BOOK REVIEW: THE COMIC GALAXY OF MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 / AUTHOR: CHRIS MORGAN / PUBLISHER: MCFARLAND AND COMPANY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The good news is that someone's finally written a book focusing on the illustrious cult classic television program, Mystery Science Theater 3000. The bad news is that it isn't particularly noteworthy. Chris Morgan's new book, The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Twelve Classic Episodes and the Movies They Lampoon, might as well have been a series of blog posts.
Morgan begins with a solid concept, in that he's going to present an overview of MST3K by focusing on one episode from each season of the program, as well as one chapter each on the MST3K movie and the myriad short films featured on the show. It's a sound idea, and that particular aspect of The Comic Galaxy works rather well. The author is able to trace the history of the show from its public access roots to its death on the SciFi network.
In this vein, Morgan succeeds: as you read along, you see how MST3K began humbly as a time-filler on Minneapolis public access station KTMA, then grew to take shape on the nascent Comedy Central, which in turn outgrew it, and finally, how it came to end its 197 episode run on SciFi. You meet the principle actors, you see how they come and go, and even get a sense of where they are now.
However, that's essentially the end of The Comic Galaxy's high points. The bulk of Morgan's text consists of episode/movie plot summaries, with opinion following each, wherein the author explains how he thinks this fits in the overall arc of MST3K. Morgan's not fond of certain jokes (most notably, he seems to regard anything regarding an actor or actress' appearance to be rather low), but neither is he fond of brevity. Each film's plot is related in full, and same goes for the episode's plot. It gets a little repetitive, especially given the fact that it's all Morgan, and that's where The Comic Galaxy really fails.
What would've made The Comic Galaxy an excellent read would've been a voice other than Morgan's. As stated earlier, this may as well have been a series of blog posts, because it's basically just plot summary, opinion, and some background details gleaned from Wikipedia and last year's oral history in Wired magazine. At no point does the author engage in research of his own. It would've been worthwhile to have read more regarding how the directors and actors in the films being riffed regarded their work when it was originally released, to say nothing of speaking with those at Best Brains behind MST3K, but everything in that regard is limited to already-extant work.
Also worth noting is the concluding chapter, What Do You Think, Sirs?, wherein Morgan admits that he “did not touch on every significant, notable episode.” It's a valid argument that, given the show's nearly 200 episodes, that's a tough order, but even within the confines of how Morgan chose to write The Comic Galaxy, he doesn't use the possibilities available to him. Case in point: the first episode covered, Gamera, makes mention of the fact that MST3K would later redo the film in its third season. Why not take the opportunity to compare and contrast the two, showing how the show grew? Why not take the opportunity to show how the program would call back to previous episodes, as they showed a full five Gamera films in a very short period?
When it all comes down to it, Chris Morgan's new book, The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is more an exercise in what could have been, rather than a book worth owning. Hardcore MSTies will already know everything being presented, and casual fans will find themselves quickly bored by the lengthy plot summaries and pedantic opinion. Here's to hoping that someone will take the ideas presented here and do something rather more ambitious.
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