tibby.
        Crow: Do you realize a robot just sang a love song to a turtle?
    • It's revealed in Hobgoblins that Bobo is having an internal crisis over his romance with a woman not of his species; one who is very close to him and whom he loves passionately despite her occasional meanness towards him...turns out it's a chimpanzee named Emily.
  • In the Blood: The Forrester Clan has apparently been isolating people and exposing them to bad media on a regular basis for at least a thousand years.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: In Mitchell, Frank accidentally contacts the Satellite of Love by leaning on The Button. Since Joel and the Bots are on survival test maneuvers, Gypsy is the only one to respond. She overhears the Mads discussing how to kill temp worker Mike - and thinks they're planning to off Joel, which leads to Joel's escape from the SOL.
    • Beginning of the End has Mike deciding to call the Mads instead of letting them call him. He catches them in the midst of some extremely unmasculine activities (Forrester exercising on a treadmill while listening to Sheena Easton on his Walkman; Frank wearing a facial mudpack and pigging out on ice cream in front of a daytime talk show). Clayton, predictably, panics when he realizes the line is open.
      Forrester: ...Oh, my God... Frank! Switch on the game! Switch on the game!
  • It's Pronounced "Tro-PAY": "Pyu-mah Man" versus "Pooh-mah man."
  • Joisey: An early episode features a driver education film produced by the state of New Jersey during World War II. They get a lot of mileage out of it.
  • Joke Exhaustion: In the opening host segment of The Skydivers, Crow interrupts Servo's planetarium presentation by cracking every single Uranus joke in his arsenal. Tom eventually snaps.
    • In Star Crash, after Tom takes an Overly Long Gag too far, otherwise perpetual nice guy Jonah snaps, taking off Tom's globe and throwing it.
  • Jumping Out of a Cake: The Mads' invention in I Accuse My Parents was a instant cake mix made especially for this. Except Frank put the stripper inside the cake when he baked it. The guy survived anyway.
  • Just One Second Out of Sync: When entering the wormhole in Prince of Space, its first side-effect resulted in Tom being three seconds ahead of Mike, Mike being ten seconds ahead of Crow, and Gypsy being fifteen seconds ahead of all of them, and Tom and Cambot the only ones who knew what was going on. Tom used his temporal advantage to steal Crow's chicken puppet twice and Gypsy's burrito was cooked before she put it in the oven.
  • Kabuki Theatre: One host segment of Invasion of the Neptune Men has the bots perform Kabuki Theatre for Mike. When Mike comments he prefers Noh Theater (another famous kind of Japanese theater), this leads to a misunderstanding where the bots think Mike doesn't like theater at all.
  • Kick the Dog: In the 2017 series, Kinga creates "puntable" bunnies for the invention exchange and gleefully kicks hers for distance. Max has reservations even after his bunny insists it wants to be punted.
  • The Killjoy: In the short film "A Day at the Fair", one of the events is a cake contest, with some dour-looking judges.
    Narrator: Judging cakes should be fun!
    Mike: But this woman manages to suck the joy out of it.
  • Kneel Before Zod: In The Movie, Forrester forces Mike and the 'Bots to worship him. In fact, his first words to the audience is "Hello, and welcome. I'm Dr. Clayton Forrester, and soon you will all bow down before me."
    Forrester: Say, come to think about it, I don't believe you bowed down before me recently.
    Mike: Sure we have - last week.
    Forrester: No, no, no, I think that was more of a curtsey than a bow. So why don't we all just bow down now?
    Mike: I don't see any reason to make us... [Forrester pulls a lever, and Mike suddenly kneels, choking]
    Crow: (scared) Bowing, sir!
    [Tom bows and prays to Dr. Forrester, speaking in tongues]
  • Kubrick Stare:
    • Mike could be quite unnerving on the rare occasions he did this.
    • Don't give matches to Mikey!
    • Crow can pull off a nice one too due to the way his head is shaped.
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Rigorously mocked wherever it appears, but Forrester has an evil one... and even invents "chinderwear" for his chin-butt.
    • Made all the more hilarious when Frank and Dr. F. switch chinderwear during a cut away.
    • Mike has a rather impressive, manly chin, which has been remarked upon in real life by both Kevin Murphy ("It's a large, meaty roast of a face") and Mike himself ("I do have one of the largest faces in show business").
    • Actor Robert Z'Dar appeared in two films had a remarkable example. In Future War Mike puts a fake big chin on at the end of the episode. Crow and Servo don't find his mocking of this trope amusing.
  • Larynx Dissonance: A segment from the KTMA era had Gypsy apparently recovering from a cold Joel didn't know about and speaking in a more (naturally) girly voice (even singing Marilyn Monroe's take on Happy Birthday to You!), but it turned out to be Tom Servo throwing his voice.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Crow, after spending 500 years alone on the satellite by himself, recognizes everyone but Mike. It takes him three episodes to get over it.
  • Laughing at Your Own Jokes: During The Human Duplicators experiment, TV's Frank and Dr. Forrester can't help guffawing at the concept of a refrigerator alarm that only sounds when William Conrad is stealing the food. Most of the segment they can't even explain the invention because they can't stop laughing in advance.
    Frank: Who's going to need this? Maybe Quinn Martin – and he's dead!
  • Laughing Mad:
    • Twice. Once on Season 9's Devil Fish, where the film ends with the characters laughing at a bad joke; Tom and Crow continue the laughter all the way through the end credits, gradually sounding more and more unhinged.
    • The second one happens in Santa Claus: when the white, mechanical reindeer begins to laugh, the three begin to laugh in fear, culminating in a high-pitched, horrible series of gibbering, shrieking and laughing.
      Mike: [half laughing, half sobbing] What's happening?!
      Servo: A pentagram, and reindeer laughing. You figure it out.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In Gamera, at the sight of a rocket taking off, Tom asks Joel if that reminds him of something, before the bots start singing the show's title song, "In the not-so-distant future...", which causes Joel to rip Crows arm off (for the second time that episode) and threatening to sue them for using that song.
  • Logic Bomb: Mike tricks MONAD into thinking a Tuesday party is on Friday, meaning he is imperfect and has to destroy himself. MONAD will have none of it.
    • Joel, Crow and Gypsy deconstructing Tom's Merritt Stone theory caused Tom's head to explode from confusion.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Crow decided to return to the Satellite of Love after exploring the Edge of the Universe for a whole five minutes, and spent 500 years redecorating. After Mike, Tom and Gypsy returned, he couldn't remember Mike, changed his beak, and for some reason carved fertility statues in an attempt to woo himself.
    • He also got involved in the illegal donut trade, and won a pair of nanobots in a county fair, and explored the "lower levels" of the Satellite of Love and discovered the mole people living there.
  • Long List: A frequent riffing gag.
  • Long-Runner Cast Turnover: The series lasted long enough to see every actor walk away for personal reasons. It began as a Mad Scientist and his assistant tormenting a janitor and his robots, but eventually ended as a megalomaniacal woman, a Doctor Zaius expy, and a brain guy tormenting an erstwhile temp worker and... well, the same robots, but with different voices. Joel, the creator and main host character, left the show to Mike in the middle of season five, neatly dividing the series (and fans) into two eras. Both hosts went on to start their own movie-mocking franchises in Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax, and both of those enterprises feature a mutually-exclusive subset of MST3K alumni (except for Mary Jo Pehl, who has appeared in both series).
    • When the show returned for the 11th season on Netflix, it featured a new host in Jonah, three new voices for the bots, and two new main villains. However, former villains do comeback in reoccurring roles (including the villains played by Murphy and Corbett, who formerly voiced the bots), and Joel comes back as a new reoccurring character in a Creator Cameo of sorts.
  • Long Runner: One year on Minneapolis local TV, seven years on Comedy Central, three years on Sci-Fi, and a season on Netflix. The show so nice, they Un-Canceled it thrice.
  • Long Title: The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vice Presidential Command Performance Academy of Robots Choice Awards Preview Special.
    • Which itself lampshades the fact that AMPAS have used legal muscle to keep anyone not officially connected to them from using the terms "Academy Award" or "Oscar". Another MST3K Oscar special was called, with similar circumlocution, The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Little Gold Statue Preview Special.
  • Look Behind You: Servo when he gets caught trying to cheat on his net with Mike. "Look, a giant distracting thing!"
  • Magic Countdown: Referenced in Time Chasers during the airplane fight scene.
    Tom: Ten, nine, eight, seven... (camera cuts back to "transport timer", which says 7) uh, seven... six, five, four... one, zero... (timer now says 4) uh, four, three, two, one... (timer now says 3) three, two, one, (timer now says 2) two, one, whatever.
    • Not to mention the plane goes down halfway through saying 'one'.
  • Mama Bear: Gypsy to Tom and Crow in The Beatniks. Joel is being mean and cheating at Rock, Paper, Scissors, (since their hands can't move) and slapping the bots on the arms when they lose. Shortly before the commercial sign goes off, Gypsy comes in and knocks Joel over, and comforts Tom and Crow by saying "My babies!"
  • Meaningful Name: The Satellite of Love can easily be abbreviated "SOL", a well-known military acronym for "Soldier Out of Luck" (or, more crudely, "Shit Out of Luck"). This neatly describes the situation of the residents.
  • Medium Awareness: In-Universe the characters are aware they're being filmed (hence Cambot's existence), and sometimes use this knowledge as part of a gag in a host segment (like the time Cambot played back audio from I Accuse My Parents so they could lip sync to it). Taken even further in The Return since Kinga puts a greater emphasis on the broadcasting part of the experiment than the Mads before her. As a result, Jonah is aware he's acting a theme song out, Netflix conventions are discussed, the complexities of patching the countinity of the previous seasons with the current one is directly addressed, and at one point Jonah "hacks" the Mad's feed to get an onscreen text crawl.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • Strangely In-Universe, since oft-quoted movie lines where altered over the course of the show's many seasons to suit different situations (and possibly just for the hell of it).
    • The prime example might be the "I thought you were Dale" reference, which the riffers broke out for close-up shots of hands. Even though the writers figured out they had their references crossed - the hand shots were from a dish soap commercial, while the line was from a cereal ad - they continued to throw in the riff throughout the show's run.
