Question: I know I'm a little late to the party, but I only recently began watching the late Mystery Science Theater 3000 (a buddy of mine has a bunch of tapes) and I'm dying to know just what this thing is. Why is this guy watching these movies, who are the robots and why is the old guy gone and a new guy in his place in some episodes? Thanks much. — Drew A.

Televisionary: Not to worry, Drew — better late than never. You see, I'm a big MST3K fan, but it's not something I'm comfortable discussing in public, since admitting to closet Mystie-hood is much like knowing too many lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Both are perfectly understandable, given the brilliance of the material, but not that much consolation when you're being held down and subjected to multiple wedgies for being a geek. (Okay, so I'm a grown man and still on the lookout for evil jocks and frat boys.)

Anyway, the first host was comedian Joel Hodgson, who helped create the show along with his cohorts at Best Brains, Inc. His character, Joel Robinson, was a janitor at the fictional Gizmonics Institute when two evil scientists there decided to make him an unwilling participant in their sick experiment: They launched him into space and forced him to watch horrifically bad movies, the idea being to monitor him and see how he held up under the assault. Joel was no dummy himself, however, so he created four robots, Crow, Tom Servo, Gypsy and Cambot, to help him mock the celluloid travesties in question and just generally hang out with him.

The show ran on a local Twin Cities affiliate from late 1988 to mid-1989. In November 1989 it debuted on The Comedy Channel, which became Comedy Central in 1991, and stayed there through 1996. It jumped to the Sci Fi Channel in early 1997 and ran until its cancellation in September 2000. (Wow, that was more complicated than I thought it'd be.)

In 1993, Hodgson elected to move on, so writer Mike Nelson took over. On the show, he was a Gizmonics temp who helped Joel escape from the ship (The Satellite of Love) in an escape pod. The infuriated bad guys then shot Mike up there to take his place, launching an endless stream of debate among fans who insist on arguing over who was funnier, Joel or Mike. (I can hear you thinking, "Argumentative sci-fi fans? No way!"). To my mind, the two were equally good despite their different styles, but I give Nelson points for stepping into a spot where he was bound to be blasted by cranky viewers and then carrying on admirably.

I miss the show since there are few time-wasters that can make me laugh as hard and simultaneously annoy the hell out of my wife. But those of you looking to scratch that itch should check out the VHS and DVD selections from Rhino, which offers some of of the best episodes. (Being so darned altruistic, I provide you this helpful link to the catalog.)