At some point in the late 1980’s, Drs. Clayton Forrester and Laurence Erhardt, two scientists attached to the Gizmonic Institute, conceived of a plan to determine whether it was possible to break a man’s will by forcing him to watch the worst motion pictures ever made.
(Sidebar: We are never told how Forrester and Erhardt met. In fact, we never learn much about Erhardt at all. He seemed to be subordinate to Forrester, but they also seemed to be closer to being peers than Forrester and Frank ever were. We also never learn much about what the Gizmonic Institute is, whether it's a business or an educational institution. We never even really learn where it's located, although I think that it's safe to assume that it's somewhere in the Midwestern United States.)
They chose as their test subject one Joel Robinson, an expert roboticist who, for reasons unknown, was working as a janitor at the Institute.
(Sidebar: It always seemed odd to me that a roboticist of Joel’s ability would be working as a janitor. We never learn much about his past, so it’s possible that some traumatic event in his past led to him living in somewhat reduced circumstances. We never learn much about Joel's personal history, but if you watch the show carefully -and as obsessively as I have- you notice that Joel does have a bit of a dark side, albeit one that comes out very infrequently. I think it's possible that he had some kind of emotional breakdown in his past.)
Dismissed when they presented this plan to the Institute’s directors, Forrester and Erhardt moved into Deep 13, an abandoned experimental laboratory deep in the Earth.
(Sidebar: Why were the Mads never detected? It’s hard to believe that they operated for years below the Institute without being detected and expelled, especially once they started broadcasting their “experiments”. My speculation is that someone within the Institute tacitly supported their efforts, and covered for them, although I'll admit that I cannot support this with evidence.)
Kidnapping Joel, they launched him into orbit aboard a space vessel ironically named “the Satellite of Love”.
To keep himself company, Joel built four robots: Cambot, Crow T. Robot, Gypsy and Tom Servo. Additionally, he programmed the Satellite’s telemetry computer with a personality of its own, which he named “Magic Voice”.
(Sidebar: To the best of my recollection, we’re never told in-story what Magic Voice is. The above explanation is my speculation.)
Their funding from the Institute cut off, Forrester and Erhardt hit upon the idea of packaging their experiments and selling them to cable television as a program they called “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. Additionally, they would force Joel to participate in what they called “the Invention Exchange”. Any useful ideas produced during these exchanges could be used to create extra revenue.
The two scientists sold the series to Comedy Central, and in November of 1989, the public saw their first experiment, in which Joel and the Bots were forced to watch The Crawling Eye.
Shortly thereafter, while Joel and the Bots were watching The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, the Satellite was attacked and invaded by a swarm of space-going Demon Dogs, this would be the first of many times that the Satellite would be visited by forces from outside.
The first “season” of experiments ended in February of 1990. During their down-time, Forrester, with Joel’s coerced cooperation, began a re-design of the bridge of the SOL.
More ominously, at some point during this “off-season”, Doctor Erhardt disappeared. At the time, no explanation was given for his disappearance, except that he was ”missing”.
(Sidebar: Erhardt’s disappearance was not explained until many years later . When Joel asked Frank about it, Frank just brushed over it. The only mention Ehrhardt got again in the old show was during Show 313, "Earth vs. the Spider", in which Joel and the Bots remarked on a character's resemblance to him.)
Forrester, looking for a replacement for Ehrhardt, hired an Arby’s fry cook named “Frank” (soon to become known as “TV’s Frank”). At about this time, Joel began upgrading the Bots, in particular changing Tom Servo’s voice.
(Sidebar: We never learn anything more about Frank's past, although one suspects that it was perhaps not a happy one.)
September of 1990 saw the beginning of the second “season” of experiments., and Frank’s first day on the job as Forrester’s assistant. Joel and the Bots found themselves watching Rocketship X-M, and the SOL was visited by a woman who appeared to be Valeria from Robot Holocaust, the first of many times that they would find themselves visited by what appeared to be characters from the films they were watching that week or had watched in the past.