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: Three times, in fact. Needless to say, the Trope Namer.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: TV's Frank.
  • Mind Screw:
    • Mike, Tom and Crow once appeared on CBS Morning to talk about the new Godzilla film. Mike, Tom and Crow talked about their roles on the show, implying all the Bots on the show appear as themsleves. But next Bill and Kevin come out and talk about their roles on the show. So the Bots know they're on a show, but not that they're puppets?
    • Mikey and the Llama. Enough said.
    • And back in KTMA, there was this doosey of a journal entry from Servo.
    • In Prince of Space, the Mads and the SOL crew had to chase after Bobo after he fell into a wormhole. One of the results of the wormhole was Mike, Tom, Crow and Gypsy's positions in the time-space continuum were put out of sync compared to Cambot's (and the audience's). It makes as much sense as it sounds.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum:
    • Forrester was able to build and launch a space station with artificial gravity cheaply enough that he could bury it in Gizmonic Institute's budget, and load it with enough supplies to keep a one-man crew healthy for five and a half years before needing to send up a new person. This would revolutionize the space industry, and what does he do with it? Screen crappy movies.
    • Joel built three robots with true, if unsophisticated, AI, and uses them primarily for companionship so that he doesn't have to sit through the movies alone.
  • Misplaced a Decimal Point: In one episode, Servo misses a single question on the tests given to the cast by the Brain Guys (which everyone else fails horrendously but Gypsy, and it's suggested via Overly Narrow Superlative that she'd have failed if they'd been able to decide on a control set) for this reason.
  • Mondegreen: In-Universe examples include "Gaybar" (Gaudar of Time of the Apes); "Cornjob" (Kondo, or "Kon-chan", of Gamera vs. Guiron); "Pile-on Pete" (Pilot Pete, The Painted Hills); "Crank-Whore" (Krankor, Prince of Space); "Big Stupid" (Bix Dugan, The Girl in Lovers' Lane); "Johnny Longbone", (Johnny "Longbow" Salinas, Track of the Moon Beast) and, of course, The Toblerone from Escape 2000.
    • "With a pickle mine/We kick the nipple beer/Steady as a goat/We're flying over trout..."
    • A few Misties have apparently heard " they conked him on the noggin and they shot him into space" as " they conked him on the noggin and they shot him in his face." Becomes something of an Ascended Meme in season 11 when Crow sings it that way for a riff.
  • Moniker As Enticement: One short was called "Posture Pals" and was a black-and-white educational film featuring four children designated as the Posture King, Queen, Prince and Princess because they worked so hard to have good posture.
  • Monochrome Casting: Pretty unsurprising, as it was initially cast in the American Midwest during the 1980s.
  • Motor Mouth: The Nanites generally speak in a rapid-fire technical jargon.
    • Servo has had two separate segments where his demonstration of this ends with Joel giving him an oxygen mask to breath.
  • The Movie: The film actually subverts this trope, as it was screwed by the distributors. Each episode of the show is already feature-length (90 minutes) — but the MST3K Movie was not only twenty minutes shorter than any episode of the series (a scant 72 minutes), but fourteen minutes shorter than the riffed-upon film This Island Earth. The distributors' test audiences apparently felt the movie went on too long, even though fans of the show (those most likely to see the film) were already well-accustomed to the show being as long as a film.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Big, tall, strapping, hunky Mike Nelson, especially when he's shirtless on several occassions.
    • Not to mention the dreamy Joel Robinson! He's had quite a few ladies misty-eyed over him.
    • Even the bots are pretty cute... you know, if you're into that sort of thing.
    • Jonah is built like a lumberjack and unafraid to ham it up in host segments with a rather seductive wink or hip shake here and there.
  • The Musical: MST3K LIVE! events were basically this.
  • Musical Nod: Moon 13 has a on-site band called the Skeleton Crew that plays Cover Versions of classic songs from seasons past, including "Sidehacking is the Thing to Do", "My Creepy Girl", "Wild Rebels Cereal", "Clown In The Sky", "Livin' in Deep 13", "United Servo Academy Chorus", "The Canada Song" and "To Earth!"
  • My Beloved Smother: Pearl Forrester, and HOW. For example, she forces Clayton to play the trombone (with a ruler as punishment), whines loudly CLAYTON! every few seconds when she's sick, and even when she is happy when Clayton is reverted to childhood in the first series finale, she reveals she killed him when he grew up to do stupid movie experiments all over again. (That doesn't stop her from doing the same thing "in revenge" for her son's death at her hands.) Before we even meet Pearl, Dr. Forrester admits that his mother's overbearing ways were the source of his evil, "fueling my badness".
  • My Little Panzer: Some of Dr. F's Invention Exchange items fall into this category; while most (if not all) of his inventions are indeed meant to be hurtful, those aimed toward kids (such as the flame-throwing Godzilla or the "Unhappy Meal") were met with particular disdain by Joel and the 'Bots.

  • Naughty Nurse Outfit: Crow has sexual fantasies of Tom in a nurse's outfit.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Subverted by Observer, who is supposed to be omnipotent, but has some odd limitations.
    Observer: I'm not that omnipotent, Pearl!
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
    • Mike has a few of these, most notoriously the whole planet-destroying dealie. Hence trope naming Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds.
    • Ironically, Mike helped contribute to the destruction of his 1st planet by aiding the apes to FIX a thermonuclear bomb.
    • Joel is ultimately responsible for why neither he nor Mike can control when the movies begin or end. Because according to the Theme Song, he used those parts to make the bots.
  • The '90s:
    • Most of the series was filmed during this decade. Among the numerous riffs will contain some '90s-specific words such as "John Sununu", "Tonya Harding", "Counting Crows", "Arsenio Hall", "Tamagotchi", etc. Also, seven episodes, all from the Sci-Fi seasons, feature movies from the 1990s (notable examples: Werewolf, Future War, Time Chasers and The Final Sacrifice; the latter featuring ROWSDOWER).
    • Nirvana and Chris Farley on Overdrawn at the Memory Bank.
  • No Fourth Wall:
    • The SOL crew would directly address the audience at least once an episode. The camera was a character mentioned in the opening theme. The characters had a "Commercial Sign" to warn them that the show was about to take a break.
    • Hodgson has stated that Forrester was selling the results of the experiment to Comedy Central, which explains people addressing the camera and "Commercial Sign". Sort of odd that the originator of the MST3K Mantra would be explaining plot elements...
    • This is explicitly stated in earlier seasons; in fact, the episode Angels Revenge has an invention exchange specifically designed to raise the show's ratings: Dr. Forrester invents a pill that turns the SOL crew into the cast of Renegade.
    • The Return seasons return to this premise with gusto. Kinga Forrester and TV's Son of TV's Frank are selling the show to Netflix, and Kinga explicitly tries to exploit the show's marketability.
    • In one episode, Servo even mentions how a planetoid in the movie they were watching resembled the MST3K logo — until Joel shut him up by pointing out he wasn't supposed to know that...
    • In Gamera, when the movie's title character is tricked into being launched into space in a manner uncannily similar to the circumstances of Joel's marooning, Servo busts out into the MST3K theme song, much to Joel's annoyance.
      Joel: I could sue you for that. I could sue you for using my song.
      • On a similar note, even the rocket is the same, complete with Japanese characters on the tail.
    • Some of the TV specials (e.g., the CBS Morning Godzilla trivia quiz) preserved some of the fourth wall, in an odd way. While all the characters were fully aware of their canonically fictional status in their own television show, the 'bots were interviewed in-character, as if they, like the human hosts, were playing themselves. So the characters were fictional while simultaneously not being fictional. This is a concept that any Muppet Show fan would understand immediately.
  • No OSHA Compliance:
    • The Satellite of Love's annual safety check from the Squirm episode:
    Mike: Fire extinguisher?
    Tom: Empty.
    Crow: Shot him off in your face. Next?
    Mike: Flare Gun.
    Tom: Ibid.
    Crow: Shot him off in your face. Next.
    Mike: That's right. First aid kit?
    Tom: Used it to treat your flare burns.
    Mike: Parachute?
    Crow: Gym class.
    Mike: Life vest?
    Tom: Falsies.
    Mike: Ham radio?
    Crow: Mistook it for an actual ham.
    Mike: There, the Satellite of Love is completely unsafe. Does anything work at all?
    Tom: The toaster oven. We used it to bake the ham radio.
    • Then during the Space Mutiny episode, Servo installed railing everywhere with no concern for actual safety — such as a rotating railing designed to knock people into a pit.
  • Not So Stoic:
    • Cambot breaks down into tears after all the security cameras were destroyed in Danger! Death Ray.
    • While Joel is no stoic, he's always been nonchalant about the movies. Until Manos when twenty seconds go by without anything actually happening:
      Joel: DO something!!! God!
  • Notzilla: A special episode had Crow making a spoof of the 1998 Godzilla (since they weren't allowed to review it) using a toy iguana calling it "Goshzilla".
  • The Nth Doctor: Cambot goes through a total of five different bodies (and two voices) through the show's run. Two of which were the exact same body but with different paint jobs.
  • Oedipus Complex: In the unfortunately-named "Date with your Family".
    Narrator: Then, [Brother] helps Mother to her chair as he would his best girl.
    Crow: The less said about this, the better.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Several times every episode, Joel/Mike/Jonah and the 'Bots will get up and leave the theater to the right, then the camera will pull back through the doors to reveal them already in the main area of the Satellite of Love, often already in the midst of whatever gag or event that was going to occur. The same would happen when the "movie sign" light would go off, and the camera would leave them there, but they would always be entering the theater by the time Cambot arrived there.
  • Oh, Crap!: Or, rather, "Oh, poopie." This became the name they gave to their blooper reels.
  • Once an Episode: In The Return, Gypsy drops by the theater at least twice an episode. She drops off what Word of God calls "the payload", makes a one-liner, and then leaves. She later comes to pick it up, and makes another one-liner.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Mike Nelson destroyed three planets in a single season, all purely by accident.
    Prof. Bobo, the Simple Country Lawyer: So you blow yourself up a planet; does that make you a world-destroyer? Hmm? My momma, she burnt a brown betty one time, that make her a world-destroyer? I reckon not.
