The best Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes for newcomers

We're less than a month away from movie sign, as an all-new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 returns to Netflix on April 14. For 11 seasons, MST3K delighted fans with hilarious riffs on some truly terrible movies, inspiring a generation of comedians with the show's unique blend of satire, sarcasm, and pop culture references. Thing is, the last episode of MST3K aired in 1999 in the US and never even made it to the UK through official channels. There's a pretty good chance you've never even heard of the exploits of the Satellite of Love and you're wondering why a small section of the internet has been freaking out over the past two years.

The gist is pretty basic: the evil Dr. Clayton Forrester has locked up hapless rube Joel in a spaceship and forces him to watch terrible movies in an effort to break his will. To save his own sanity, Joel builds two robots to help him snark his way through the doctor's various experiments. The show ran for nearly 200 episodes and went through a variety of cast changes, changing mad scientists, hosts, and even voices for the 'bots themselves. There's no reason to be intimidated, though: we've compiled a list of some of our favorite episodes for newcomers, featuring eminently watchable trash and some of the best riffs in the series. The best part? Netflix has added 20 classic episodes to stream, and many of the others can be found on YouTube and other services, almost all of them for free. Heck, I've even embedded the full episodes of the ones that are available for streaming right here so you don't even have to look for them. Don't worry too much about the finer details of the series' lore; simply repeat to yourself: "It's just a show, I should really just relax."

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Release date: April 19, 1996

Where can I watch it? As this was originally a theatrical release, it's the only one you'll have to shell out money for at the moment, though you can pick it up on Amazon or rent it on YouTube.

Why it's good: A bigger budget means a better set, higher production values, and one of the most watchable crappy movies in the entire series. Universal Pictures' This Island Earth isn't great, but that's more due to it being a product of its time than failing on a basic cinematic level like most of the other films our heroes riff on. Of course, that doesn't stop Mike and the robots from unleashing a volley of some of the best jokes in the entire series.

Best bit: Mike and the 'bots singing 'Normal View!' in time with the dramatic music.

Mitchell - Season 5, Episode 12

Airdate: October 23, 1993

Where can I watch it? It's criminally not one of the classic episodes available on Netflix, but you can watch it for free on YouTube (video above) or grab a DVD on Amazon.

Why it's good: This Joe Don Baker trainwreck is one of the most consistently funny episodes in the series' 11-season run. The schlubby detective Mitchell provides endless fodder as he drunkenly stumbles his way through a needlessly convoluted murder case ("Mitchell: Even his name says, 'Is that a beer?'"). Mitchell also plays host to one of the most hilariously pedestrian car chase scenes in movie history (including a driver who dramatically downshifts an automatic like no one would notice). Don't worry too much about the overarching lore of the show - though this episode serves as Joel's final appearance as the show's star, it's all secondary to the jokes, which are fantastic.

Best bit: Mitchell and an eight-year-old get into an argument, and Servo completely loses it.

Pod People - Season 3, Episode 3

Air date: June 15, 1991

Where can I watch it? Right the heck here (via YouTube), Netflix, and a very out-of-print DVD collection on Amazon

Why it's good: This movie's awfulness isn't entirely its own fault. Originally written to be a low-budget horror movie, it was changed at the last minute to try and cash in on the popularity of E.T. Thus we have a kid and his alien pal, Trumpy, shoehorned into a movie that has nothing to do with them. To be fair, even if it weren't for the boy and the extraterrestrial egg, the Pod People wouldn't make much sense, so you may as well enjoy Trumpy's journey from hatchling to puppet to really bad costume. Also, he has a thing about potatoes.

Best bit: "This potato's got big ears, yes."

Prince of Space - Season 8, Episode 16

Air date: August 16, 1997

Where can I watch it? The YouTube embed above and this DVD collection on Amazon.

Why it's good: The leader of the villainous aliens has a nose like a chicken, a mustache that would make Dr. Robotnik green with envy, and what appears to be a miniature TV antenna on his head. Oh, but that's just where the laughs begin in this masterpiece of 50's Japanese sci-fi, which is dubbed without the slightest consideration for the appropriateness of the localization. Should the 8 year old Japanese tyke sound like a trash collector from Brooklyn? Sure, that totally works.

Best bit: "I'm not afraid, I'm wearing a tie, you go home."

