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let's roll with Joel Hodgson's TV Wheel
August 11, 2010 12:54 AM   Subscribe

"The TV Wheel was a television experiment created by and starring Joel Hodgson, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame. Cable network HBO ordered a pilot, but ultimately passed on picking up the show. The pilot episode eventually aired once on Comedy Central as a special presentation following the last new episode of MST3K to be broadcast on that network."*

The pilot, bookended by introduction segments, is right through this door:

part 1 // part 2 // part 3 // part 4 // part 5 // part 6

The show starred Hodgson along with David Cross, Paul Feig, Doug Benson, and Andy Kindler and was written by Judd Apatow, Nick Bakay, and Hodgson.
posted by item (41 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great scott! Nick Bakay is the guy who did the voice of Salem the cat on Sabrina. I finally have connected a face to the voice! Childhood memories are clicking, it's like a whole new world in my brain.

Right, and also, this is pretty entertaining and interesting. Were there ever any similar oddly produced shows like this, with an enormously elaborate stage structure being the driving force? Are there any now?
posted by Mizu at 1:32 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


As much as I love Joel, and as much as I really like the idea of turning production on its head... That was hard to watch.

Luckily, I have my own X-box.
posted by hanoixan at 2:41 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, the XBox was massive back in the day.
posted by doublehappy at 2:45 AM on August 11, 2010


No wonder we haven't heard much from Joel Hodgson. He's getting royalties from every Microsoft XBox sold so he doesn't have to work.

The TV Wheel was alternately awesome and awful, as great failed concepts inevitably are. The homage to Ernie Kovacs was obvious (and made more so by the poor recording quality that gave it that much more of a 1950s look), as well as Laugh-In (they did a SOCK-IT-TO-ME gag?!?) and every early TV puppet show from Beany & Cecil to Kukla Fran & Ollie (and obviously Gerry Anderson's SUPERMARIONATION!). I usually approve of Live TV being done with what I call "the plumbing exposed", but the too-long intro (to fill a whole second half-hour minus commercials) and changing cameras to show the wheel turning gave a feeling of "we really don't trust the audience to GET IT". And they intentionally made the 'windows' uncomfortably small in some of the bits, right? Because it was often too claustrophobic to serve the concept well. Still, the Golf bits were a perfect use of Forced Perspective, but that one stunt that looked like the Twin Towers falling, 6 years before it happened, was a distraction. Again, part awesome, part awful.

I do love any opportunity to hear Nick Bakay do the best Perfectly Insincere Announcer Voice this side of Gary Owens, and the whole cast showed just why most of them have gone on to much much much better things. All in all, a unique experience, but if it had ever been done more than once, the awful would have outweighed the awesome real fast.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:13 AM on August 11, 2010


Yeah, I love Joel too, but this just sort of made me wince.
posted by idest at 3:15 AM on August 11, 2010


About half of the writing is on par with an average MST3k host segment.

And about half is far below.
posted by SansPoint at 3:42 AM on August 11, 2010


Joel Hodgson's whole problem, I just now realized, is that he's only funny when he's not trying to be. This makes him great for low-pressure improv (i.e. just talk and we'll editing out the unfunny stretches later) but terrible for deliberate sketch comedy.

He'd probably be a great character actor, turning serious minor characters into inexplicably amusing memorable bits.
posted by DU at 4:25 AM on August 11, 2010


I remember when this premiered on Comedy Central... I also remember being terribly disappointed then too. Alas.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:47 AM on August 11, 2010


wow... that's just terrible....
posted by HuronBob at 5:57 AM on August 11, 2010


Awesome post, Item. I think I still have a copy of this on VHS tape from when it aired on Comedy Central. I was big into taping MST3K. The show's pretty much as unwatchable as I remember (I only actually watched it once, but kept the tape anyway), but it still has its own little corner in the room in my heart devoted to comedy-culture ephemera.
posted by penduluum at 6:03 AM on August 11, 2010


I remember this one vividly. Melissa Samuels taking off a shirt while crying, for one. But my favorite was the Gerry Anderson-inspired puppets (with Super Puppetricity!), partially because I started a band I named after a phrase they used: Sweet Lady Strange..
posted by grubi at 6:09 AM on August 11, 2010


"Vic is the father of lies... I KNOW THIS TO BE TRUE."

(Guess I'll go watch it now.)
posted by grubi at 6:13 AM on August 11, 2010


What occurs to me watching it now is not so much that it's bad: almost everything this new is bad in the way this is bad. Unfocused, under-examined. Nobody around saying what isn't good enough.