(Sidebar: I’ve not yet arrived at a satisfactory explanation as to why so many of their visitors were - apparently - characters from the movies they had seen. They seem to be characters in movies and real people at the same time. Maybe it was just how their universe worked, maybe their appearance was a side effect of the Mads’ experiments, maybe it was something else, I’m not sure. Krankor in particular seemed to follow them through time, visiting them in both the Twenty-Sixth and First Centuries.)
Others were aware of Forrester’s experiments, and, in fact, one of the last efforts of the Soviet space program was to launch into space a man named Sorri Andropoli, with two robots named Lucia and Vitalik to keep him company. Andropoli contacted the SOL in October of 1990 and briefly conversed with Joel. Andropoli’s ultimate fate is unknown.
In September of 1991, Crow first tried his hand at screenwriting, making his debut effort with “Earth vs. Soup”. While Crow would prove a prolific author, this first effort is widely considered to be his best. Crow also tried his hand at song-writing, penning the holiday classic, “A Patrick Swayze Christmas”.
Over the years, the Mads (as Joel called Frank and Forrester) continued to refine their methods. In August 1992, they introduced “Deep Hurting”, although it exact nature remains unclear.
The most frightening and dangerous visitor arrived in November of 1992, when a dark specter assumed Crow’s form and entered the SOL. Named ”Timmy” by Crow, it assaulted Servo, and was expelled from the Satellite with great effort. Timmy was later seen in Deep 13, but its ultimate fate is unknown.
In January of 1993, the Mads subjected Joel and the bots to what was perhaps the most infamous of the films they watched, “Manos” The Hands of Fate, a film so bad that Frank and Forrester both independently apologized for it. This would also mark Torgo’s first visit to Deep 13, as he delivered pizza to the Mads. He would return with their drinks some six months later.
The first great change aboard the SOL came in October of 1993, while Joel and the Bots were watching the film Mitchell. The Mads had hired temp worker Michael J. “Mike” Nelson to help them prepare for an audit and were planning to kill him afterwards. Gypsy overheard and misunderstood their conversation. Convinced that the Mads were, in fact, planning to kill Joel, she enlisted Mike’s aid in rescuing him. Locating an escape shuttle, she forcibly ejected him from the SOL. Joel landed in Australia, and eventually returned to Wisconsin, where he managed a Hot Fish Shop.
(Sidebar: We learn a little more about Mike’s history than we ever learned about Joel’s. His father’s name was Elmer, and he had an older brother, Eddie. In addition to acting in musical theater, Mike had a band called Sex Factory, but eventually gave it up to work temp jobs. Mike was not the “gizmocrat” that Joel was, or that Jonah would later prove to be.)
Needing a new test subject, the Mads kidnapped Mike and launched him up to the SOL. Shortly thereafter, he participated in his first experiment, watching The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.
In December of 1993, Mike faced his first great challenge, as the Mads introduced Helio-Hypno-Static-Stasis (containing X-4). Mike and the Bots responded with Ecstato-Euphoro-Fun (with patented Hinder 90).
At Christmastime that year, Mike and the Bots watched the movie Santa Claus and introduced the holiday song “Merry Christmas…If That’s Okay”. Deep 13 hosted a battle between good and evil as the demon Pitch battled Santa Claus.
In early 1994, the Mads abandoned the Invention Exchange as it became clear that Mike, whatever his other qualities, was no inventor. This would become patently obvious in July of that year when Mike invented a robot that went on a destructive rampage as soon as it was activated and had to be destroyed. At about this time, Torgo returned to Deep 13, temporarily replacing TV’s Frank.
Mike’s first substantive chance to escape the SOL came in February of 1994 when the “future woman” Nuveena visited the SOL and offered to take Mike and the Bots away with her. Mike felt constrained to spurn her offer when it became obvious that Nuveena regarded the Bots as mere appliances to be used as she saw fit.