The Giant Gila Monster - Season 4, Episode 2

Air date: June 13, 1992

Where can I watch it? YouTube (above), Netflix, and Amazon.

Why it's good: Back in the early days of sci-fi, if you wanted a giant monster, you just got a normal-sized animal and surrounded it with tiny cars and houses. Sometimes it just about worked, but you are never, ever under the impression that the gila monster of this one is anything other than your standard aquarium dweller. And the running gag of his commentary - yes, he talks, thanks to the MST crew - never stops being funny.

Best bit: "I'll be back later with another fun fact. Thanks, and enjoy!"

Time Chasers - Season 8, Episode 21

Air date: November 22, 1997

Where can I watch it? YouTube (above), Netflix, and this DVD collection on Amazon.

Why it's good: On its own, Time Chasers is one of MST3K's most watchable films; the best of the worst, if you will. The plot is centered around corporate executives flying around in time-traveling airplanes shooting at each other, so you know it's going to be wonderfully illogical. There's a bizarre and wholly inaccurate trip to the future, a la Back to the Future Part 2, and a surprise civil war battle serves as the backdrop for the film's climactic finale. It's an exciting and hilarious episode right up until the credits roll, and a great way to experience MST3K at its best.

Best bit: Let's take a trip to the... um... future.

The Final Sacrifice - Season 9, Episode 10

Air date: July 25, 1998

Where can I watch it? YouTube (above), Netflix, and this far more affordable box set on Amazon.

Why it's good: As Brain Guy mentions at the start, this film may be "the worst thing to ever come out of Canada." It's a supernatural thriller - and I use all those words loosely - about a young man named Troy who befriends a drifter named ZAP ROWSDOWER. Together, Zap and Troy must stop an evil cult led by, as Mike puts it, "Canadian villain, Garth Vader" who is trying to conquer the world - or something. 90 minutes of glorious, Canadian awkwardness ensue as our duo squares off against Garth's identical army of tanktop-wearing thugs, including one of the most thrilling bicycle chases in contemporary cinema.

Best bit: "Oh baby Rowsdower saves us, and saves all the world!"

Space Mutiny - Season 8, Episode 20

Air date: November 8, 1997

Where can I watch it? YouTube (above), Netflix, and Amazon.

Why it's good: This movie is like Star Wars; if Star Wars based all of its fashion sense off what the 1980's thought the distant future would look like; if Star Wars was shot primarily inside a pipe and steam warehouse; if Star Wars had a layer of petroleum jelly applied liberally to every frame of the film stock; if Star Wars had the budget of an office run to Starbucks. It's so gloriously bad, which of course means some fantastic riffs from the gang.

Best bit: Mike and the 'bots come up with a shockingly long list of names for our meatheaded protagonist.

Future War - Season 10, Episode 4

Air date: April 25, 1999

Where can I watch it? YouTube (above), Netflix, and great (and still in print!) DVD collection on Amazon.

Why it's good: Future War was filmed in 1997, making it the most recent movie to be featured on the series, but that doesn't mean it's good. In the future, robots and a race of sentient dinosaurs have enslaved humankind, and it's up to a Jean-Claude Van Damme wanna-be ("It's more like Jean-Claude Gosh Darn") to go back in time to stop them with his kickboxing skills. Along the way, he meets up with an ex-prostitute-turned-nun and her gang member friends, who all band together to stop the alien menace. It only gets better from there.

Best bit: The film's protagonist fights "the world's grouchiest mime" in a cardboard box depository.

Manos: The Hands of Fate - Season 4, Episode 24

Air date: January 30, 1993

Where can I watch it? YouTube (above), Netflix, and this re-released DVD on Amazon.

Why it's good: Once you've watched all the previous films, you'll likely have a good grasp on the series and its unique sense of humor - now, it's time to put all of that to the test. Manos: The Hands of Fate is a classic for all the wrong reasons. Made by a Texan fertilizer salesman back in the 1960s who filmed it on a bet that literally anyone could make a movie, Manos is a 15-minute-long story about a family who finds themselves in the clutches of an evil cult that gets stretched over an hour and a half runtime. The movie itself is incredibly painful to watch, but the crew's quips turn a cinematic travesty into a goldmine of humor. Plus, their suffering does wonders to alleviate our own. It's not for everyone, but if you can get through Manos, you can get through anything.

Best bit: Nothing happens on screen for what seems like an eternity, and Joel is understandably pissed.