What occurs to me now, 15 years later, is: holy crap, would this concept ever have been unsustainable on a weekly basis. There's literally no message except for "here's our medium". It's solving a problem that doesn't exist.
posted by penduluum at 6:31 AM on August 11, 2010


HE BUILT THE TV WHEEL AS A PLACE FOR PUPPETS!
posted by vrakatar at 7:34 AM on August 11, 2010


Didn't Mike, in the finale of MST3K, end up in Wisconsin and was eating from a cheese wheel?
posted by crapmatic at 7:38 AM on August 11, 2010


Didn't Mike, in the finale of MST3K, end up in Wisconsin and was eating from a cheese wheel?

My memory of the last MST3K was that Mike and the robots ended up living in a basement watching bad movies all the time together. I don't remember if it was Wisconsin and I don't remember cheese, but I've really only watched the finale once.

Oh, wait, I have it on my hard drive. I could watch it again right now.
posted by hippybear at 8:13 AM on August 11, 2010


If I remember correctly (and I probably don't) this was shown only once on Comedy Central and it aired at the same time as the season finale of the Simpsons which was the "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" episode- needlessly splintering the coveted stoner demographic. I went with the Simpsons, figured I'd catch TV Wheel in reruns since Comedy Central had little original programming and re-ran the hell out of anything they did have. I figured wrong. Didn't get to see this until a few years ago, I wish it had been given more of a chance but can understand why it wasn't.
posted by Challahtronix at 8:46 AM on August 11, 2010


Hm. I bought a copy of this from someone on the Internet years ago; that's how much of an MST3K nerd I am. I remember being pretty disappointed then.

I think DU is right that Joel Hodgson would have been a great character actor. Never thought about it that way, but I agree. It's weird cos his comedy has always (to me) been really conceptual, like, all the inventions from the invention exchange -- I saw a stand-up thing he did and it was kind of like that. This fits right in with that: some big crazy invention that's dominating everything.

This just makes me want to watch some classic MST3K. I have tried & tried to get some of my friends into this show, but it's never worked. I guess cos it's kind of hard to make someone sit down and watch 90 minutes of something new and odd like this. I think you either get it straight away or you don't.

I have shown a few people the Morrissey host segment, which was fairly well-received. But that's about it.
posted by Put the kettle on at 8:53 AM on August 11, 2010



Oh, wait, I have it on my hard drive. I could watch it again right now.


DEEP DEEP DOWN! NAH NAH NAH NAH NA NA NAH
posted by The Whelk at 9:02 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


My memory of the last MST3K was that Mike and the robots ended up living in a basement watching bad movies all the time together. I don't remember if it was Wisconsin and I don't remember cheese, but I've really only watched the finale once.

Mike was eating from a bowl of rice (a running gag in later years), but yeah, Wisconsin.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:11 AM on August 11, 2010


He'd probably be a great character actor, turning serious minor characters into inexplicably amusing memorable bits.

I remember he was on a couple of episodes of the wonderful
Freaks and Geeks
. He played a salesman at a clothing store in the mall, and like a disco DJ. Brief appearances, but he was funny and quirky and great to watch.

Man, I miss MST3K.
posted by jnrussell at 9:33 AM on August 11, 2010


It seems the problem it was trying to solve was post-production. Maybe the tv-wheel might live again as a technological interface between college theater and improv clubs and YouTube.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:34 AM on August 11, 2010


If I remember correctly (and I probably don't) this was shown only once on Comedy Central and it aired at the same time as the season finale of the Simpsons which was the "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" episode- needlessly splintering the coveted stoner demographic.

Smithers: "Mr. Burns was the closest thing I ever had to... a friend. But he fired me! And now I spend my days drinking cheap scotch and watching Comedy Central!"

Dr. Hibbert: "Oh, dear God!"
posted by EmGeeJay at 9:54 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


MST3K has a background cameo in that episode (it's on at Moe's bar) which I always thought was a wink at the timing.
posted by The Whelk at 9:55 AM on August 11, 2010


Maybe the tv-wheel might live again as a technological interface between college theater and improv clubs and YouTube.

I think it work best as a live show -- not something you watch on TV, but something you'd go to see, and they'd be able to play off the audience and improv a little. There's some measure of genius in this.
posted by grubi at 10:05 AM on August 11, 2010



I think it work best as a live show -- not something you watch on TV, but something you'd go to see, and they'd be able to play off the audience and improv a little. There's some measure of genius in this.