  • Only Sane Man: Joel and Mike were a mix of this and Unfazed Everyman.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Crow and Tom give Joel concerned looks after his Not So Stoic outburst in Manos: The Hands of Fate.
  • Our Doors Are Different: The camera—er, Cambot—moves through a series of variously designed doors in between the host segments and theater segments.
  • Our Time Machine Is Different: The one from Terror from the Year 5000, which would later become the Satellite of Love's time machine looked like a water heater, and acted as a TARDIS.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: In one episode, Mike briefly transforms into a "werecrow," complete with metal claws, head-frill, and beak.
    • While Servo grew blond hair and turned into a "Were-Mike" after spilling some of Mike's "essence" on himself.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: The wormhole in Prince of Space results in, among other things, Just One Second Out of Sync, AlternateUniverses colliding, and finally Time Travel back to ancient Rome.
  • Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: The out-of-theater plot to Mitchell revolves around this. The Mads have hired Mike Nelson to help with an inventory of the Deep 13 lab beneath the Gizmonic Institute, but they find him insufferable and decide to kill him. Gypsy overhears them plotting and comes to the conclusion that they're plotting the death of Joel and spends the rest of the episode plotting to help Joel escape the Satellite of Love. Thus did Joel leave the series to be replaced by Mike.
  • Overly Long Gag: Doubled up in Daddy-O: first, Joel's obsession with the fruit-slapping scene in the final host segment leads Frank to delay the button-pushing by offering Dr. Forrester fruit several times. Finally, when Frank does push the button, the credit crawl only lasts until "written by: Michael J. Nelson - head writer", returning to Deep 13, where it's discovered that the Miracle Growth Baby (a holdover from Time of the Apes) has broken the keyboard, and Frank seems unable to hold the button down long enough to get past Mike's credit. Dr. F finally solves the problem with Alt-F7, allowing the rest of the credits to finally roll. But don't take my word for it...
  • Overly Long Scream: Happens in Revenge of the Creature when Mike and the robots contact Earth and see talking apes for the first time.
    • Also in a host segment from The Screaming Skull. The 'Bots prank Mike into thinking Crow is a screaming skull, and it works a little too well. Ironically, Crow doesn't actually scream, but Mike is so terrified that he screams continually for the next few minutes while the 'Bots try to calm him down.
  • Overused Running Gag:
  • Painting the Medium: Cambot has given "commentary" watching the movie of the week exactly twice — first to display a timer during a race scene in The Sidehackers, and then with a dripping water overlay effect during a scene in which cameras are being destroyed in Danger!! Death Ray.
  • Plank Gag:
  • Playing Gertrude: Mary Jo Pehl, who played Dr. Forrester's mother, Pearl. Pehl is two years younger than Trace Beaulieu, who played Pearl's son, Dr. Forrester. Additionally, both villains look about the same age.
    • They at least tried to give the actress a late middle aged frumpy housewife appearance in season seven when she was playing opposite Trace. Its only when he left and she became the main mad that the actress's look was updated and matched her real age more closely. It could be explained by the same Timey-Wimey Ball that Pearl says gave her a chance to raise Clayton again.
  • Power Trio: Joel, Servo and Crow. And later on Mike, Servo and Crow. Followed by Jonah, Servo and Crow. They also qualify as...
    • Big, Thin, Short Trio: Joel/Mike/Jonah are big (compared to the bots, at least), Crow is thin, and Servo is short.
    • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Crow is painted gold (blonde), Servo is painted red (redhead), and Joel, Mike and Jonah all have brown hair (brunette).
    • Chromatic Arrangement: At least during the time when Mike wore a blue jumpsuit.
    • Freudian Trio: Joel/Mike are the ego, Crow is the id, and Servo is the super-ego.
      • For the Mads, Pearl is the ego, Bobo is the id, and Observer is the super-ego.
  • Previously On…: Parodied in The Deadly Bees episode.
    Mike: Don't make me shoot you! CROOOOOOWWWWWW!
  • Product Placement: A few times. Most notably in one early episode when Forrester and Frank have a conversation about how they'll never, ever, ever do product placement... while Frank holds a Coke bottle with the label prominently displayed for the camera.
  • Public Secret Message: According to Word of God, Jonah's first invention, the Bubble Fan, is more than just a fun gadget. It's also an attempt to send a secret message for help through Kinga's liquid transmission medium.
  • Put on a Bus: Poor, poor Dr. Erhardt "goes missing" in between Seasons 1-2; Joel leaves the SOL and returns to Earth in an escape pod in Season 5; TV's Frank is taken up to "Second Banana Heaven" in Season 6. Also, this happens (sort of) to the entire remaining cast in the Season 7 finale.
    • Joel and Frank's buses came back in Soultaker, though just as guest appearances for that one episode. Erhardt's bus wouldn't be seen again until Season 12, almost 30 years since his departure.
    • This was a frequent occurrence in the KTMA days. Whenever a cast member went on vacation, their characters' absence was Hand Waved. Examples are Crow being frozen when Beaulieu was unavailable, and Joel being thrown out of an airlock when he took a break.
  • Raise Him Right This Time: Subverted. In Dr. Forrester's final appearance, he is transformed into a baby, and his mother says she'll do this, but he turns out just as bad as before, so she kills him.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy: Inherent to the show's premise.
  • Real After All: A recurring joke was the cast meeting an actual character from the film, such as mole people living the Satellite's sub-levels, Servo and Crow accidentally summoning Mothra with a fake dance or chatting up Megaweapon about his life after the film.
  • Rearrange the Song: The lyrics of the theme song change according to significant changes in the cast and/or plot.
    • An instrumental piano arrangement was used for The Mystery Science Theater Hour.
    • For the Netflix revival, the main theme song is completely rerecorded. They've got a full live band (with a horn section) playing it, and Har Mar Superstar sings it.
    • Also in the Netflix revival, the Ad Bumpers feature instrumental covers of songs from prior seasons, like "Living in Deep 13" from The Violent Years, or Servo's "Canada Song" from The Final Sacrifice.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Delivered by Kinga to the audience in the season 12 finale for letting MST3K plant itself in their minds.
  • Recursive Canon: Dozens of episodes have the SOL meet up with characters from the film they're watching, making the films records of nonfiction events.
  • Remember the New Guy?: The Mads in the Revival are Kinga Forrester and TV's Son of TV's Frank (aka Max), despite the fact that Dr. Forrester and Frank never alluded to having children in the original run. Possibly justified, since Pearl says she tried to get rid of Kinga numerous times (suggesting she may have been an unwanted child) and Max could be a clone of Frank rather than his actual son (implied by the scowl Kinga gives him when talking about dealing with clones).
  • Remote Body: The Observers play with this. They claim that their bodies are operated remotely (as their brains are located in bowls), but if their brains are more than a few feet away from their bodies they become completely helpless.
  • Repeat After Me:
    • In The Indestructible Man, Crow and Tom force Joel to sign a contract that will prohibit him from making any "cop and donut" jokes ever again. When Joel says that they have to sign it too, he begins to read the contract and ask that they repeat after him:
      Joel: I, state your name...
      Crow and Tom: I, state your name... [giggle]
      Joel: [irritated] Oh you guys, cut that out! That's just as bad as doing donut jokes!
    • In the Hilarious Outtakes, while singing the "Tribute to Pants", Joel flubs the chorus:
      Joel: Sing the praises of... [beat and Joel forgets his next line] Oh, shit!
      Trace: Shit!
      Trace and Kevin: Shit!
  • Revival: On November 11, 2015, Hodgson began the attempt to revive the show with a $2 million Kickstarter funding program. The campaign officially ended on a month later on December 12, raking in $6.3 million and guaranteeing the production of 14 brand-new episodes and making the revival a roaring success.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat:
    • In Daddy-O, Joel becomes obsessed with the "apple-slapping" scene and replays it over and over, mouthing the line "I want an answer!"
    • After watching It Conquered the World, Joel and the Bots insist on rewatching the pseudo-philosophical speech given by Peter Graves' character at the end ("He learned almost too late that man is a feeling creature..."). After which the Mads, equally fascinated, rewind and watch it yet again. And then it plays again over the closing credits.
    • The "To be or not to be speech" from Hamlet is replayed several times, thanks to a talking Hamlet doll.
    • On the latter two occasions, the featured speech was repeated because the film (hence the episode) ran short, necessitating filler.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Although this was always present, it became more and more pronounced as the series continued.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: When Bobo falls into a wormhole, Pearl forces the others to go in after him. When asked why, she points out he could be sent back in time and cause a Butterfly of Doom... which could RetGone slot machines, her favorite hobby.
    Observer: (begrudgingly) Your logic is irrefuatble...
  • The Rival: Subverted (for now, at least) with Cinematic Titanic vs. RiffTrax. Nelson claimed in an interview for the show's 20th Anniversary, that he approached Joel and the Cinematic Titanic crew, when Cinematic Titanic launched, about staging a blood feud between his camp (RiffTrax) and Joel's group (Cinematic Titanic) to drum up sales for their respective projects. Joel turned him down.
  • Robot Buddy: The other half of the cast.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: One of Joel's inventions was a guitar that was designed to be smashed over and over again, that way you could make a killer movement of anarchy even when you don't have the money to buy new guitars every performance.
  • Rooting for the Empire: In-Universe; Joel and the Bots found the protagonist of Warrior of the Lost World so unlikable that they rooted for Megaweapon and were saddened by his destruction. To their delight, it turned out he survived and they had a nice conversation with him over the phone.
    • When the Love Interest in Laserblast says her crazy grandfather will shoot the protagonist if he sees him again, Tom remarks they now have someone to root for.
  • Rule of Funny: Observed whenever possible.
  • Run the Gauntlet: Season 12 is subtitled "The Gauntlet", with Kinga and Max making Jonah, the Bots and the viewers watch six movies back to back to back to back to back to back!
  • Running Gag: The show has had many, some of which live on in the revival and on RiffTrax. Some began as Callbacks to previous episodes, to the point where most individual episodes will have their own list — not to mention the host-invented Catch-Phrases. Notable bits series-wide include:
    • When a flashback occurs and a child version of a character appears, Mike/Joel or one of the bots will proclaim "Jim Henson's _____ Babies," the blank usually being the name of the younger character. In Being from Another Planet, they even said "Jim Henson's Baby Babies".
