MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 Season 11 Episode 1 [Review]

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 11 Poster
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 Season 11, Episode 1 “Reptilicus”/ Directed by JOEL HODGSON & ROBERT COHEN/ Starring JONAH RAY, BARON VAUGHN, HAMPTON YOUNT, REBECCA HANSON, FELICIA DAY & PATTON OSWALT/ Produced by THE MST3K REVIVAL LEAGUE, ALTERNAVERSAL PRODUCTIONS, LLC, SATELLITE OF LOVE, LLC, ABOMINABLE PICTURES, SHOUT FACTORY & NETFLIX/ KEEP CIRCULATING THE URL! MST3K.COM

[FULL DISCLOSURE – The author of this review is a proud member of The MST3K Revival League, whose 48,270 members contributed millions of dollars to #BringBackMST3K. Well, someone had to!]

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (hereafter MST3K) was my first fandom. I joined the official MST3K Information Club (Member #35086!) as a pre-teen. I snuck out of bed on school-nights to catch the after-midnight reruns. I went by Joey The Lemur on the MST3K forums at Prodigy (The Internet before the Internet!). My first writing gigs were for MST3K fanzines Brainfood and Digest Digest. I kept a VCR far longer than most people purely because of my collection of taped MST3K episodes (Keep Circulating The Tapes!), before it became economical to burn my own DVD collection, and before most of the episodes were available to purchase legally through Shout Factory.

My point in all of this rambling is that I am a total fanatic when it comes to MST3K. So when word came out that series creator Joel Hodgson had reacquired the rights to the show and was crowd-funding a new season on Kickstarter, I was quick to throw him my money and join the new MST3K Revival League (Member #12159). I was not alone in this and by the time a now-legendary on-line telethon was finished, the show had raised enough money through direct donations and tie-in merchandise sales to finance 14 new episodes and shatter the record for the most money raised by a TV show revival effort. This led to a distribution deal with Netflix, who will air the new episodes and – based on their success – consider financing additional seasons.

A quick explanation for the uninitiated. Set in “the-not-too-distant-future”, MST3K’s metaplot has a pair of mad-scientists launching a hapless janitor named Joel into space and forcing him to watch bad movies as part of an experiment to find a movie so awful that, when unleashed on the public, it will spread chaos and confusion, allowing them to take over the world. Joel defends himself from this psychological onslaught with the only weapons he has – wit and sarcasm. He is aided in this by his self-built robot friends, who join him in watching the movies and making fun of them.

That’s the rough backstory. The cast changed several times over the series’ original ten seasons but the point of the show stayed the same regardless of who was voicing the robots, who was stuck in the theater and which team of mad scientists was sending the movies. Ultimately, the show was all about funny people making fun of cheesy movies like The Saga Of The Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of The Great Sea Serpent and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?

The revival series continues this trend, with a metaplot that sees Gizmonic Institute asteroid miner Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray of The Nerdist) answering a faked distress call from the Moon 13 Research Station. Soon Jonah is the captive of Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day) and TV’s Son Of TV’s Frank (Patton Oswalt) – the children of Dr. Clayton Forrester and TV’s Frank from the original series – and he’s being forced to watch bad movies with the old gang of robot friends as part of Kinga’s effort to create a hit web-series franchise that she can sell for a billion dollars.

How exactly Clay and Frank – portrayed as ambiguously gay or unambiguously incapable of attracting women depending on the episode – came to have kids is a mystery the show will probably never explain. Despite the four minute sequence setting up the show and Jonah’s explanation in the first host segment regarding Gypsy’s new voice, the show is as devoted as ever to the MST3k Mantra. So those hoping for a detailed explanation of how The Bots wound up back on The Satellite of Love or why Tom Servo can now fly (but only in the theater) should really just relax.

From the moment we see a caption telling us to “turn down our lights (where applicable)” to the soothing sounds of the MST3K Love Theme as the final credits roll, every minute of this first episode feels like coming home. The tone of the new series is close to that during Joel Hodgson’s tenure as host, with an “Invention Exchange” before the movie airs and the reading of children’s fan-mail to Jonah and The ‘Bots. The whole affair plays out as the most twisted local UHF station kids’ puppet show you could imagine. Think Romper Room for sarcastic prodigies.

The new crew are excellent across the board, with Jonah Ray proving an amicable and inventive host. Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt are as excellent as you would expect them to be as The New Mads. Baron Vaughn and Hampton Yount play well together as the new Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. And Rebecca Hanson offers up an decidedly different (and welcome) take on Gypsy, being the first woman to voice the robot who runs The Satellite of Love.

