[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!