    • All angry mobs are actually large groups of Packers fans. ALL of them. Doubles as a Take That! when you remember that the cast and crew of the show are primarily Vikings fans.
      • And you can tell the pain of the cast after the Packers won the 1997 Super Bowl as during The Giant Spider Invasion had them all yelling drunkenly as the on-screen groups rioted: "Packers won the Super Bowl! Yee-hoo!" while then shouting such phrases as "Free Mumia! Free beer!" and "U.S. out of North America! AND PACKERS!!!!"
    • Whenever a couple are arguing, Mike always responds with "Sure they argue, but the sex is great."
    • Servo singing "I Don't Know How to Love Him".
    • "No one will be seated during the breathtaking (insert mundane activity) scene."
    • Servo belting out gravelly-voiced Tom Waits and Joe Cocker numbers, usually when the monster/murderer was hamming it up with their death throe performance.
    • Any time a movie features primates, the riffing will inevitably include poop flinging jokes. When RiffTrax posted a YouTube video of Mike, Kevin, and Bill writing up jokes for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, longtime MSTies knew right away what the joke topic would be BEFORE they even watched it.
    • When a character is cornered and afraid, Crow will usually launch into shouts of "Keep away from MEEEE! Keep awAAAAY!"
      • Similarly, when a character is ashamed or embarrassed: "Ohhh, the pain, the pain..."
    • "It was Callahan! The big one! He did this to me!" when a particularly sleazy character appears.
    • Whenever policemen show up, Servo will say "A'right, show's over folks, nothin' to see here" in an Irish accent.
    • Whenever women are seen at work, there's a good chance everyone will start bantering in stereotypical Minnesota Nice old lady voices. There's no better way to describe it. "Ah, geez, work work work. That's all we do here, oh yah."
    • Whenever goofy, lighthearted music is played, Joel will often cry out "It's the kookiest/nuttiest/wackiest (item) in town!"
    • In Joel-era host segments, Crow is almost always the only one to see a ship approaching the Satellite, and Joel and Servo never listen to him when he tries to tell them because they're busy doing something else — playing a game, telling each other jokes or something like that.
    • Calling someone "you freaked-out maniac!" At the end of The Boys from Brazil, one of the little Hitler clones sics a pack of dogs on Mengele (the actual Josef Mengele) after finding out the latter killed his dad (the man who raised him, not Hitler).
    • During the Mike era, any time Bridget Jones (Mike's wife) played a character, she would be repulsed by Mike.
    • The correct response to any character in a sci-fi film demanding something be switched over to analog is Mike claiming 'It has a warmer sound!'
    • If they're riffing a Japanese movie, it's likely a joke about Godzilla, Cram School or "super-violent porn cartoons" will come up... along with plenty of cracks about the alarming length (or, more accurately, lack thereof) of the shorts that grade-school-age Japanese boys always seem to be wearing in these movies.
    • Series-wide and easy to miss: over the course of various episodes across the series, Crow getting himself "wedged" under the stairs, under the bulkhead, under the desk...
    • Dr. Forrester loved hamming it up with "I'm the God! I'm the God! I'm the gaw-haw-hawwwd!" and "I WILL KILL HIM!" The latter line was frequently quoted by Servo as well.
    • SPAAAAAHHHK! (Always done in an over-exaggerated Shatner voice)
    • Servo's increasingly irate "HE'S NOT MERRITT STONE!!!"
    • "HI-KEEBA!"
    • "__________ of the Ollllllld West."
    • "SLEEEEEP!"
    • "Da-ad?"
    • "I can't come back—I don't know how it works!" and other variations on The Wizard of Oz's last words.
    • Whenever a film has to be censored for profanity, the bots will often respond to the silence gap with "Huh?"/"Hmm?" or mock the incomplete sentence. An example from the MST3K Academy Awards preview special, when they riffed As Good as It Gets:
      Melvin: Oh, Carol the waitress, Simon the... [silence]
      Crow: Why'd they bleep out "former guy from TalkSoup"?
    • This joke:
      Crow: Where is Siegfried?
      Joel: Over here, Roy!
      Crow: Hello, Siegfried!
      Joel: Hello, Roy!
    • "Can't you see what I'm trying to tell you? I love you." Whenever a B-movie monster puts his arms around a woman in a way reminiscent of Groucho hitting on Margaret Dumont.
    • If the crew is able to make a series of linked riffs during the opening credits, they'll declare it "The [Insert Subject Matter] Sketch". For example, in the beginning of The Unearthly, they make a series of comments referring to the lives of the crew documented in various independent magazines such as Video Watchdog and Gorezone before Joel admits to reading Newsweek.
      Servo: The Fan 'Zine Sketch, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you!
    • "It's a good plan _______/ It was a good idea to ______/ He/she was a nice woman/man ______"
      All: AT FIRST!
    • Humming the M*A*S*H theme anytime a helicopter is shown.
    • In Red Zone Cuba, "I'm Cherokee Jack!" and "You shove off!"
    • Mike/Joel and the bots making joy buzzer sound effects whenever somebody shakes the hand of an obviously evil character.
    • Spoofing Marlo Thomas/That Girl anytime an attractive brunette with a flip hairdo, or some other big 1960's medium-length hairdo appears on screen, i.e.; Mike blurting out "Oh, Donald," in the episode The Wild World of Batwoman.
    • Crying 'Attica!' whenever someone is in a cell.
    • Crying out references to the cheesy 1974 television film Killdozer when a bulldozer is on screen, usually consisting of "It's Killdozer! Clint Walker, no!" Clint Walker was a star in the film. A Killdozer reference also showed up in a RiffTrax short, "Join Hands, Let's Go!".
    • "Oh, I hate to shoot a butt like that!" Used mostly in Season 1, particularly Radar Men from the Moon.
    • Whenever there's a plot hole or something confusing that the movie didn't establish very well, Crow or Tom will ask what's going on and Mike will respond "(chuckles) I don't..."
    • A running gag in some episodes is Joel or Crow saying "My boss!" in a gruff voice, and going on to talk about the crazy stuff he does, a reference to the Harts' butler/chauffeur Max in Hart to Hart.
    • "Does this bug you? Does this bug you? I'm not touching you."
    • Especially in the earlier episodes, Joel would often reach up and pretend to touch things on screen. Similarly, Servo would often kiss at the screen, since he was often positioned near a character's lips.
    • When missiles are laying horizontally, and get moved into a upright position, Joel/Mike and the robots start saying "Good Morning!" back and forth to each other.
    • When characters peer around a corner Joel/Mike/Jonah and the robots will harmonize "Hellooo... Helloooo... Hello!" one after another in the style of The Three Stooges making a entrance.
    • Beginning in the second national season, every time something is happening outside the satellite, they ask for Cambot to give them "Rocket Number 9!" to bring up the exterior view.
    • Joel and the Bots all shouting "Ford Beebe! Ford Beebe! Ford Beebe!" whenever his name appears in a film or short's credits.
    • Either Joel, Mike or one of the bots (usually Servo) shouting "Stay alive! Whatever may occur!" or some other variation of the waterfall scene from The Last of the Mohicans whenever the hero is about to be separated from his Love Interest.
    • Confusing James Franciscus with Tony Franciosa... and vice versa.
    • In Rocketship X-M, whenever Lloyd Bridges appears, Crow would crack "And by this time, my lungs were aching for air!" (alluding to Bridges' narrative on his syndicated show Sea Hunt).
    • If a movie has a wobbly credits sequence or narration card, Crow inevitably gets motion sickness.
    • Counting in a dumb tone of voice: "Duhhhhh..... one. Duhhhhhh..... two. Duhhhhh... three..."
    • Variants of this appear in a lot of episodes: "We've secretly replaced their regular coffee with Folgers Crystals, let's watch."
    • Gypsy's obsession with Richard Basehart.
    • The crew took a real shine to the song used in The Giant Gila Monster and several characters would hum "I sing whatever I sing whenever I sing"in later episodes.
    • Any time a horse is on screen, jokes made on its behalf will be done in Mister Ed's voice.
    • Adding the Benny Hill theme to scenes (by singing it themselves).
    • One episode featured one character, upon saving another from some unsavory types, asking "Who were those turkeys?" The entire remainder of the film's riff is filled with turkey jokes, culminating in Crow declaring himself "Turkey Volume Guessing Man," able to guess the volume of any space in the number of turkeys it can hold.
    • Over a shot of an atom bomb exploding: "[Insert Republican here]'s first day as President." An old joke from the MST live shows that carried over into Cinematic Titanic.
    • "My mother's a SAINT!"
    • Comments on how huge cars were in The '40s and The '50s.
      Mike: [in The Violent Years] They're standing up in that thing!
    • "...Bang!" after the many, many instances of Artistic License – Gun Safety.
    • "MITCHELL!" and "But Hooker's a GOOD cop!"
    • Whenever a man and woman are together and one makes a lame joke: "We're a fun couple."
    • "He tampered in God's domain."
    • "Watch out for snakes!"
    • "Hi-KEE-ba!"
    • "It stinks!"
      • Not to mention "Chief!?" "McCloud!?"
    • When someone is shot from a low angle: "I'm huge."
    • "...yeah, and what about Scarecrow's brain?!"
    • "I thought you were Dale!
    • "You're soaking in it!"
    • "I like it very much!"
    • "He tried to kill me with a forklift!ole!"
    • "Rowsdower!"
    • "MITCHELL!" and "But Hooker's a GOOD cop!"
    • "We're havin' an adventure, just like the Goonies!"
    • "Jane, stop this crazy thing!"
    • "I can't come back, I don't know how it works! Goodbye, folks!"
    • "_____ was arraigned in Los Angeles Superior Court. In a moment, the results of that trial."
    • "Mannix!" "Da-daa-da-da!"
    • Turns out there were a whole lot of Samuel Beckett lookalikes in movies from the mid-20th Century.
    • Whisper-thin, willowy-hipped lads.
    • "Aaaand I'm spent."
    • "Well, what do you know?"
      All: [in unison] Not much, you?
    • "Aren't these [people/places/stables/haybales/ambushes/etc.] phony?"