As far as the riffing goes, the gags favor putting words in the mouths of the characters and obscure pop culture references over non-sequiturs and direct commentary on the quality of the film. I shan’t spoil any of the gags here (my oath of silence as a Kickstarter backer is sacrosanct!) but the writers do a fantastic job of keeping the humor flowing without talking over the movie. Small wonder with a writing team that includes the likes of Rick and Morty creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon!

They say you can’t go home again. I say “Oh, Bite Me! It’s Fun!” Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back and it’s like it never left!

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 11 will be available on Netflix starting April 14, 2017.

About Matt Morrison

Matt has been writing about comics on-line since before the word "blogging" was coined. When he's not busy being the World's Finest Teen Librarian, he enjoys acting, role-playing, movie-riffing and sarcasm. He also writes for NoFlyingNoTights.com and MyGeekyGeekyWays.com. You can follow his adventures on Twitter, @GeekyGeekyWays.

6 comments on “MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 Season 11 Episode 1 [Review]

  1. Just watched the first episode! I loved it! Everyone who worked on the show knocked it out of the park. Can’t wait to watch the rest of the season!

  2. Hmm. Gypsy being voiced by an actual woman is kinda missing the point… and if they’re choosing social justice over gags it makes me worry that MST3K in 2017 may lean toward the SJW crowd. I prefer my movie riffs not to make social statements. I guess it depends on how the voice sounds, but seeing as this author has already described the change as “welcome,” presumably for exactly those reasons, it’s not a great sign.

    And Servo could always hover.

    1. Hey. “This author” here. SPOILERS after this.

      I fail to see what “the point” is in having a man voice Gypsy. I personally find it heartening that Joel Hodgson acknowledged the problematic aspects of having the one female character in the original cast being the one doing all the work on the ship and portraying her as being stupider than the other robots – even if it was justified in-universe by her brain being occupied.

      Joel’s comments on the matter were limited to him saying that it wasn’t an issue back in the late 80s but that he wanted the show to evolve with the times and, to that end, make sure they had a woman voicing Gypsy in a legible fashion in the new show. It doesn’t really change anything beyond us actually being able to understand what she’s saying and establishing Jonah’s bonafides as a “gizmocrat” that he’s able to enhance her voice and repair the robots on his own.

      The reference to Servo hovering is due to one of the aforementioned improvements. Yes, Servo “hovered” in the original show, but he’s now able to levitate to various heights as part of a few sight gags in the theater. He’s still firmly grounded behind the table for the host segments – apparently due to some bug Jonah has yet to work out.

      As for the first episode, I don’t recall it having any political jibes. Mind you, the original show was never free of political humor, nor was Rifftrax, so I can’t guarantee there won’t be something in later episodes that won’t upset you. If it does, just remember it’s just a show and you should really just relax. (la la la) 🙂

  3. My only concern (honestly, just this one) is something I’ve read elsewhere and here:

    “As far as the riffing goes, the gags favor putting words in the mouths of the characters and obscure pop culture references over…direct commentary on the quality of the film.”

    I’m getting the impression that making comments/riffs/jokes about “the quality of the film” is somehow an improvement. I’ve seen (and almost religiously watch) every episode of the first 10 seasons of MST3K and I think it’s safe to say that anywhere from 40 to 50% of the riffs are PRECISELY about the quality of the films. I mean, there is no way in the world THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU wasn’t a TERRIBLE FILM. And by that, I mean a terribly MADE film. Manos – Time Chasers – The Wild World of Batwoman – The Human Duplicators – they were all BADLY MADE FILMS.

    My concern is that Joel has been influenced by a Marketing Culture which didn’t exist when he left the show back in 1993. A Marketing Culture which has turned every movie made nowadays into “THE BEST MOVIE EVAR!” Truth is, you cannot hope to work in movies or TV today if you are even remotely critical of the quality of the films or shows being produced. Which, you know, is probably why so much of it STINKS.

    So, I’m sorry, but if Joel has “politically corrected” the SOL in order to spare the feelings of lackluster film makers who to this day are still assaulting us with things no better than MASTER NINJA or MITCHELL, well – he’ll be getting a strongly worded tweet on the subject after I’ve ravenously binge-watched the new season seven or eight times…. MST3K was the only voice of reason in the wilderness of crappy films. If it starts whitewashing the “quality” of crappy films, it’s just make more crappy film makers think they’re making “good” films.

    1. Okay. Think there was a little miscommunication here.

      When I say “direct commentary on the quality of the film”, I mean the non-joke riffs like “You know this scene has been compared to the chariot race from Ben Hur? Yeah – people say “Wow, the chariot race from Ben Hur was good and this really sucks.” that became more and more prevalent after Mike took over the hosting duties.

      Rest assured – the new MST3K continues to make fun of the movies and point out the glaringly bad special effects, outrageous costumes, weord accents, muted performances, poor dubbing etc.

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