Alternate programming for those who don’t like parades and/or football has long been a staple of the cable industry, and in the early 90s, the show “Mystery Science Theater 3000” did a few of its own Turkey Day marathons. They featured several episodes of the series with original introductions that would tell an unfolding storyline, such as Dr. Forrester scheming to use the marathon to crush the world’s spirit.
The Turkey Day marathons have been mentioned in past “MST3K” sets, but this is the first time Shout! Factory has released a collection centered around them. Only one of the episodes in this set, season two’s “Jungle Goddess,” was actually featured during a Turkey Day marathon, but I glanced through the episode listings on an “MST3K” wiki and it looked like all those episodes have already been released on DVD.
The other episodes in this set are “The Painted Hills” (season five), “The Screaming Skull” (season nine), and “Squirm” (season 10). That last one is notable for its Rick Baker creature effects, some of which were unfortunately cut for time. All of the episodes in this set feature short films before the main features — “The Screaming Skull” has “Robot Rumpus,” which was an early Gumby short.
Each disc has a new Turkey Day intro with Joel Hodgson and computer-animated bots. They’re funny bits, but most of them don’t have anything to do with Thanksgiving. Josh Weinstein did Tom Servo’s voice; I wonder if Kevin Murphy was unable or unwilling to do the job.
However, this set also includes some specific Turkey Day stuff, including 30 minutes of bumpers from the three years when Comedy Central was willing to pay the Best Brains production company to do the intros. (Joel Hodgson jokes in a featurette that it took them 20 minutes to shoot the bits.) The quality isn’t stellar, but like many such tidbits resurrected from the show’s run, they were likely drawn from fans’ VHS collections and other low-res sources. Hey, at least they’re now preserved digitally.
The other two years, Comedy Central didn’t offer Best Brains enough money, so one season they filmed a Thanksgiving Day dinner at a fan’s house, and another season they brought in Adam West to do the honors. The bumpers from those cast-less seasons aren’t in this set, but at least one online review has them embedded.
Incidentally, if you miss the Turkey Day marathons, Shout! Factory has started doing them again on their web site, complete with new intros by Joel Hodgson. Web streaming is the new alternate programming.
“MST3K” Volume XXXI also serves up “Undercooked & Overstuffed: Inside the Turkey Day Marathon,” which is an 11-minute remembrance of not only that event but also cast members’ thoughts on the holiday and how they spent it as kids. In addition, there’s a making-of for “The Screaming Skull” (the film that promised a free casket to anyone who died of fright), an interview about Gumby with creator Art Clokey’s son, Joe, and an interview with “Squirm” star Don Scardino.