I Miss TV’s Frank

I only recall writing two fan letters in my lifetime. The first was some time in the mid to late 1970’s, and it sung the praises of Speed Racer. I sent it to Channel 26, which was at the time a UHF station, after they had removed the cartoon from their schedule. I pleaded with them to put Speed Racer back on, preferably during prime after-school viewing hours. My letter did not produce the desired result, although I do remember receiving a politely-worded reply.

The second was to the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000, soon after I first discovered it in 1991. And it’s possible I might have written the letter but never sent it. I remember thinking that whatever I came up with would be inadequately clever for their mailbag. Letters from eight-year-olds are cute; letters from twenty-one-year-old college graduates should show some evidence of that education.

(Wait, now I’m recalling a letter I wrote to Shade the Changing Man, an early Vertigo title, in praise of Shade’s hair. Chris Bachalo was the artist. . .)

Okay, so only two fan letters for TV. We’ll leave comics out of it.

I’m a fan of the types of movies MST3K lampooned. Especially the monster movies. If you continue to visit this blog, you’ll likely see a post soon about my love for Godzilla. So the content was an instant hit for me. Add in the sci-fi premise of mad scientists, the Satellite of Love, and the snarky commentary from Joel and the Bots, it was an immediate infatuation.

It stinks!
It stinks!

But the skits – the host segments – were what made it true love. The whole ensemble had such a charming camaraderie, and the absurdity was on my exact wavelength. For me, the heart of the ensemble was TV’s Frank. Clueless, lovable, TV’s Frank. The very first episode I saw, the episode that hooked me, was “Pod People.” (The memory of TV’s Frank forever burned in my brain is him wearing a too-tight t-shirt with “I’m a virgin” emblazoned across the front.)

So much from MST3K is steeped into my psyche. I’d be a rich woman if I had a dime for every time the lyrics “Gamera is really neat, he is filled with turtle meat,” popped into my head. Or yelled “McLeod!” at inopportune moments. My apartment in Los Angeles was on a street named “Mitchell.” I feared running into Joe Don Baker the entire time I lived there.

That was the movie that saw Joel Hodgson’s departure, but it wasn’t until TV’s Frank departed that the show lost its center (for me). Wikipedia tells me Frank Conniff went on to become executive story editor for Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and on to other things in the entertainment industry afterward. I’m glad he’s still out there, employed and entertaining.

I’ve seen very few post-MST3K projects. I think I’ve seen two RiffTrax outings. The most recent was their treatment of the dreadful, non-Toho Godzilla from 1998. It was fun, and it’s nostalgic for me, seeing Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy. But RiffTrax doesn’t capture the original magic.

My niece in Austin, Emilie, has told me about Master Pancake. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema website describes it as the “tradition of pairing questionable movies with live comedy (and beer)!” It sounds like all that I could wish for in live movie-trashing entertainment, and I hope to catch one of their shows with her before too many more years pass.

But I don’t expect to recapture my original feelings for MST3K. It might be a time in life thing. Emilie is roughly the same age I was when I first discovered MST3K – just out of college. But that’s where the similarities end. After I graduated from Arizona, my exposure to new people and new ideas shrunk to an infinitesimal level. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case for Emilie.

Back then, nearly 25 years ago, MST3K was accessible. Like a gateway drug, it showed me that there was something else out there. There still were people who were funny, who could skewer convention, who saw things like I did. And there was TV’s Frank, who seemed like a nice, funny (if ignorant) guy caught in a bad situation. It all resonated with me at some level, much deeper than a TV show should. (“Repeat to yourself, ‘it’s just a show, I should really just relax.’”)

I am not nostalgic for that time in my life. But I am grateful for it, and grateful for the sense of wonder and appreciation I still have for satire and silliness. Huzzah.

Thank you, Mary, for being a good sport and filling in for Barkevious.
Thank you, Mary, for being a good sport and filling in for Barkevious.

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