Have you ever watched a bad movie? Like one of those ones where the “stars” couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag, the sets are made of styrofoam, the boom is always in shot or the director has all the talent and vision of a brain-damaged monkey. We’ve all sat there cracking jokes with our mates and making fun of the film, but now imagine someone who is actually funny doing that and you get to enjoy it. Well good news as it’s time for a new riff on an old classic as we Tune into…Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.
Back in the long ago time of 1989 there started a little show called Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K). The premise was simple, two mad scientists (collectively referred to as the “Mads”) are trying to take over the world and have kidnapped a man to use as a test subject. They are attempting to drive him insane by forcing him to watch terrible B-movies. In order to keep his sanity Joel (the test subject) builds himself some robot pals – namely Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot and Gypsy – to keep him company and help him to comment on and make fun of each movie; a technique known as riffing.
The show ran for ten seasons and a full feature movie between 1989 and 1999 with just shy of 200 episodes in total. While the entire cast – from the voices of the robots to the on screen humans – changed over the years the premise of the show remained constant throughout the entire run of the show and despite not being the most successful show during its initial run the show grew and grew in popularity through repeats and syndication but mostly through the efforts of the shows fans who would share their own copies amongst each other even after individual episodes stopped being shown, leading to the tag line “keep circulating the tapes” appended to the end of each episode. MST3K has influenced an entire generation of content creators, possibly even giving birth to the practice of Let’s Plays and social television, and was labelled as one of the 100 greatest TV shows of all time by Time magazine.
A lot of time has passed since the show ended and various members of the cast and crew have spun off similar projects over the years such as Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic, but none of them have been quite the same as good as the original. Fast forward to 2010, Joel Hodgson, the creator and first test subject, started trying to reclaim the rights to MST3K in order to stage a comeback for the series. By 2015 Joel was successful in negotiations for the rights and a Kickstarter was started to get the show into production. Joel wanted the series to be fan funded in order to avoid the usual meddling from production companies and distributors. With an initial target of $2 million for a twelve episode season, the Kickstarter was launched in November of 2015 and smashed its goal in the first week ending at over $5.7 million leading to two extra episodes, making it the most successful film and movie Kickstarter to date beating the previous record holder the Veronica Mars movie.
So the series was funded and set to go, now there was just the matter of who was going to take up the reigns as the on screen talent. Joel planned to cast an all new group for the main roles with the occasional guest appearance from former members of the cast where they would reprise their old roles. The part of the test subject for the new show was given to Jonah Ray, one of the co-hosts of the Nerdist podcast who Joel met whilst guesting on an episode of said podcast. The voices of the the robots – Crow and Tom Servo – come courtesy of two comedians, Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn, both of whom Jonah suggested for the parts. Perhaps the biggest catch for the show comes in the casting of the two new Mads holding Jonah captive. First up we have the darling of the nerd world and beloved of the internet Felicia Day taking on the role of Kinga Forrester, ostensibly the daughter of the original scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester. Alongside Day as her sidekick, Max, is Patton Oswalt, long time friend of Joel who was going to originally guest write an episode for the season but ended up landing an on-camera role.
Now comes the hard part, did they do it right. We’ve got the original creator and writer running the whole show, a strong cast of well respected comedians and actors as well as freedom from studio interference. Of course they nailed it. The new season perfectly captures the essence that made the original so beloved of so many people, from the over the top B-movie special effects used outside of the film sections to the banter between Jonah and the bots and the incompetent evil that are the Mads this season fairly reeks of the early MST3K; only now you don’t have to have been born in the last century to get all the jokes and references! Do you know what the worst complaint that has been levelled at the new show is? It has too many jokes… I mean if that’s your biggest gripe then I don’t think you have too much to worry about.
The only thing that upsets me about this return is that I didn’t have the spare money to drop on the Kickstarter when it was running and now I feel like I missed out on a serious piece of nerd cred. What Joel and his crew have delivered here is a true masterpiece in terms of nostalgia and new. They blow away all the worries people had of the return of a loved franchise and take it to places even the old episodes didn’t hit. And the best thing is it’s all out now, carried by Netflix the entire season is available now! This justifies every penny I have ever paid out for my Netflix subscription. So fire up your media device of choice and make your way to the theatre because WE’VE GOT MOVIE SIGN!! And it’s glorious.