    • A subtle one in season 11: from episode 1102, Cry Wilderness, to episode 1107, The Land That Time Forgot, all of Kinga's ideas for Invention Exchange are stolen from some riff that Jonah and the bots made in the previous episode. When Jonah calls her out on it, she stops.
    • Kinga hoping to make the show a ratings hit and sell it to Disney, forgetting that Netflix doesn't use a traditional ratings system.
    • Jonah likes practical effects and will often take the time to point them out and try to explain them, much to Tom and Crow's irritation.
    • The Return cast is very fond of "I'm so excited! I'm so excited! I'm so... scared!" from Jessie Spano's caffeine pill-fueled addiction meltdown on Saved by the Bell.
    • "Mmmyeesss?" as popularized by Frank Nelson's omnipresent clerk/waiter/lawyer/etc on The Jack Benny Program.
    • Channeling the Diceman: "Little Miss Muffet! OHHH!"
    • Over any reasonably idyllic scene: "It's like a Thomas Kinkade painting — horrible..." Also an example of Bait-and-Switch.
    • If a movie takes a lot of time to show something (at least hypothetically) cute lumbering around at a slow pace, Jonah likes to start humming the Baby Elephant Walk.
    • "Look familiar, Mike?" is a surprisingly versatile gag. Usually, it'll have something to do with a beautiful woman, but in Devil Doll, when the puppet is about to attack Vorelli with a knife, the bots tell Mike "it will" look familiar.
    • Whenever a character reaches into their coat pocket, (usually) Crow will exclaim "He's got a gun!"

  • Sanity Slippage: This happens a lot. Such as Mike believing he's Carol Channing, or the ending segment to Red Zone Cuba.
    • As for Joel, here he is going off the rails while recalling the '60s in the Catalina Caper episode.
    • Of course, this is justified in-universe; driving Joel/Mike insane is, after all, the primary goal of the Mads.
    • Poor Crow seems to have had it the worst in the Sci-Fi Channel episodes. He was alone on the Satellite for 500 years, doesn't remember Mike upon their first reunion, and seems to have developed Split Personality symptoms where he believes he's something else. You really feel bad for him when you think about it.
    • Hercules Against the Moon Men has Joel repeating "DEEP HURTING" as a Madness Mantra, while "It's only a movie" was used by all three in Tormented.
  • Sapient Cetaceans: Parodied during Devil Fish. Mike and the bots make the mistake of talking disparagingly about dolphinsonly to have a "Dolphin Mothership" show up and start attacking them. It takes some serious kissing up in order to get them to leave. Later on, Mike and the bots start talking smack about electricians, only to discover that they have a mutual protection pact with the dolphins.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Parodied; during an experiment in season 6 that made the Bots more pretentious, Gypsy called Mike her "white male opresser." But it didn't stop there. In Season 10, Gypsy (who had Took a Level in Jerkass thanks to the ship going haywire) told Mike to "jump up my tube, white boy!"
    • In season 11, many of the Sassy Black Woman lines are given to Tom Servo (played by Baron Vaughn, thus eliminating the Unfortunate Implications of having a white man perform them). Gypsy, performed by Chicago-based comedian Rebecca Hanson, is explicitly Midwestern.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Most of the cast, but Servo employs it to the maximum in one episode where he has Joel enhance his "sarcasm sequencer", usually prefaced by an "Ooooooooooooooohh!" The sarcasm sequencer eventually overloaded, causing his head to explode.
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: Since space has no noise, Servo supplies the sound of cars driving. "Watch, I'll downshift now!"
    [Servo hums]
    Crow: What's that?
    Servo: I'm idling.
  • Scolding the Fourth-Wall Breaker: In Manhunt in Space, Tom looks at a planet and quips: "Look, it's the MST3K logo." Joel promptly whispers "You're not supposed to know about that!"
  • Screaming at Squick: Frequent. One running gag in the Joel era was for all three riffers to simultaneously scream "Eewww!!" when something particularly nauseating happened on screen.
  • Screens Are Cameras: The Hexfield Viewscreen.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Most of the host segments.
  • Selkies and Wereseals: Referenced in The Space Children; Mike comments "There's a Selkie caught in the oil slick."
  • Sequel Non-Entity: Magic Voice in the Netflix seasons.
  • Series Fauxnale: The season seven finale has the satellite sent drifting through space by Dr. Forrester and reaching the edge of the universe, where Mike and the Bots turn into pure energy. When the show was renewed, they all find themselves right back where they started.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Crow attempted to go back in time and convince Mike's teenage self not to take the temp jobs that would put him in the clutches of Dr. Forrester, meaning he'd never get stuck on the Satellite of Love. This lead to Mike's Jerkass big brother Eddie to be on the Satellie instead, which lead to...
  • Set Wrong What Was Once Made Right: In Time Chasers, Crow travels back to the 80s to steer a younger Mike Nelson away from the string of low-paying temp jobs which would eventually get him trapped in space watching bad movies. He succeeds by convincing Mike to focus on his rock band instead. But upon returning to the present, Crow finds that Mike's place on the Satellite of Love is now occupied by Eddie, Mike's hard-drinking Jerkass brother—while Mike's music career ended with an early death in the middle of a show, just as his band was on the verge of stardom. Crow fixes everything by traveling back to the 80s again and talking his own past self out of trying to change the past.
  • Shadow Archetype: Timmy from Fire Maidens from Outer Space.
  • Shirtless Scene: At the start of Jack Frost, Mike does an impersonation of Michael Flatley.
    • The Mads get one at the beginning of San Francisco International. Trace was remarkably buff in 1995!
  • Shout-Out:
    • The ship is named the "Satellite of Love."
    • The very first lines of every episode, "In the not too distant future", were originally a tagline from the trailer for Mad Max.
    • Beaulieu took the name of his character Dr. Clayton Forrester from the protagonist of The War of the Worlds and Joel Robinson's surname came from that of the protagonists of Lost in Space.
    • Particularly commonly referenced is The Lord of the Rings — the greatest example being Torgo's conversion to Torgo the White in experiment 624. Keep in mind that the series ended before the LOTR movies were even made, giving this a Viewers Are Geniuses vibe, back then at least.
    • It's commonly speculated that there's at least one Star Trek reference in every episode. No one's managed to confirm this.
    • Almost all Joel-era episodes contained a reference to The Wizard of Oz.
    • It's a Wonderful Life also gets quoted a LOT. In particular the "Out you pixies go..." line is quoted the most. Usually by Servo.
    • In part 2 of Fugitive Alien, Servo bursts into the song "Underground" from Swordfishtrombones by another famous Tom. Not the last time Servo would sing that song.
    • Servo keeps saying that "We are twenty-two minutes to Weathership Tango Delta".
    • The basic plot of the show (guy trapped on a spaceship with only robots for company) was inspired by the film Silent Running, Joel's jumpsuit also looks rather similar to the ones worn in it.
    • Hodgson has cited The Omega Man (specifically, the scene of Neville watching Woodstock) as an influence.
    • The much-beloved door hallway that was seen as a hallmark of the show is a reference to
    • Joel/Mike and the bots humming the Get Smart theme song whenever a character walks down a hallway.
    • The hallway of doors are a reference to The Mickey Mouse Club when they take an old cartoon out of the "vault".
    • Servo tends to sing "What would you saayyy if I sang out of tuuune?" in the style of Joe Cocker whenever a character in a movie dies dramatically.
    • Of all things, there are frequent shoutouts to Alcoholics Anonymous in riffs and host segments. The movement's founder, Bill W., gets a mention in the thank you sections of many of the credit rolls. This is a Real Life Writes the Plot sort of thing — Conniff was a reformed alcoholic and former AA member. It was his idea to thank Bill W. in the credits, and a lot of the AA-related riffs drew on his knowledge of the group.
    • Pearl would occasionally refer to Bobo as "Pinky" and Brain Guy as "Brain".
    • This is a mere coincidence, but Servo and Crow's appearances and personalities are distinctly reminiscient of Radio and Lampy, respectively.
    • As noted above under Running Gag, Hawkeye's entreaty to Cora to "Stay alive, whatever may occur!" during the waterfall scene of The Last of the Mohicans gets referenced frequently.
    • Kinga's henchmen the Boneheads/Skeleton Crew are a deliberate take on the Mooks from The Super Inframan.
  • Sick Captive Scam: In the first host segment of She Creature, the Observers are trying to dissect Bobo while Pearl is trapped in a force field. Mike and the bots distract most of the Observers, leaving only Brain Guy, the one creating the forcefield, to guard Pearl. Pearl then lures Brain Guy into the force field by telling him the other Observers have created an invisible man and put him in with her, and that this man is ill and needs attention. When Brain Guy gets close, Pearl takes his brain hostage and escapes.
  • Sick Episode: Joel and the Bots fight off the common cold in The Hellcats. A side effect of their treament is experiencing flashbacks.
  • Similar Item Confusion: One episode opened with Crow having melted himself into a puddle after mistaking a Thawmaster for a Thighmaster. Then Servo does just the opposite, failing to thaw out a roast beef in time for dinner after mistaking a Thighmaster for a Thawmaster.
  • Sincerest Form of Flattery: Several of the series' producers were acknowledged fans of the Chicago Horror Host Svengoolie, who had done his own version of riffing on corny films in "SvenSurround". This led to a few cases of Older Than They Think when some viewers wrote in to the show to complain that Svengoolie was copying them.
  • Skeletal Musician: Invoked by Kinga's minions, the Skeleton Crew, who dress as skeletons. Their biggest role in most episodes is playing the show's theme music and the ad bumper music.
  • Skunk Stripe:
  • Smooth-Talking Talent Agent: In the Danger: Death Ray episode, T.V.'s Frank was an agent briefly. Mike called him out on his phoniness when he brushed Crow's script off, but then when Frank says he can get 20 grand per performance of Anything Goes, Mike's dressed in a sailor costume, singing Cole Porter songs.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Gypsy is the only female robot on the SOL among three male robots and one male human. This gets a reference in a late episode when Crow seriously doubts human women exist, and when challenged Mike can't think of any they know other than Pearl.
  • Snub by Omission: When Comedy Central has anniversary specials highlighting the history of the channel, and going over all their programs, MST3K, is never ever highlighted, or ever mentioned.
