By Brad Cook | March 8, 2011

If you have a horse in the silly “MST3K” host vs. host race, you were likely thrilled or horrified by Shout! Factory’s recent pair of standalone releases, which feature a pair of Mike episodes. Luckily — or unluckily — for you, though, “Mystery Science 3000: Volume XX” offers a quartet of Joel episodes, which either balances the cosmic scales for you or sends you into spasms of rage.

I’d love to think I’m exaggerating a bit here, but during the “Tom Servo vs. Tom Servo” panel at the 2010 Dragon Con, Kevin Murphy unveiled a unique piece of fan mail he received during the show’s second season. Someone went to the trouble of using a dot-matrix printer to produce a banner that read “I HATE TOM SERVO’S NEW VOICE.” Naturally, Kevin hung it on the wall in his office and left it there until the show ended.

“Maybe it was the prototype for the banner that they were going to attach to a plane,” quipped Josh “J. Elvis” Weinstein, who spent the first season of “MST3K” supplying Servo’s voice and playing Dr. Forrester’s sidekick. It was a nice panel discussion during which Murphy revealed more tidbits from his archives and Weinstein discussed the creative process that led to Servo’s character. As you probably expect, there were also jokes-aplenty.

That panel discussion is the bonus feature on the “Master Ninja II” (season three) disc in this set. “Master Ninja I,” also from season three, is included too. “The Magic Voyage of Sinbad” (season five) and “Project Moonbase” (season one) round out Volume XX. (I’m looking forward to Volume XXX.) I have to confess that I prefer Murphy’s version of Servo, but that’s the one I was first introduced to, so I’m sure familiarity is a big part of my taste. Murphy also had the advantage of being able to evolve the character over several seasons.

“Project Moonbase” includes an interesting bonus piece featuring director of photography Jeff Stonehouse, who talks about the approach he brought to the show when he came onboard with the seventh season. Copious examples of the camera moves, lighting, and other subjects he discusses are shown.

The Sinbad disc offers an introduction by Trace Beaulieu, who muses on Roger Corman’s decision to take a decent Russian film — with solid cinematography and special effects to boot — and turn it into a Sinbad movie, despite the lack of anything even vaguely Middle Eastern in it. This episode was also part of the “Mystery Science Theater Hour,” which repackaged the series into one-hour episodes with Mike Nelson doing his “Jack Perkins” character, so those bits are included here too.

Finally, the “Master Ninja I” disc gives us a brief interview with Bill McKinney, who guest-starred as a sheriff on the “Master Ninja” series. It’s one of those typical bit player interviews where the actor doesn’t really know much about “MST3K” — and doesn’t seem to really understand the point of it — but enjoys reminiscing about their work and acknowledges that, yeah, the “MST3K” crew must have had fun with this one, because we enjoyed making it.

Unfortunately, this set isn’t quite as good as some recent ones, particularly the recent Volume XIX, but we can’t expect Shout! Factory to hit a home run every time. Some bonus features are better than none, and the convention panels are always fun to watch. Volume XX is easily a double into the gap, with the runner taking third on a throw to the plate.

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