That is what I am thinking, but with some digital proof it happened that also advertises the event. I can only imagine it working in college.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:20 AM on August 11, 2010


Or at some improv theatre.
posted by grubi at 10:34 AM on August 11, 2010


I have shown a few people the Morrissey host segment, which was fairly well-received. But that's about it.

If you're introducing people to MST3K, you should start with the better episodes. The show is well-known for it all being wonderful if you're a fan, but to become a fan you have to be eased in gently.

The most important thing I can say is, DON'T introduce someone to the show in one of the shows with the most horrible movies. Particularly, if someone runs up against Manos: The Hands of Fate their first show they might get permanently turned-off. It's one of the best episodes, sure, but is what I've seen described as a "graduate level" show. Same goes for Monster A-Go-Go.

Suggestions:
The Sidehackers (the earliest good introductory episode, although most in the second season are good)
Godzilla vs. Megalon (one of the best introductory episodes -- note that, while you'd think you couldn't go wrong with Godzilla, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster is surprisingly weak)
Cave Dwellers (my own first episode, it's gloriously goofy and it never hurts to have scantily-clad people in the mix)
Pod People
War of the Colossal Beast (really the movie is just sorta great but the short, Mr. B Natural, is the funniest short they ever did and is hands-down the best way to introduce most people to the concept)
Everything in the third season is great for introducing someone except for Castle of Fu Manchu, which is a hard slog to get through (as Joel and company mention)
City Limits (at the time, the most recent movie they had ever done, great to introduce it as a kind of low-rent The Warriors)
Attack of The The Eye Creatures (make sure to point out the extra "the" in the title, to set the stage for the weirdness to come)
Anything Hercules (except maybe, oddly, "Hercules")
Warrior of the Lost World (Megaweapon! Megaweapon! Megaweapon!)
Anything Russian, most directed by Aleksandr Ptushko: Magic Voyage of Sinbad, The Day the Earth Froze, The Sword and the Dragon, Jack Frost
Eegah!
The Magic Sword
Anything Christmasy (Santa Claus, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians--probably the worst movie they did suitable for introduction)
The Creeping Terror (borders Monster-A-Go-Go territory, but the carpet monster is so supremely silly it carries the film)
Alien From L.A. (at least Kathy Ireland is nice to look at, although not to hear)
Wild Wild World of Batwoman (iffy, it was made as a kind of comedy and those are problematic for MST3K, but it's so inept it's still enjoyable as an episode I think)
Anything Gamera
Anything else from Sandy Frank (Fugitive Alien I and II especially, but Time of the Apes is also good. Mighty Jack is the hardest of the lot of a newbie)
Samson vs. Vampire Women (Frank's last show, and also, a masked luchador fights the undead. They really should have found a way to do more El Santo movies on MST.)
Outlaw (of Gor) (every fantasy movie MST did is comedy gold IMO)
Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell (almost too bad for the show)
Quest of the Delta Knights (arguably a little funnier now than when first shown, because of The Da Vinci Code)
Prince of Space (Krankor! The other Sci-Fi era Japanese movie, Invasion of the Neptune Men, may be in the too-awful category)
Space Mutiny (Great to introduce to Battlestar Galactica fans)
Werewolf (Tusk!)
The Touch of Satan (This is where the fish lives!)
Blood Waters of Dr. Z (almost too bad, but the opening monologue helps to get it started)

Best shorts to introduce with: Undersea Kingdom, Mr. B Natural, Here Comes The Circus, Circus on Ice, A Case of Spring Fever. Most shorts are great actually, the shorter length helps out. Usually the host segment after the short is relevant (even sometimes when it comes a short way into the actual movie) so don't forget that. The Commando Cody shorts, I think, are the best things from the first season.

Things to avoid: Robot Monster, Robot Holocaust, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Monster-A-Go-Go, anything Coleman Francis, Starfighters, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, Hobgoblins, Boggy Creek II. While all these episodes are great, you really need a firm grounding in the show to be able to enjoy them.
posted by JHarris at 10:40 AM on August 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


MST3K has a background cameo in that episode (it's on at Moe's bar) which I always thought was a wink at the timing.

The Simpsons had done a big thing about "Who Shot Mr. Burns" at that point, even having a contest about guessing the "killer" (Maggie), and I think having MST3K in the background was intended as a clue.
posted by JHarris at 10:44 AM on August 11, 2010


I've heard about this before but never seen it. I'll have to look when I'm home from work.