  • Solemn Ending Theme: "Mighty Science Theater", the song that plays over the show's closing credits, is a much slower, more ponderous instrumental version of the "Love Theme" sung over the opening credits.
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: Demonstrated in Agent for H.A.R.M. when Crow tries to defend Mike, who's on trial for mass murder. Crow's endless string of obscenities doesn't help Mike's case, obviously.
    • In the 2nd Annual Summer Blockbuster Review, Crow is repeatedly bleeped from saying Godzilla because they'd get sued for even saying its name.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Regarding the constant, out of place jazz music that permeates "Secret Agent Super Dragon".
    Joel: Man, this is a swingin' boiler room!
  • Spaceship Girl: Magic Voice (who announced commercial breaks) and Gypsy (who was wired into the SOL and kept it running)
  • Species Surname: Crow T. Robot
    • His whole name, according to High School Big Shot, is "Crow T. Hewett Edward Robot" making him "Crow T.H.E. Robot"
    • What's more, the "T" itself stands for "The".
  • Spinning Paper: In The Beatniks, a sketch is done where Servo gets a music career, becomes a huge successs and loses it all. The whole plot outline is presented with fake Variety newspaper headlines presented on spinning newspapers.
  • Spiritual Successor:
  • Split-Screen Phone Call: At the end of Warrior of the Lost World, Joel and the robots talk with MegaWeapon from the movie in this manner.
  • Spoiler:
    • Invoked. Mike/Joel and the Bots tend to get impatient with particularly predictable plot twists and spoil them for comedic effect.
      Servo: And the door opens and his friend is a Soultaker; just get on with it.
    • Also:
      Servo: And... his eyes open.
      Crow: An-n-n-nd his eyes open.
      Mike: His eyes open —
      Servo: Eyes open, yeah, yeah, big surprise, he's still alive —
      Crow: Eyes open!
      Mike: His EYES OPEN.
      Servo: — can we just move it along here —
      Crow: Come ON!
    • Also:
      Servo: Yeah, she's a werewolf. Get on with it.
      Mike: Dead people know what's going to happen!
      Crow: [after The Reveal] Ending written and conceived by a tube worm.
  • Spoiler Opening: For season 8; the new theme song already revealed Pearl was going to be the new big bad before this was officially stated at the end of the first episode, and although the first few episodes of this season where still set on Earth, the Theme Song already gave away the fact that the setting would soon change to Pearl chasing the SOL through the universe.
  • Spoofed with Their Own Words:
    • For Pod People, two of the host segments consist of re-enacting some of the film's most bizarre scenes almost verbatim.
    • For The Phantom Planet, they poke fun at Ray Makonnen's out-of-nowhere Contemplate Our Navels monologue ("You know, Captain, every year of my life, I grow more and more convinced that the wisest and best is to fix our attention on the good and the beautiful... if you just take the time to look at it.") by reciting the entire thing later, multiple times.
    • One segment for Track of the Moon Beast has the bots recreating the "prank" from the film on Mike, who is busy eating pea pods.
  • Stairwell Chase: The one in Soultaker gets so boring that Mike and the Bots find two ants fighting over a piece of candy on the floor more entertaining.
  • Status Quo Is God: Lampshaded by Joel in the KTMA version of Phase IV: "You know, this is beginning to be a lot like Gilligan's Island!"
  • The Stinger: In episode 205, Rocket Attack USA, at the end of the credits, they replayed a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment involving a blind man, as if to say to the viewer "yeah, that actually happened". And thus, a tradition was born, one which would continue until the end of Season 10 (and beyond), barring The Movie and Season 8's Observer planet arc.
  • The Stoner: A popular theory concerning Joel Robinson (and Hodgson).
    • Joel played this for laughs with one of his invention exchanges, a small monster truck with a tube attached on its back "to ease smoking during monster truck events" that was essentially a motorized bong.
  • Stop Trick: Used for Brain Guy's powers.
    • Used throughout the series, but particularly notable as the method used to execute about 90% of Brain Guy's omnipotent powers. Hilariously, the one time that proving his omnipotence was critical, (during the Roman Times story arc) he resorted to crappy sleight-of-hand instead.
  • Story Arc: Utilized during season 8, mostly due to Executive Meddling, but abandoned in the last two Sci-Fi seasons.
    • The final season began with a minor arc about Pearl trying to get "certified" as an official mad scientist ("It's illegal to take over the world if you're not board certified"), but this was also quickly abandoned.
    • Season 11 has two arcs. First, Max has an unrequited crush on Kinga, while Kinga decides to marry Jonah as a ratings stunt. This culminates in a wedding in the finale. Second, Jonah starts building himself a spacesuit, and can be seen working on it in several episodes. He finishes the suit just in time to take a spacewalk in the finale.
    • Season 12 has such a strong arc that it's practically a High Concept: To turn up the heat on Jonah, Kinga's showing him six films back-to-back - and viewers are challenged to watch it the same way.
  • Straight Man: Joel and later Mike would play this role for the rest of the cast.
  • Strictly Formula: Made fun of in the Hobgoblins. Mike and the robots try to escape by setting up cardboard cutouts of themselves with tapes playing lines that sound exactly like the type of commentaries they would typically do.
  • String-on-Finger Reminder: One episode features TV's Frank trying to remember who Merritt Stone is. Frank has strings all over his fingers.
  • Stripped to the Bone: As seen in Teenagers in Outer Space (404). A ray-gun kills animals & humans & leaves skeletal remains behind. As for the show itself, this happened twice, in 411 (The Magic Sword), when TV's Frank lost the flesh on his face (except his eyes) due to the Mads' invention, the biohazard-absorbent throw pillows, & then on episode 608 ("Code Name: Diamond Head"), when Dr. F & Frank clean themselves in the tub that when pushing the button, the electricity zaps the flesh off of 'em.
  • Stylistic Suck: Any time anyone tries to put on a skit in-character, you can pretty well expect it to be badly acted, since none of the characters are actually actors in-character note . If the Mads did a song, it was usually bad on purpose. This is usually subverted when the people on the Satellite did songs, then they try to be as good as possible.
    • Season 11 has one of the largest budgets the show's ever seen but still uses cardboard and styrofoam sets. If you look closely during the new door sequence, you can even see the corrugation pattern through the paint.
  • Subverted Kids Show: Not really a straight example, but there's definitely a kids' show vibe that contrasts with the more adult edge to the humor. As the letters featured on the show demonstrated, it still had a lot of young viewers. The fact that the show ran on Saturday mornings for a while helped too.
  • Suckiness Is Painful: The very point of the experiment.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The Observers are a parody of this concept. Almost every claim they make about how advanced they are is immediately shown not to be true, though they are in denial about it. For example their most common claim is that they don't have bodies. On the other hand, they really do have powers.
  • Supervillain Lair: The Mads have cycled through various lairs for their Mad Scientist experiments in weaponizing awful movies, each more elaborate than the last. First there was the fairly mundane Gizmonic Institute, then Deep 13, then Castle Forrester, and finally Moon 13.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: One episode with Tom and Crow raising Hell; Joel laments "I'm surrounded by idiots of my own design!"
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: When Hodgson left, head writer Michael J. Nelson was promoted to leading man. As well, after the first Comedy Channel season, Dr. Erhardt was replaced with TV's Frank, and after the sixth, Frank was replaced with Pearl, Clayton's mother. Finally, for the Sci-Fi Channel seasons, The Mads were replaced by a returning Pearl, and her sidekicks Professor Bobo (from a Planet of the Apes-like future Earth) and Observer (a/k/a "Brain Guy", an albino superbeing who carries his brain in a pan).
    • Perhaps averted, as Joel and Mike, Erhardt and Frank, and Frank and Pearl had little in common personality-wise, which is really what the trope's about.
    • Pearl as a substitute for Clayton fits this trope. Their personalities are a little different but their roles, motivations and even their temperaments are largely the same. This is out of necessity as the role they fill is essential to the show's premise.
    • In Season 11 TV's Son of TV's Frank (aka Max) and Kinga Forrester fill the roles left TV's Frank/Bobo and Dr. Forrester/Pearl (Pearl, Brain Guy, and Bobo are still around, they're just not a part of the Experiment anymore). Jonah takes over the kidnapped human/host role from Joel/Mike. Notably this is done deliberately In-Universe by Kinga as she's trying to build Mystery Science Theater's brand recognition to launch her media empire and eventually sell the show to Disney. Although personality-wise, Kinga isn't very much like her grandmother and only has shades of her father. Jonah's personality is not Mike or Joel's (to the disappointment of the bots who were hoping he'd be the perfect combination of the two).
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Spoofed in The Leech Woman:
    Man: Officer, I'm Mrs. Talbot's attorney. If she's in any trouble, I have a right to know about it.
    Detective: Did I say anything about trouble?
    Servo: Well, I assumed, what with the search warrant and all...
    [and moments later]
    Man: If I knew what Mrs. Talbot was accused of, I could, maybe I could help —
    Detective: She isn't accused of anything. We just want her for questioning about a murder.
    Man: Murder?
    Crow: Did I say anything about murder?
  • Syndication Title: In the mid-'90s, Comedy Central edited some episodes down to one hour, added new introductory segments with Michael J. Nelson as "Your Host" (a parody of Jack Perkins, longtime host of A&E's Biography series), and syndicated them as The Mystery Science Theater Hour.
  • Take That!:
    • The host segments during The Incredible Melting Man appear to be digs on the filmmaking process that the crew had to deal with while making the movie.
    • Also a few less subtle digs, such as "The Sandy Frank Song".
    • They seem to have genuine contempt for Japanese animation and refer to them as "ultra-violent porn cartoons".
    • During Laserblast, Mike and the bots spend the entire duration of the credits ribbing Leonard Maltin for giving the film two and a half stars out of four, and compare other films to Laserblast's rating.
    • "Mike Nelson is Lord of the Dance!" is one of these to Michael Flatley's annoying commercials.
      • Mystos is one to the Mentos commercials and the Cowboy Mike's Ricochet Barbecue Sauce is probably one for KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce commercials of the time which emphasized the boldness of the sauce. Both of which would air with the show.
