|“||Check me out!||”|
|— Tom Servo|
Tom Servo is one of two robot co-hosts built by Joel Robinson to act as a companion and help stave off madness as he was forced to watch low-quality movies by the Mads on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He is somewhat more mature and cynical than his companion Crow T. Robot. He was at first somewhat arrogant, and yet comes off as highly sensitive.
As his puppeteer is already seated in the theater when the others arrive, Servo is usually shown to be carried in by the host, but there are some episodes where he is shown entering the theater on his own. In Robot Holocaust, he tells Joel that there is a heat vent that he finds difficult to hover over, and thus needs assistance. In Season 11, with advances in green screen and remote control technology, this handicap is removed, as Tom can now fly in the theater.
Servo's personality changed slightly through the series. In the early years, Servo was somewhat pompous and even arrogant towards the other characters. Gradually, these traits softened, and although Tom let his pride get the better of him on several occasions, he also showed more thoughtfulness towards others, though not necessarily tact.
Tom was also easily rattled on several occasions, often letting his temper get the better of him or showing little patience, especially after being teased by Crow. He is highly intellectual and often shows deeper and a more complex level of thought than the other Satellite residents. This is demonstrated most overtly in the episode The Undead, when he scored the highest on the Observers' I.Q. test, even scoring higher than one of the Observers themselves (specifically Brain Guy). In an uncommon display of humility, Tom downplays the achievement saying that he just "tests well." This is shown to be true when Tom is taken to the Observers' planet since he can't read any mind but his own, the "brain" he carries is actually an olive, and he steals the Observers' silverware.
More than that, Tom Servo seems to be an autodidact and polymath, knowledgeable in such diverse areas as the Greek classics (Homer) and mythology, philosophy (he has described himself as a "Humist", or follower of David Hume, an 18th century Scottish philosopher known for his philosophy of empiricism, amongst other areas), physics ("Mom, is space curved?" he has one on-screen character ask, referring, perhaps, to the works of Minkowski and his one-time student, Albert Einstein), and he seems not unacquainted with the works of Steven Hawking and Roger Penrose, and higher mathematics ("Are Gaussian equations flawed due to their strictly Euclidian view of the universe?"). It's debatable whether some or all of this is just a pretense, subject to the whims of his extreme emotional lability and moment-by-moment egoic needs. At the end of Master Ninja II, Tom identified the motorcycle racing movie Big Fauss and Little Halsy as his favorite film, but he got the title wrong (it's actually Little Fauss and Big Halsy).
However, Servo also has an inferiority complex about his size and shape, being insulted when called "stout" and often altering his form in attempts to improve his body or make him seem more imposing such as in The Pumaman he's tired of being short and adds height-enhancing extensions to his hoverskirt. In The Giant Gila Monster he also finds his butt "cute". Oddly, he did not have a complex about appearing in drag, which happened often when a female role was required for a sketch role and Gypsy was not available. On one occasion, he even declared, "In this outfit, I feel like a total fem. You know what? I don't have a problem with it."  Even with this fact, Servo considered himself to be quite a ladies' man; his past loves included a blender, Tibby the turtle, The Creepy Girl, and even his "sister" Gypsy.
He can also come across highly sensitive at times when pushed too far, and so can come off as the more emotionally vulnerable, often needing consolation from Joel or Mike. It is often due to his inferiority complex, his own impulsiveness or his frustration caused by his intelligence or his nerve being challenged.
Though he likely wouldn't admit it, one of Servo's biggest sensitive subjects was his head. As was mentioned in a fan letter read in The Unearthly, Servo's head (while transparent) could not be seen through when he was in the theater and he also had no physical eyes to watch the movies with. Servo denied hiding anything despite Joel's and Crow's incessant nagging. The empty space inside Servo's head often allowed Crow and Mike/Joel ample opportunities to fill it with stuff, such as the M&Ms seen in the early theme song and Mike's brother Eddie's cigarette ashes towards the end of the eighth. It was seen as a plastic tube when Servo got a haircut in Rocket Attack U.S.A., full of Ken doll heads to emphasize light-headedness in Eegah, and slimmed to a disk like the Lost in Space robot in Time Chasers.
His sensitivity came up especially hard when Mike broke it while playing a prank on Crow in The Thing That Couldn't Die and when Mike and Crow blossomed and deep fried his head in Track of the Moon Beast. Servo's attempt to make it a big deal fails when he realized just how good it smelled. His biggest sign of insecurity came when he completely swapped his old head out for a new ventriloquist dummy's head in The Violent Years (which may be a possible reference to Kevin Murphy's own Danny O'Day ventriloquist dummy). This new head made Gypsy feel ill and traumatized Crow, but the situation got worse when Mike tried to pull it off.