I've been watching a fair amount of MST3K on Netflix lately; they keep adding more streaming episodes. I lost interest in the original show when Mike took over. I've watched a few Mike episodes now and they're not bad exactly, they're just off.

And now reading this thread, I get what's wrong with Mike. He's not Joel. Joel's personality - his sleepiness, the way he just sort of put some things in motion and let the show happen - is so central to what the show is about.

Maybe in an alternate universe, Joel was replaced by Todd Barry and the show is still running.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:12 AM on August 11, 2010


Joel's personality - his sleepiness, the way he just sort of put some things in motion and let the show happen - is so central to what the show is about.

It really just depends on which host you started out with and got accustomed to.

Me, I started with Mike episodes; just as you find Joel's sleepiness and go-with-the-flow-ness to be central to the show, I find Mike's bafflement (but with good-natured willingness to make the best of an obviously weird situation) to be central.
posted by rifflesby at 12:19 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


and I think having MST3K in the background was intended as a clue.

I'm not sure I follow.
posted by Challahtronix at 1:14 PM on August 11, 2010


That episode of being aired opposite the last Comedy Central MST3K episode, I thought?
posted by The Whelk at 1:40 PM on August 11, 2010


oh wait, not me. Yeah Jharris, MST3K? Maggie Stabs The 3 Thousand Year Old Man?
posted by The Whelk at 1:40 PM on August 11, 2010


If I remember correctly, they had put in lots of false leads in the Who Shot Mr. Burns episode, even going so far as to film multiple "killers," and the screen was intended to be one of them. I think the point of showing MST then was to show that Smithers wasn't home watching Comedy Central at that moment, or something, showing that his story didn't quite add up. (I wasn't really paying attention to that episode, but I remember noticing the silhouettes on the screen at that moment.)
posted by JHarris at 2:25 PM on August 11, 2010


interesting theory, but I think someone (Sideshow Mel?) corroborated that Smithers stole the Madonna/Tailhook line from Pardon My Zinger, which was on at the time of the shooting. I'll have to re-watch it.
posted by Challahtronix at 3:39 PM on August 11, 2010


I remember this when it aired.. and it was hard to watch even then. I was a bit disappointed in Joel. It's a great cast, though. (I'll blame Judd Apatow, just like I blame him for pretty much everything that has sucked in this past decade.)
posted by Mael Oui at 6:58 PM on August 11, 2010


Did you know that Joel Hodgson was 'magic consultant' for Sabrina, The Teenage Witch? That's got to be the best job title in the world! Plus, Frank Conniff was very much involved with the show, and of course, Paul Feig was Mr. Pool, the science teacher. Also, thank you for posting the show, Item! I think I've long since taped over my copy with Kids In The Hall or Exit 57 or something.
posted by Mael Oui at 7:03 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's what I don't get: the whole point of the Wheel seems to be to avoid doing cuts between scenes, but it seemed like they cut out, and back, each time they turned the Wheel. I mean, normally cuts don't bother me, but after all that setup where he's explaining how they made a live sketch comedy show without cuts, the fact that they wound up doing a cut anyway to show the mechanism for avoiding cuts, just really irritated me, and I wound up closing it. So, maybe they stopped doing that later on, I don't know.

I think what happened was that Joel just got too fascinated with his solution. The rotating stage should have just been the stage, but they made it the star.

One thing I actually liked about MST3K was that, conceptually, there was only one camera up in the SoL. I saw a couple of nice touches in seasons, oh, 2 and 3, to support that: Cambot's appearance in the "Robot Roll Call" was by way of Joel holding up a mirror, and Joel's response to one viewer's request to see more of Cambot in the show was an apologetic "not possible". I liked it, but if Joel had spent the first several minutes of any episode I saw talking about Cambot, I would have been seriously annoyed about it by the end of that. Cambot was never the star, nor should he have been.
posted by Kalthare at 7:29 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


An ad for "Pardon My Zinger" is playing in the background of Moe's bar. The time the show airs (seen in the commercial) is a clue that Smithers probably didn't shoot Burns (because Burns is shot at that time, and Smithers never misses the show). I was too young to watch the show back then, but I'm told that Simpsons fans everywhere were poring over VHS recordings of part 1 for clues like these.

Troy McClure: "Then they found out it was the baby.

[coughs]"

posted by EmGeeJay at 3:29 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


"the screen was intended to be one of them"

Dear god, sometimes I'm amazed by my own typos. The screen was intended to point to one of the alternate killers, in this case, Smithers.
posted by JHarris at 11:04 AM on August 12, 2010


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