    • In Avalanche, Jonah and the bots have a PSA against recent "hybrid B movies" such as Sharknado.
      Jonah: It's not okay to make deliberately stupid junk, disguised as sincere, heartfelt junk.
    • They made constant references to Jackson Browne in the later seasons whenever a character was shown attacking a woman, in reference to accusations of Domestic Abuse toward Daryl Hannah.
  • Take That, Us:
    • One host segement from The Slime People has Joel and the Bots coming up with plots for shows, and Tom mocks Joel's idea of a man trapped in the desert with robots.
    • Mike and the Bots' cameo on Cheap Seats ends with Crow calling the idea of a show about making fun of stuff stupid.
  • Talking Is a Free Action:
    • Mocked by whenever an egregious example appears, with the riff "Oh, he got away" or "Oh, he's dead now" being uttered because the hero or villain monologued too long.
    • No matter what might be happening during the course of the episode (wormholes, doomsday machines), Joel/Mike and the Bots would still have the time and the nerve to riff.
  • Tap on the Head: The Season 6 intro has Forrester and Frank smacking Mike on the back of the head with a mallet to abduct him.
    Theme Song: Their experiment needed a good test case/So they conked him on the noggin and they shot him into space!
  • Tattoo Sharpie: In At the Earth's Core, Jonah and the bots get frustrated at how quickly their temporary tattoos wear off, so they invent Permanent Temporary Tattoos: you apply them to the skin like temporary tattoos, but they never go away. "All you gotta do is set 'em, wet 'em... and then live with them forever."
  • Team Mom: Gypsy sometimes acts as this on the SOL.
  • Terrible Trio: Pearl, Bobo and Observer, who also form a (mostly dysfunctional) Freudian Trio. Professor Bobo the gorilla is the id. Observer, aka Brain Guy, is the superego. Pearl is the ego that holds them together... by berating and abusing them constantly.
  • Theme Tune Roll Call: Only for the robots, anyway.
  • This Is Reality: At the end of the very first KTMA episode Invaders from the Deep.
Crow: Did you ever wonder if this spaceship isn't really a spaceship at all, but a television set built for the amusement of the viewing audience? And I'm not really a robot, but a puppet built to look like a robot who is in reality being controlled by a puppeteer under this very table? And you're not a scientist slash inventor trapped in outer space, but just a comedian playing a part on a television show that you wrote?
Joel: (pause) I don't this so either, somehow...
  • They Killed Kenny Again:
    • Frank and Servo.
    • Justified for Servo since he has thousands of replacements for himself. In the original series finale, he detonates them all; however, Crow makes more in Season 11.
    • Spookily predicted in Fugitive Alien.
      Lord Halkon: He was killed by Ken.
      Joel: Those bastards!
    • Space Mutiny has one character killed, only to inexplicably reappear alive and well... IN THE VERY NEXT SCENE. (Though, in this case, it's due to the movie's editor not paying attention to what order the two scenes were supposed to be shown in, rather than the character actually coming back to life.)
  • Thing-O-Meter: The episode featuring Angels Revenge has Tom Servo invent the "Shame-O-Meter" to measure the amount of shame the actors must be feeling. note 
    • Back in Hercules Unchained Joel's Invention Exchange was the Steve-O-Meter. It had nothing to do with Hercules' actor Steve Reeves, but rather Steve Allen; it told you whether or not your idea had already been come up with by Steve Allen. Not only did Steve Allen already come up with Movie Sign, but he also already thought of the Steve-O-Meter.
  • Third-Person Flashback: The Rifftrax gang also mocked this.
    Crow: He's flashing back to other people's memories!
  • Time Travel: For the eighth season, the show was moved from "Next Sunday, AD" to the year 2525 (Man is not, in fact, still alive), then to Roman Times, and finally back to the present.
    • Earlier on, the Mads claimed to have invented a "really real time machine." It wasn't.
  • Title Montage: The opening theme before season 11 featured many clips from episodes of the show. The clips changed every so often to keep things from getting monotonous or out-of-date (especially with the cast change from Joel to Mike, it wouldn't make sense to feature Joel clips in the Mike opening, for example).
  • Title, Please!: Although each episode is named after whatever movie they're reviewing, no episode title is present on the screen. However, during season 6, the bumpers before commercials would feature the title of the movie on a film canister or other object.
    • Season 3's Santa Claus Conquers the Martians plays this trope straight, as the print they used had the the title cut off.
  • Toad Licking: When the gang riffed Jack Frost, there was a talking mushroom man; the characters wondered what a talking mushroom would eat to get high, and the only answer anyone can come up with was "I think they lick toads."
  • Tokusatsu: Of the Japanese films riffed in the series, they've covered both "Monster" and "Henshin". The host segments also use a lot of toku-style effects.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Most of the characters on the show, at one point or another — TV's Frank has a particularly persistent case.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Pearl Forrester became a lot more aggressive and less matronly when she became the principal villain during the Sci Fi Channel era.
  • Took a Level in Dumbass: Professor Bobo. When we first meet him (in Revenge of the Creature), he's actually a reasonably intelligent scientist and the Only Sane Man in Deep Ape. But as soon as he left Deep Ape, the first thing he does is shoot himself in the foot. Twice. It's only a downward spiral from there on.
    • While never quite descending to true dumbassedry, Mike Nelson seemed to become ever more goofily incompetent and hapless during his time on the SOL.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Tom Servo and Crow seem to take a level with every Channel Hop.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: During the early seasons the 'bots really had a thing for RAM chips.
    • Chikin In A Biskit is one for Pearl, as it was the only reason Observer could come up with that would make her stop Bobo from screwing up the time-space continuum.
  • Trope Overdosed: Its cult status has resulted in tons of pages, including episode recap pages. In fact, the show is responsible for a number of pages for films that would have never even earned a second glance otherwise, such as Mitchell, The Blood Waters of Dr. Z or Moon Zero Two.
  • Trust-Building Blunder: In the Gamera episode.
    Servo: I'm letting go...
    Crow: And so am I.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Sort of. The theme song specifies "Next Sunday, AD", and most of the series seems to take place in something reasonably approximating the year in which it was made.
    • Helps to know that during its KTMA run, it actually did run on Sundays!
    • Thanks to Netflix and similar services, "scrolling up cinemas" doesn't seem quite as farfetched as it did during ether PBS or MST's presentations of Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. Still working on that 'putting people into baboons' thing, though.

  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Eddie, Mike's brother in Time Chasers.
    • Some photos have shown that Mike's father and one of his future descendants (a female descendant!) also exactly like him.
  • Unconventional Smoothie: The Killer Shrews episode involves a drink called the Killer Shrew, which includes a candy bar with the wrapper on, among other very sugary foods. It causes Joel to collapse and Frank to get a stomachache from all the sugar.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Joel, Jonah (not-too-different from you or me) and Mike (just a regular joe).
  • Unlucky Everydude: Joel, Jonah, and especially Mike.
  • Unfortunate Implications: Discussed and endlessly ridiculed in the films screened during the show.
  • Unreliable Narrator: In a KTMA episode Servo has 'flashbacks' of earlier events on the satellite. One involves a very out-of-character Joel yelling at the 'bots and actively smacking them around (he makes Gypsy cry!) while smoking a cigarette. He growls out "Listen, I'm not normally this way, it's just Servo's perception of me" and ends up stalking off to his trailer.
    • "Think hard Crow, you mindless troll."
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: At the end of the episode The Legend Of Boggy Creek 2, the kid who goes through Pearl's castle describes Professor Bobo as "just a talking gorilla".
  • Uranus Is Showing:
    • At the start of The Skydivers, Servo tries to give a discussion about space as if he's in a planetarium. He gives up because Crow won't stop making Uranus jokes.
    • Invoked by the gang upon hearing the line by the character, Ismene in Hercules and the Captive Women, "Today is dedicated to Uranus!".
  • Urban Legends: The show's rivalry with Sandy Frank; for years, it was widely rumored that Frank (angry at the mockery of his films and how the show went so far as to make a song mocking him) personally refused to re-licence the many films he owned that the show featured as revenge for the way they mocked him. The truth was more subdued: seeing the show's popularity (and the fact that many of his episodes were among the most popular that the show featured in the early years) he simply tried to extort more money from Best Brains by raising his asking price to renew the license for usage of his films.
    • Similarly, their "feud" with Joe Don Baker over Mitchell. For years it was said that Baker was really mad at their poking fun at him in Mitchell and had threatened to kick their asses. Truthfully, it was said in jest, and the MST crew went with it as a more serious threat to fuel the rumor mill.
    • Averted with Peter Graves. In an interview shortly before his death, he was asked about the show, and referred as to the cast as "the idiots sitting in the front row." He also said he wasn't "too pleased with those."
  • Values Dissonance: In-Universe. Once in a while, the show would feature a movie or short that had some instance of this. The riffers would always react to any display of Values Dissonance in a movie, usually by boo-ing or shouting at the movie. Some examples: a home economics short that suggested women go to college to learn how to be good housewives. A short that showed a typical day of a trapper finding and capturing animals from the wild to ship them to a zoo. And the end of Manos: The Hands of Fate which showed the little girl as one of the Master's wives. At least one movie was actually edited for this reason: Invasion of the Neptune Men, a Japanese monster movie which featured actual aerial bombardment footage of Japan during WWII to show destruction of the city by the invading Neptune men. A shot was still included of a building with a picture of Adolf Hitler on the side (it was an advertisement for 'Mein Kampf') being destroyed, leading to the riff: "They blew up the Hitler building!! What's next, the Mussolini Mall?!"
    • The latter lead to some vicious riffs against Japanese film in general near the end of the movie. Suffice it to say, in-character and out of character, they were not happy with the incorporation of the footage into the movie.note 
  • Vampire Episode: "Samson Vs. The Vampire Women" had Mike and the bots as the final episode of season six. (This is notable as being TV's Frank's final episode.)
  • Verbal Backspace
    Servo: I have no sense of proportion. I'm a disgrace to my uniform!
    Mike: No, no, no, it's okay. Calm down now. We mustn't hate, mustn't hate...
    Crow: At least not so overtly.
    Mike: Exactly right. Must disguise our hate.