Servo also enjoyed singing, especially after Kevin Murphy took over as puppeteer. He frequently sang songs to objects of affection, such as Tibby and the The Creepy Girl, and on one occasion even tamed an enraged gorilla with his fine baritone voice. His singing voice helped to emphasize his ego, which is seen in The Violent Years when he sings is own theme song to Carmina Burana for the Mads.
In addition, Servo has red-green colorblindness, and is the owner of a red toy car which he has used to run Crow over on several occasions, an extensive underwear collection, and a large number of duplicates of himself.
In season 11, Tom received several upgrades including gaining the ability of flying in the theater (but not on the Bridge) and being able to move his arms. In Reptilicus, he mistakenly goes into "sheep mode" and marches into a disintegrator. However, one of his "clones" resists doing so and replaces him, and is subsequently treated as interchangeable with the original Servo.
Behind the Scenes
Servo evolved from a robot named Beeper, who appeared in the original pilot. Beeper was found to be too difficult to work with and his performer, Josh Weinstein, was saddled with a character who only spoke in beeps and whistles. Although he was mentioned in the first episode, by the second, Servo had replaced him and he was never mentioned on the show again. The name 'Servo' is a reference to a vending machine called the Servotron seen in a Twin Cities mall.
Tom Servo is a red puppet that has a gumball machine (Carousel Snack Dispenser) for a head, a body composed of a toy "Money Lover Barrel" coin bank, and an engine block from a Talbot Toys dune buggy, and a bowl-shaped hovercraft skirt or hoverskirt (a Halloween 'Boo Bowl' with black vacuum formed Tyco Turbo Trains spaced around) instead of legs. His arms are from a pair of obscure small doll hands on the ends of springs and upper arms from a C'more Bunz Novelty doll that are not really functional as arms, a point that is commented on occasionally throughout the series. (Oddly, though, some episodes feature Tom with objects already in his hands, raising the unanswered question of how they got there.) His shoulders are made from the front of an Eveready Floating Lantern. He is painted with Testors Red Metalflake. Because Servo's head is transparent, chromakeyed images appear projected through it, and thus a second puppet was built for use in the theater segments, entirely spray-painted black. This black Servo also appeared in a host segment in The Skydivers.
These are the sources for various parts of Tom's construction
In Season 1 on the Comedy Channel, he was given a red color, longer black air tube arms, squared white shoulders, and a gumball machine with a large, white beak. The beak was changed back to silver later in the season, and by Season 2, the black tubing used for his arms was replaced by a pair of small silver springs and shoulders from the aforementioned C'more Bunz novelty doll.
- This physical form was kept throughout the remainder of the series, except for a brief flirtation (during Rocket Attack U.S.A. and Ring of Terror) with a slim cylindrical Termotox Candy/Nut Dispenser head was introduced as a "haircut" that Joel gave Servo, but was quickly abandoned.
In Season 4, Servo sported flesh-colored hands from City Limits to Attack of the Giant Leeches, a change that was never acknowledged in the show. In The Killer Shrews they returned to flat white. Supposedly, the reason behind it was that Joel Hodgson had found them "disturbing". Kevin Murphy later said
"Joel brought me these hands and said, "Kevin, paint these. It's just far too disturbing."
In the 2017 Netflix revival, Tom went through minor changes in appearance. The "springs" that make up his arms are longer and appear to be one solid piece. They also move at the shoulders, enabling him to gesture. Of the robots on the SOL (Cambot, Gypsy, Tom, and Crow), Tom seems to have undergone the fewest alterations.
For the Cheesy Movie Tour, Servo can now travel freely due to the puppeteers being in bunraku (with the puppeteers covered in all black). A new puppet was built with visible hover jets under his skirt. His head was made more translucent, rather than fully transparent. This change remained in place for the bumper segments of the2nd Annual Puppet Camp Livestream. Additionally, Tom's arms were fixed to his torso during the Puppet Camp 2 livestream.
Servo's voice and personality also changed during the show's early years. Josh Weinstein was the original performer for Servo (and, in the pilot, Beeper) holding down the role throughout the KTMA season and Season One. In Servo's first appearance, Revenge of the Mysterons from Mars, Servo spoke with a nasally voice. In K03 - Star Force: Fugitive Alien, Servo began speaking with a Kermit the Frog-type voice, and was somewhat immobile during host segments but oddly very active in the theater. In episode K06, Weinstein switched to a lower voice that Servo repeatedly proclaimed as his new "MIGHTY VOICE!" and took advantage of every opportunity to talk in his new voice. The primary inspiration came from the WKRP in Cincinnati episode "Dr. Fever and Mr. Tide", in which Johnny Fever took on this intensely smarmy persona Rip Tide.
When Weinstein left at the end of Season 1, Kevin Murphy took over Servo's operation and early on tried to match Weinstein's Servo voice and personality. But gradually he developed a somewhat new Servo sound and character (though Murphy has a fairly deep voice himself). This was explained as tinkering by Joel.