Forrester’s next innovation came in July of 1994 when he unveiled the Umbilicus, a 370 mile long cable connecting the SOL with Deep 13. A month later, he created the “ultimate pet”, NummyMuffinCoocolButter.
In September of 1994, Clayton Forrester's mother, Pearl, first visited Deep 13, a visit which would later have great consequences.
(Sidebar: We learn little of Pearl's background, and we never learn anything about Clayton's father. We do eventually learn that at some point she was married several times and that all of her husbands came to swift, mysterious and unfortunate ends. She would eventually claim to be a Forrester by blood, which raises the question of whether Clayton was the product of a consanguineal or even incestuous marriage, or whether Pearl was called "Mrs" Forrester only by courtesy. Suffice it to say that Pearl's relationship with her son was not a healthy one.)
In October of that year, Doctor Forrester sent an experimental matter transference device up to the SOL via the Umbilicus during an ion storm. A malfunction resulted in Servo and Gypsy temporarily trading places with their counterparts in a “mirror universe“ where benevolent versions of Frank and Forrester were trapped on the SOL while malevolent versions of Mike and the Bots occupied Deep 13. The “mirror” versions of Frank and Forrester were subsequently able to contact “our” universe’s SOL.
The next great change came in March of 1995, when TV’s Frank was assumed into Second Banana Heaven by Torgo the White, leaving Forrester on his own in Deep 13.
However, before he left, Frank had invited several guests to Thanksgiving dinner, including Jack Perkins, Mr. B Natural, Pitch, the Kitten With A Whip, Michael Feinstein and Pearl Forrester. Pearl, believing that Clayton was not doing well on his own, decided to move into Deep 13. Major events during Pearl’s stay in Deep 13 included Pearl and Clayton’s attempt to make Earth vs. Soup into a movie and Mike’s accidental wrecking of the Hubble Telescope.
The experiment’s initial era came to an end in May of 1996, when Dr. Forrester’s funding was cut, with Laserblast being the last film he forced Mike and the Bots to watch. Planning to move in with Pearl, Clayton cut the SOL loose. Hurtling out of control, the Satellite reached the edge of the universe, where Mike, the Bots and Magic Voice transformed into noncorporeal beings.
(Sidebar: Clayton never explained who was funding the Mads. This may simply have been his way of describing Comedy Central’s decision to cancel the series.)
Back in Deep 13, a Monolith of unknown origins appeared and reverted Clayton to infancy. Given a second chance at raising her son, Pearl vowed to bring him up right this time.
(Sidebar: The provenance of the Monolith or its purpose in “rejuvenating” Dr. F is likewise never given.)
After five minutes as an incorporeal being, Crow reverted to his physical form, and returned to the SOL. He lived alone in the SOL for centuries, except for a twenty year period that he lived with a man named ”Helmut”. At some point, he acquired two nanites, who multiplied a great deal. During these centuries alone, his voice changed at least once. Somewhere out in space, Servo got up to some questionable things, although we're never told exactly what. except that at one point, he interacted with an alien named "Phil", who placed a high value on vanilla pudding.
(Sidebar: We're never told what Gypsy, Mike, Cambot and Magic Voice got up to during their time as incorporeal beings. It remains a mystery.)
On Earth, in 1997, Pearl became aware that someone calling herself “Pearl Forrester” had resumed the broadcasts of Mystery Science Theater 3000, this time on the Sci-Fi Channel. Pearl set out to confront this “impostor”, but abruptly abandoned the search shortly thereafter.
(Sidebar: This is where Season Eight makes the timeline somewhat convoluted. As we shall see, there were two different versions of Pearl Forrester living on "present-day" Earth at one time. When we get to that point, we will find out what really happened when Pearl set out to find the "impostor".)
Pearl neglected the re-born Clayton’s upbringing, and when he resumed his mad experiments, she became enraged, and smothered him to death. Unhinged by her crime, she became insane, and had herself frozen.
