Unfortunately, my first real exposure to Mystery Science Theater 3000 came as the show was beginning what would be its last season on the Sci Fi Channel. From the first episode I was hooked. One human and two robot puppets providing zinger after zinger as overlaying commentary on already laughably bad movies. The broadcasts on Saturday mornings came to feel like a grown-up version of what getting up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons used to be for me as a kid.
Then, tragedy struck. The Sci Fi Channel "went in a different direction" and my Saturday mornings with Mike and the 'bots came to an end.
Fortunately, Rhino Entertainment began releasing older episodes on VHS, then on individual DVDs, then in DVD sets containing four episodes each — the latest being The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 12 — and I was able to start catching up on the vast catalog of bad movies "mocked to perfection" by the crew aboard the Satellite of Love.
While it would be hard to deem Volume 12 "the best yet," it is one of the more well-rounded collections of episodes, containing an even ratio of "Joel" to "Mike" and featuring four very different types of awful films: a '60s beatnik caper film, a lifeless, all-dubbed secret agent flick, an Air Force promotional movie thinly disguised as a drama, and a bleak '70s sci-fi horror story.
Volume 12 starts off with a trip to the Canadian National Exposition in the 1950s short Johnny at the Fair. It's here that the MST3K riffers really shine, taking on the kind of stark, promotional fluff that begs to be spoofed. Young Johnny, dressed like a dark-haired Dennis the Menace, ditches his cold and aloof parents to live out every young boy's dream of enjoying the Canadian National Exposition all by himself. Taking in a baseball game, meeting with Canada's former Prime Minister, racing along in a speedboat, and cavorting with a few "celebrities" lets Johnny showcase all the fun the fair has to offer in a creepy framework of neglectful parenting and child endangerment. Doesn't the former Canadian Prime Minister even wonder where Johnny's parents are?