Servo made a brief cameo (along with Crow) at the end of the online Turkey Day '13 marathon. He did not speak and the puppeteers are unknown.
Weinstein returned to the role of Tom Servo for the Turkey Day '14 marathon and the concurrently released Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Turkey Day Collection DVD box set. During the marathon, he made reference to his voice once again being "Mighty". In both of these appearances, the Tom puppet was operated by puppeteer Russ Walko.
Beginning in 2015 with the Bring Back MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 campaign, Tom has been voiced by Baron Vaughn, with puppeteering continuing to be handled by Walko. Additional operation of the Tom Servo puppet has been performed by Erik Kuska.
When the 2017 live tour was announced, it was stated that "robot voices may change without notice". This was due to the pregnancy of Vaughn's wife, who was due to give birth some time during the tour. Eventually, it was announced that Vaughn, due to his impending fatherhood, would not attempt to participate in the tour and Tom would be voiced and operated for the duration by Tim Ryder. Ryder returned to perform Servo for the 2018 Anniversary tour.
After the announcement that no new episodes would be produced for Netflix, it was not clear what involvement Vaughn, Walko, and/or Ryder would have in any future projects.
For the 2019 Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live - The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour, Servo was performed by Conor McGiffin. McGiffin also voiced and operated Servo in promos for Pluto TV and the 2020 Live Riff-Along streaming event. He later performed as Tom during the bumper segments of the2nd Annual Puppet Camp Livestream, while Josh Weinstein returned to the role to riff two shorts.
Pop Culture Appearances
- A Tom Servo-like robot appeared in the Cops-inspired Star Wars spoof "Troops" as a droid purloined by Jawas and rescued by Imperial Officers. This was not a BBI officially-authorized appearance, but apparently nobody complained.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine contains a reference in one episode by listing "Tom Servo's Used Robots" as one of several businesses in a directory of the station's Promenade business area.
- A silhouette resembling Tom appeared in the Futurama episode "Raging Bender" alongside Crow, who is shown shushing Fry and telling him that it's not polite to talk while a movie's on.
- In the Homestar Runner cartoon "A Jorb Well Done," Tom Servo appears in silhouette alongside Coach Z and Pom Pom in a movie theater. In the Halloween toon "I Killed Pom Pom", Marzipan dresses up as Tom Servo and tells Strong Sad that "there's a bad horror movie on" and if he wants to make "Snappy comments and obscure references?" but no movies are riffed as Strong Sad dressed up as the Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth and glued his eyes shut.
In the original run of the series, Tom Servo was the only one of the four bots to have multiple copies of himself made at the same time. This was especially noticeable during The Human Duplicators.
As of Diabolik he had 517 copies. They were mostly used when musical numbers required more singers than the usual cast, or required Servo to sing in harmony with himself a la a barbershop quartet. In the aforementioned Diabolik (the last episode of the original run), Tom appeared to have destroyed all extant copies via his self-destruct mechanism. This exercise in culling the herd brought to light the fact that all of Servo's doubles believed themselves to be the real Tom Servo, as several are shown apparently orchestrating the destruction before being destroyed themselves.
In Season 11, Servo himself (apparently) is destroyed in Reptilicus, replaced by an apparently-identical clone. In subsequent episodes, multiple versions of both Tom and Crow are seen when sketches call for additional background characters. The origin of these additional 'Bots is unknown (as is their fates), but it's possible Jonah built them in his Fab Lab and dismantled them afterwards.
- Operation Double 007
- Manhunt in Space
- The Killer Shrews
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
- The Human Duplicators, Future War, and Diabolik
- Ouch, Minutiae! The Missing Episodes
|Primary Residents||Joel Robinson • Mike Nelson • Jonah Heston • Crow T. Robot • Gypsy • Cambot • Tom Servo|
|Minor/Other Residents||Magic Voice • Timmy • Mike's Robot • Clayton Forrester (mirror) • TV's Frank (mirror) • Eddie Nelson (alternate universe) • Nanites • Mike Nelson (robot) • Winston • M. Waverly • Matt Claude Van Damme • Growler • Emily Crenshaw|
|Visitors||Enoch • Demon Dogs • Nuveena • Gypsy (mirror) • Tom Servo (mirror) • Monad • Observers • Finnegan • Lydia • Ortega • Phantom of Krankor • Henry Kissinger • Delivery Man • Goosio • Mikey the Mike sprite • Brain Guy • Pearl Forrester • Professor Bobo|
|Terminology||Airlock • Deus ex Machina • Hexfield Viewscreen • Hyper-warp escape ships • Jet Screen • Manipulator arms • Movie sign • Rocket Number 9 • The Tube • Umbilicus • Whirlpool|
|Locations||Bridge • Crow's Room • Joel's room • Kitchen • Mike's room • Mystery Science Theater • Theater hallway • Tom's room|