At some point in the ensuing centuries, intelligent apes supplanted humans as the rulers of the Earth. Some evidence indicates that was brought about because the descendants of Mike Nelson had an inordinate fondness for apes.
In February of 2525, Mike, Servo, Gypsy, Cambot and Magic Voice were drawn back to their corporeal bodies and the SOL, which was once again orbiting Earth. Initially, Crow professed not to remember Mike, although he did acknowledge him in time.
(Sidebar: It’s never outright stated what brought the SOL and its crew back to Earth, but the assumption is that it was Pearl Forrester. How she managed this is unknown.)
The SOL was contacted by two intelligent apes, Professor Bobo and Doctor Peanut. They forced Mike and the Bots to watch Revenge of the Creature at the behest of their “Law-Giver”, who turned out to be Pearl Forrester.
(Sidebar: The Pearl we see here is somewhat different in personality that the Pearl we had seen previously – up to that point she’d shown little interest in science, mad or otherwise - and also seems to be physically a bit younger than she should if she’d lived long enough for Clayton to reach adulthood a second time.)
A few weeks later, Mike inadvertently helped to bring about the destruction of the Earth. The apes were (unsuccessfully) trying to help their neighbors the Bomb Mutants to activate their nuclear device when Mike provided them useful advice which resulted in the Bomb’s detonation. The Nanites repaired the SOL in time for the crew to flee. Pearl and Bobo escaped the Earth in her starship, a converted VW bus she called the Widowmaker. They took off in hot pursuit of the SOL. Additionally, the Bomb somehow created a time fissure, sending Doctor Peanut back to 22nd Century Earth, where he married a woman who may have been one of Mike’s descendants.
At the beginning of March 2525, the SOL and the Widowmaker arrived at the planet of the Observers, a race of powerful psychics, who, after assessing them, planned to dissect Pearl and Bobo.
During their stay at the Observers’ world, Pearl forced Mike and the Bots to watch Terror from the Year 5000. Inspired by the film, Mike had the Nanites build a time machine. He sent Crow back in time, asking him to contact his family and let them know what happened to him.
Crow arrived in the year 1996 and contacted Mike’s family, telling them what happened to him. In 1997, Crow became aware that the SOL had returned from the future. He avoided contacting them in order to avoid creating a temporal paradox. In 2007, Crow returned to the year 2525, telling Mike that he had forgotten to tell his family about him, again in order to avoid a temporal paradox. In revenge for what he believed to be Crow’s slight, Mike used the time machine to contact the year 5000, and summoned the Terror to date Crow.
(Sidebar: A few things here:
When the Observers declared their intention to dissect Bobo, Pearl requested Mike’s help. Mike in turn requested help from the Nanites, who destroyed the Observers’ planet. Pearl, Bobo, and the Observer who would come to be known as “Brain Guy” escaped in the Widowmaker. At Pearl’s behest, Brain Guy used his psychic powers to gain control of the SOL.
Shortly thereafter, Bobo inadvertently landed on a planet they were passing. Pearl took a liking to the planet, and so the Mads camped out there for a while. While they were there, aliens invaded the SOL. Mike managed to repel them by impersonating Adam Duritz. In May, the Mads came under attack by alien pods, but Bobo managed to save the day, with a little coaching from Mike.
In early June, the Mads encountered three Space Children who had run away from home. After the Mads gave them bad life advice, Pearl returned them to their parents. While Pearl was away, Mike mediated a dispute between Bobo and Brain Guy. At the same time, Crow contacted Yakov Smirnoff and butcher Earl Torgeson to discuss the film Jack Frost.
(Sidebar: Apparently, Crow was able to call backwards through time - perhaps using the time machine?)
In July, the Mads came under attack by killer robots. They sought Mike’s help, and he responded by launching a baking soda bomb which destroyed the planet they were on, which the Mads escaped just in time. Around that same time, Crow briefly adopted the identity of “Turkey Volume Guessing Man”.
