Throughout the 1990s, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a major part of my life, although I never saw an episode with J. Elvis Weinstein as Dr. Earhardt/the voice of Tom Servo until 2016. Friday nights or Saturday mornings included time blocked out for Joel or Mike and the Bots. It began on The Comedy Channel, which became Comedy Central, and became the network’s flagship show. But then they created The Daily Show, and even before Jon Stewart turned the show into the most trusted news source in America (What’s that tell you when Fox News and CNN has to grovel to Trevor Noah?), it pushed MST3K out of the limelight. No problem. The ScFi Channel picked up the adventures of Mike and the Bots (after creator Joel Hodgson left), and ran for the remainder of the 1990s. And in 1999, after two hosts and six mads, the show came to an end. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett carried on with RiffTraxx, which provides in-home riffing over bigger budget movies while Joel resurrected the idea with Cinematic Titanic featuring other cast members. The success of both, including some joint events, showed that MST3K‘s return was inevitable.
And so in 2015, Hodgson started a Kickstarter campaign to bring the show back. One year, several stretch goals, and 14 episodes later, Netflix picked up the show with a new cast. Hampton Yount is Crow (nailing that voice originated by Trace “Clayton Forrester” Beaulieu and continued by Bill Corbett.) Baron Vaughan is the new Servo, and like the change between Weinstein and Kevin Murphy, he sounds different. Jonah Ray plays new host Jonah Heston, trapped in space by Clayton Forrester’s daughter Kinga (Felicia Day) and Max, aka TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (Patton Oswalt). The look has been updated, using both CGI and stop motion for certain parts of the show, but cheaply done to fit in with the sets’ homemade feel. Perhaps the biggest change is Gypsy, formerly voiced falsetto by producers Jim Mallon and Patrick Bransteg. She now comes out of the ceiling and is voiced by Rebecca Hanson. Hanson gives Gypsy a sexy, sarcastic voice and allows her to drop in and fire off a few riffs of her own.
Day is excellent as the latest lead Mad, following on a tradition begun by Beaulieu and carried on by Mary Jo Pehl as Pearl Forrester. Pehl also does cameos both as Pearl and as Pearl’s clone, who works at Moon 13, the new evil base. Oswalt’s Max is actually kind of annoying in the Mad segments, but provides commentary in bumpers designed in case the show landed on a commercial network or Hulu. He even refers to Moon 13 almost like a television station, giving the show a 70s/80s horror show feel. Ray as Jonah Heston is a worthy successor to Joel and Mike, whom Joel points out in a Kickstarter video have done a hundred episodes each. He’s no slouch delivering the riffs with partners Yount and Vaughan. Sometimes, the riffs come a bit too fast to follow, but I’ve seldom gone more than a minute before another belly laugh comes out of nowhere from something one of them said. They even include a few callbacks to the original show, pulling from all seasons. The debut is great for setting up the premise with help from cameos by Buck Rogers‘s Erin Gray and uber-nerd Wil Wheaton as Gizmonic Institute workers unaware that the Forrester Family has started up again on the dark side of the moon. (Surprisingly, only one Pink Floyd reference three episodes in, and not to that album.)
The first episode was a little rough in spots, but most of this is the new cast and crew finding a groove after 18 years off the air and only a handful of original writers and producers on board. It would be great to see Bealieu, Weinstein, Frank Coniff (TV’s Frank), or Mike Nelson put in an appearance. Joel did as another character and several RiffTrax guests are slated to appear.
The movies, at least three episodes in, are as cringe-worthy as ever, with the second one, Cry Wilderness, probably the most pointless movie ever shot. It literally makes zero sense, and the acting makes the average Ed Wood movie look like an Oscar winner for Best Picture.
It’s good to have MST3K back and in a binge-friendly format. On the downside, binging means I’ll have watch the entire season in about a week or two and have to wait for Season 12.