Michael J. "Mike" Nelson is the main character of MST3K's sixth through tenth seasons. Portrayed by actor/head writer Michael J. Nelson, Mike is an awkward, slightly dim-witted but well-meaning temp worker from Wisconsin who comes to work for the Mads, Dr. Clayton Forrester and TV's Frank, in Deep 13 while they prepare for an evil-scientist audit in ep. 512 Mitchell. Audiences eventually learn that Mike was originally from rural Western Wisconsin before taking a series of temp jobs, including at a cheese factory.
When Joel Robinson escapes from the Satellite of Love at the end of this episode, the Mads knock Mike unconscious and shoot him up to the satellite to replace Joel as their experimental guinea pig instead of killing him for being an oaf. The hapless Mike finds himself forced to watch bad movies with robot companions Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot while interjecting humorous quips and cultural riffs based on the action and dialog of the films. Nelson's first full appearance as a member of the SOL crew was ep. 513 The Brain That Wouldn't Die.
Mike's relationship with the bots was very different from the one the bots had with Joel. Though the bots occasionally poked fun at Joel, they generally respected him and his authority, often regarding him as a father figure (unsurprising, since he literally created them) who would expound on life-defining lessons that could neither be questioned nor refuted. The bots never felt that way about Mike. Though they came to accept him as their friend and companion, they were often more cynical and merciless with him (particularly during the Sci-Fi Channel era) when he screwed up or failed to pick up on something that was blatantly obvious to them; if Joel was a father figure, Mike was more like an older brother. Mike was also different from Joel in personality and temperament. Joel tended to take his captivity in benign stride, often delivering his riffs deadpan, holding no malice against his captors and affectionately calling them "the Mads". Mike tended to be more aggressive regarding his captivity and making fun of the films, and was forever scheming to escape the Satellite or at least make the Mads look like fools.
Although more aggressive then Joel, Mike shares much of Joel's mid-western sensibility. He feels a strong connection to his family back in Wisconsin, and mentions them often. His Grandmother was the first person he attempted to contact for help upon being stranded (something that Joel apparently never tried). He also seems to have no problem staying on good terms with ex-girlfriends, also calling one of them for help on one occasion (see Trivia below). Mike has occasionally made reference to having a dark side, including once having "punched that guy from accounting" at one of his temp jobs.
Mike is also notoriously clumsy to a dangerous degree. According to The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Guide, Mike is "as intelligent as the average man" and often displays a comic unawareness of his limitations and foibles. In Experiment #520 Radar Secret Service, he attempts to perform some standard maintenance on Crow and inadvertently changes Crow's personality to that of Arnold Horshack (from the TV show "Welcome Back Kotter"). In Experiment #602 Invasion USA, he builds a robot whose only function appears to be to "destroy...destroy...destroy...". Despite his apparent ineptitude at building and repairing robots, Mike successfully reprograms Tom and Crow with incompatible regional speech patterns at the beginning of Experiment #611 Last of the Wild Horses. During the eighth season, Mike's clumsiness reaches a zenith as he manages to accidentally contribute to the destruction of planets in three separate incidents.
In Experiment #911 Devil Fish, he believes his identity has been stolen by a secret government agency after merely misplacing his wallet.
Mike would later find out, after blowing up the Intelligent Ape inhabited Earth in 2525, the explosion he caused inadvertently sent one of the Professor Bobo's scientists back in time and caused the "Planet of the Apes" inbreeding through his own relative from the past.
After many, many adventures through time and space, the Satellite eventually crashed to Earth and Mike and the robots escaped for good.
Mike's father is mentioned to be running a mail order burlap store out of Mignon, Wisconsin. Mike described his father as reserved, though Crow's experience (via time-travel) with Elmer "Keg-Drainer" Nelson was apparently quite different (Terror from the Year 5000).
Mike has at least one brother, whose name is Eddie. Eddie is older than Mike. In an alternate timeline, Eddie was the one who became trapped on the SOL (Time Chasers). Mike hasn't made specific reference to Eddie otherwise.
In the 80s, Mike, along with his brother Eddie, would take temp jobs, meeting such enigmatic figures like Patrick and a robot from the future. The robot from the future would convince Mike to continue work with his band Sex Factory, instead of working a temp job that would land him in Dr. Forrester's clutches. This would lead Mike to his death, so another robot had to convince himself not to convince Mike, and since the future was then not revealed to Mike, he still got marooned in space.
Mike had long blond (possibly bleached) hair, and was a fan of Journey.
Behind the Scenes
Early in his tenure as the show's host, Nelson terminated the invention exchanges and letter readings that were a staple of the show's first five years, ending a popular tradition but giving the writers much more freedom in creating the opening and closing sketches.
- Mike mentioned that his favorite movie is Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo during the final host segment of Final Justice.
- Among his previous love interests, Mike has mentioned Carla (who had since had a son), Ginger (with whom a time-traveling Crow also had a dalliance) and Denise (who apparently passed away in a tragic manner).
- Mike is apparently a bit of an audiophile, given his elaborate stereo set-up and CD maintenance shown in The Creeping Terror. He was also fond of music on vinyl, as seen in Space Mutiny.
- Mike is especially fond of rice.
- Mike is the only host character on the show to have shared the full name of the actor playing him.