Soon after this, Mike was put on trial by the Intergalactic Tribunal for his part in the destruction of three planets, with Pearl acting as prosecutor and Bobo acting as his defender. Mike was found guilty and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted 800 hours of community service, owing to mitigating factors.
In August of 2525, the Widowmaker and the SOL passed through a wormhole, arriving in Earth orbit in or near July of the year AD 64. Pearl and Brain Guy landed in Rome, seeking Bobo, who had become separated from them. They explored a villa, where they encountered a Roman couple, Callipygeas and Flavia.
The Mads posed as gods to impress the Romans. They discovered that the amnesiac Bobo was now living as a gladiator called “The Mad Goth”. Pearl and Brain Guy restored Bobo’s memory, but he gave away the fact that they were not gods, and the three were taken prisoner.
On July 18, AD 64, the Mads escaped from the Romans, although Bobo inadvertently started the Great Fire of Rome while they did so. With the SOL in tow, they entered the wormhole, ending up in an unknown time and place.
The Mads forced Mike and the Bots to watch the movie Time Chasers. Inspired, Crow used the time machine to go back to 1985 to convince a younger Mike not to give up on his music career, so that he would not end up on the SOL. When he returned to his own time, Crow discovered that he had created a divergent timeline in which the younger Mike was killed during a performance, and his abusive brother Eddie was on the SOL in his place.
Crow returned to 1985 and convinced his younger self not to interfere in Mike’s life. The later Crow returned to the future, where he found the timeline restored. The earlier Crow, now a temporal anomaly, remained in 1985 Wisconsin, taking a job at the Burnett County Dairy Co-Operative.
The Widowmaker and the SOL subsequently passed through another wormhole, arriving in the year 1997. The Mads arrived at Castle Forrester, which Pearl claimed as her ancestral home.
(Sidebar: We never learn the precise location of Castle Forrester. While she lives there, Pearl learns that many of her ancestors carried out similar experiments to her own.)
Pearl packaged footage of their adventures in space and time, and sold them to the Sci-Fi Channel, which began new broadcasts of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This resulted in a visit from her younger self, who assumed that the older Pearl was an impostor. Pearl had Brain Guy brainwash her younger self into forgetting the meeting and ignoring the broadcasts.
In May of 1998, two Observers came to Earth in order to convince Brain Guy to rejoin them and re-build their world. Pearl and Bobo convinced him to stay. The Mads overcame the Observers, and Brain Guy deprived them of their brains, and forced them to live in Wisconsin as Packers fans.
In July of that year, Pearl traveled to Los Angeles to find more movies, leaving a babysitter named Steffi to manage Bobo and Brain Guy. While in Los Angeles, Pearl met with movie critic Leonard Maltin.
In September, Pearl attempted to improve her experiment by watching a segment of the film Quest of the Delta Knights. During this film, Leonardo da Vinci contacted the SOL. Afterwards, the Delta Knights held their annual Pancake Breakfast in Castle Forrester.
In April of 1999. Joel Robinson visited the SOL in order to make repairs. At the same time, TV’s Frank, who had been cast out of Second Banana Heaven and taken up Soultaking, visited Castle Forrester.
(Sidebar: Joel claims that Dr. Forrester had rigged the SOL to fail after ten years. Of course, by this point, it was over five hundred years old, so it seems it was just luck that he happened along in time to fix it.)
In August of 1999, Pearl accidentally caused the SOL to begin re-entry. Pearl sent Mike and the Bots the film Diabolik, but otherwise left them to their fates. The SOL crashed to Earth, but Mike and the Bots managed to survive. Afterwards, Pearl left Castle forrester, claiming that she was becoming dictator for life of Qatar. Bobo went to live in a zoo, and Brain became the All-Knowing and Eternal Universal Consciousness on Rylos 14. At some point, Pearl, Bobo and Brain Guy were reunited, and spent many years together.