  • Viewer Name Confusion: Happens sometimes In-Universe on the show. For instance, in Gamera vs. Guiron, the main adult character Kondo is referred to by the kid characters as Kon-chan, which Joel and the bots somehow mishear as "Cornjob".
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: One of the pillars of the humor is an impenetrably dense barrage of very, very specific pop culture references (and not so pop: an off-the-cuff Sophocles reference is not unheard of). As Hodgson put it in the This Is MST3K documentary, "When we write a joke we never ask, 'Who's gonna get this?' We always say, 'The right people will get this.'"
    • Kevin Murphy once mentioned that he imagined the people who did get the obscure references would feel like the show could read their mind. A lot of their references were subject to Memetic Mutation, too, such as the "I thought you were Dale" meta-reference. Getting every single joke in an episode usually requires multiple viewings and consulting a fan website (there are entire websites dedicated to deciphering the more obscure references).
    • Impressively, they maintained this not only until the final season, but the spiritual spin-offs continue the tradition as well.
    • Most notably Parts: The Clonus Horror; the show being used on MST3K was what led that film's director to sue Warner Bros. and Michael Bay over how their film The Island blatantly plagiarized his work. Fans of the show raised enough awareness of how The Island was a direct rip-off of Parts that Robert Fiveson felt he could take the big studio and director to court and actually stand a chance against them.
      • In case you're wondering, he did sue but before the case could go to trial, Dreamworks settled with Fiveson and the plaintiffs for an undisclosed amount, rumored to be a seven figure sum.
    • Still, some of their jokes are literally inaccessible to anyone who is not them. Case in point: In response to the little sister in one of the Gamera movies running away, one of the robots says "Stop her, she's got Mike's keyboard." An ex girlfriend of Mike Nelson's had not only taken his keyboard, but took it to Japan with her. Viewers, of course, had no way of knowing this.
  • Villainous Mother-Son Duo: Dr. Clayton Forrester was sometimes visited by his overbearing mother Pearl, until his sidekick TV's Frank was Put on a Bus and then replaced by Pearl in season 7. After Clayton himself was written out of the show, she took over full-time as the main villain until the Revival, which featured Clayton's daughter (and Pearl's granddaughter) Kinga.
  • Vocal Evolution: When New Yorker Bill Corbett took over as Crow, the little robot gained a soft Brooklyn accent and a slightly effeminate lisp. This hilarious combination only lasted a few episodes as Corbett gradually found his own voice for Crow with a more generalised accent.
    • Tom Servo, twice: Josh Weinstein found Servo's "Mighty Voice!" midway through the KTMA season, and Kevin Murphy initially played Servo's voice close to Josh's portrayal, before easing into a more natural performance.
    • The vocal changes to Tom and Crow were directly referenced and Hand Waved in-universe; the change from Josh's voice to Kevin's was explicitly laid to Joel tinkering with Tom's voice chip (which is also how they explained the different voice Josh began using in the KTMA era), while Crow's change was initially chalked up to something happening in his five centuries on the SOL while Mike and the others were noncorporeal, later suggested by Joel in his visit during Soultaker that Crow had changed his bowling pin (his beak).
    • Trace Beaulieu also used what has been described as a "baby voice" for Crow in the early Comedy Channel episodes (KTMA-era Crow spoke with a slightly stilted delivery somewhere between C3P0 and the Lost in Space robot). Around seasons 2 and 3, his performance became more natural.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Tons.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Unfortunately, this would seem to describe the Real Life relationship between Jim Mallon and several other MST alumni.
  • Weirdness Magnet: The SOL crew and Deep 13 get a lot of weird visitors, including Santa Claus, Pitch, Torgo, Ortega, and so on.
    Pearl: [after dealing with Fortinbras from Hamlet] Is it me? Am I a magnet for these idiots?!note 
  • WHAM Episode:
    • One word: Mitchell.
    • Season 11's ending At the Earth's Core, which gives us Jonah and Kinga's ratings wedding being disrupted by a jealous Max taking some bad advice about asserting his dominance to gain Kinga's affection and seemingly killing Jonah with Reptilicus Metalicus. Leaving Kinga's show on a season ending she's not happy with, the show with no host, and of course the apparent end of Jonah's life.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?:
    • In Devil Fish, Pearl invokes the Trope when all that's left is the Captain's Dinner - with Bobo being Captain. You can guess things go horribly wrong.
    • In Last of the Wild Horses, Dr. Forrester tries to send a machine despite warnings a ion storm is happening. He says this exact quote right before everyone gets sent into a Mirror Universe.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • The Nanites and Magic Voice were pretty much forgotten about in Season 10. We never even learn their ultimate fate in the finale.
    • In a couple season 2 and 3 episodes, there were contests for viewers announced. The results of those contests, such as the "What's the Deal with Kenny" from the first Gamera movie or the "Ways to Snuff Gaos" from the third one, were never revealed.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • The 'Bots' reaction to the inscription on the plaque Joel left behind during the Mitchell experiment.
      Servo: Joel leaves, and his last words are from a George Pal movie?!
    • Also any time Mike blows up a planet... or wrecks the occasional orbiting satellite.
    • They have the same reaction when Mike makes fun of Robert Z'Dar's Lantern Jaw of Justice.
  • When I Was Your Age...: In the The Horror of Party Beach episode, Mike and the Bots sing a 50s-style song to educate "the young people" about sodium (It Makes Sense in Context). After it's over, Crow goes into a non-angry version of this ("...with your pierced I-dunno-whats...")
  • Wholesome Crossdresser:
    • Occasionally. For example, in Horrors of Spider Island, Crow asks Mike if it's true that if a woman survives a plane crash she becomes languid and helpless and sex-starved (and also murmurs a lot). Mike decides to find out by crashing the Satellite of Love, somehow leaving him, Crow, and Servo dressed as women.
    • Servo is usually the one to be crossdressing due to his naturally feminine shape and Murphy's especially deep voice. Lampshaded in one episode in which Servo exasperatingly says that he can't wear anything like pants because his hoverskirt won't allow him to.
    • Their reviews of Ed Wood films usually bring up that Wood was one of these, and the jokes imply that so are most of the main cast:
      Tor: [picking up a lady in an angora sweater and hat] Oh, Tor love this! Tor look fetching when go to church!
  • Who's on First?:
    • A variant is performed in one of the skits in Invasion of the Neptune Men, only the subject is Japanese theater. When Mike is asked by Crow and Tom if he likes any Japanese theater, Mike responds: "Noh." Cue Sustained Misunderstanding.
    • A dirtier one has Pearl attempting to have Brain Guy act as The Igor so she could be certified as a mad scientist. His misunderstanding is hilarious.
      Pearl: Here, Brain Guy, I want to give you a hump.
      Brain Guy: Pearl, whatever your feelings for me—
      Pearl: On your back, idiot.
      Brain Guy: That's sexual harassment, and I don't have to take it.
      Pearl: A latex hump.
      Brain Guy: Now see here!
  • Wife Husbandry: A weird example. Joel, creator and father figure of the Bots, had many romantic moments with Gypsy, especially in Wild Rebels.
  • With Friends Like These...:
    • Joel, Mike and Jonah's relationship with the 'bots. Apparently, Joel created the 'bots with programming that caused them tease/razz him, in order to create companions that would give him hell and keep him sane.
    • When Joel installed protocol modules to make them nicer and easier to deal with, he realized it left him hollow, and promptly removed the modules before the start of the experiment. Considering the experiment that week was Manos, one has to wonder how the "nice" Tom and Crow would've handled it (although Hired! Part II probably wouldn't have been as funny).
    • Crow and Tom are a more straighter example, with their relationship being basically summed up as: "Mock the other. Repeat."
    • When Jonah is seemingly eaten and killed by a giant metal robot Reptilcus the bots decide they'll show their appreciation for Jonah by treating his latest robot creation Growler like they would him. Which includes making fun of him and taking his stuff without asking.
  • With Lyrics: Became one of the show's many Running Gags, with Mike/Joel/Jonah and the bots making up lyrics for instrumental songs in the movies, or sometimes making up their own, humorous lyrics for songs that already had them. Notably examples include:
  • A Wizard Did It: The theme song specifically points out that you're not supposed to ask questions about how it all works.
  • World of Ham: With occasional amounts of subtlety.
  • World of Snark: The entire show is about snarking movies.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy:
    • Kinga wants to create big sweep weeks style ratings events, hoping to use the show's ratings to sell to Disney. She can't seem to understand that Netflix doesn't use traditional ratings and so her network style ratings stunts are pointless, no matter how many times it's pointed out to her.
    • Mike assumes that since Joel escaped after a Joe Don Baker film, that when he watches one he'll escape. It doesn't work.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: In the special skit for The Great Gila Monster DVD release in Box 10.2, TV's Frank gets around mentioning Godzilla vs. Megalon by facepalming as he says their names.
  • You Keep Using That Word: The earlier seasons had "aliens who drop by and exchange dialogue for roughly two-and-a-half minutes then leave" apply to all SOL visitors, even if they were humans.
  • You're Not My Father: Whenever Joel has to punish Crow, the latter will cry out "You're not my real father!"
  • Your Head Asplode: Tom's head blows up at least a few times over the course of the series, most notably because of an overloaded sarcasm sequencer.
  • You Say Tomato:
    • They love to deliberately mispronounce names. For instance, Servo pronounces Chi Chi Rodriguez as Chai Chai Rahd-rigweez.
    • Also a reference to WKRP in Cincinnati.
  • You Won't Feel a Thing: In Attack of the Giant Leeches:
    Dr. Forrester: Now this leech [snip] when applied to the neck or head area, will suck any desire to smoke out of Frank.
    Frank: [loudly protests]
    Dr. Forrester: But this won't hurt a bit.
    Frank: Well, okay.

Waldorf: So they're stuck watching dumb movies, eh?
Statler: They ought to take our place. Bet they wouldn't last two hours.
Waldorf: Two hours? They'd be lucky to last a minute watching the things WE watch!
Both: Doh-ho-ho-hoh!


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): MST 3 K


MST3K: Cartuner

Joel invents a device that generates funny crossovers of unfunny Sunday funnies.

How well does it match the trope?

4.8 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / MergingMachine

Media sources:

Main / MergingMachine