Gypsy founded a successful company called ConGypsCo, and Mike, Crow and Servo took an apartment somewhere in or near Milwaukee.
(Sidebar: We are not told what happened to Cambot, Magic Voice and the Nanites, although I like to think that it was Cambot who was showing us Mike and the Bots in their new lives at the end of the last episode of the original series. Perhaps Magic Voice and the Nanites went to work for Gypsy.)
In 2002, in Russia, a Professor Zamyshlavkin, having heard of the Forresters’ experiments, hired Styopa Samakatov, and imprisoned him in a basement laboratory, and forced him to watch bad movies with Fidel, a mutant penguin, and Ketchup, a mutant dog, as part of what he called "Project Popcorn".
At some point, Clayton's daughter, Kinga, got the idea of resurrecting Mystery Science Theater 3000, turning it into a money-making proposition, and then selling it to Disney at a huge profit. To this end, she recruited Max, a man who called himself "TV's Son of TV's Frank" to aid in her scheme.
Together, the pair of them gained control of the Moon 13 research station, and then set out to find an "experimental test subject", having previously captured Crow, Servo, Gypsy and Cambot, and having built a new Satellite of Love.
(Sidebar: Eventually, Kinga’s mother was revealed to be Kim Cattrall. So far, at least, we haven't been told who Max's mother might have been. At some point in her life, Pearl had custody of Kinga, a responsibility she rejected to the best of her ability. There was never any indication in the old series that Frank or Clayton ever had children. Pearl does accept Kinga as her granddaughter, as much as she accepts anyone, going so far as to send her clone Synthia to assist Kinga.
We're also not told how or when Kinga and Max captured the Bots, or what they had been doing since they returned to Earth after the end of the last series. It's conceivable, I suppose, that they're not the original Bots, but instead are new models programmed with the original Bots' behavior patterns.)
They found their subject in Jonah Heston. An upcoming star Gizmocrat, he was piloting a space ship known as a "backjack", returning to Earth with a cargo of valuable minerals from the asteroid belt for the Gizmonic Institute.
The new "Mads" lured Jonah to Moon 13 using a false distress signal. Imprisoning him on the new SOL, they arranged to release a new series of MST3K on Netflix in February of 2017. During the making of this series, Moon 13 was visited several times by Pearl, Bobo and Brain Guy. As a ratings stunt (despite the fact the Netflix doesn't have ratings), Kinga decided to close out the first season by marrying Jonah. Pearl, Bobo and Brain Guy were present at the ceremony, as were several other Observers, who were recruited to fill seats. At the climax of the ceremony, a jealous Max used a robot he named "Reptilicus Metallicus" to apparently kill Jonah. However, afterwards a figure was seen walking on the outside of the SOL, wearing a space suit that Jonah had spent some time constructing for himself.
This figure was, in fact, Jonah, who survived the attack by Reptilicus Metallicus, and somehow returned to the Satellite of Love. Abandoning her plan to marry him, Kinga decided to subject Jonah and the Bots to what she called "The Gauntlet", forcing them to watch six movies in a row. At the same time, Jonah and the Bots launched an escape plan of their own. While the Gauntlet was underway, Moon 13 was visited by the long-lost Doctor Laurence Erhardt, piloting the Pretty Lady, the personal spaceship of Clayton Forrester.
He claimed that he was there to fulfill Clayton's last request, to spread Clayton’s and Frank's ashes on the planet Mearth while playing the song “Idiot Control Now”. Having acquired the ashes from the Gizmonic Institute, he required a copy of the song from Kinga. Having acquired the song, he then left Moon 13. As the Gauntlet ended, Jonah and the Bots sprang their trap, confining Kinga and Max to a hidden theater on Moon 13, forced to watch their own bad movies. This accomplished, Jonah and the Bots set out for Earth.