MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE RETURN Review

mystery science theater 3000

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My introduction to MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 was probably similar to the way a lot of people my age were introduced: flipping through channels until your dad walked by and said “Hey, MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000!” MST3K sparked an appreciation for cheesy cinema for many people, and taught a generation that sometimes it’s okay to shout things out loud during a movie. The original show ran from 1988 to 1999, appearing on a young Comedy Central and then later the Sci Fi Channel before it started playing it fast and loose with vowels.

mystery science theater 3000 syfy

This happened like five years ago and I’m STILL annoyed

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But in today’s Drowned God culture where what is dead may never die (or merely live on through  syndication), MST3K was brought to Netflix by a record-breaking Kickstarter effort. The new show (properly subtitled “The Return”) is helmed by original creator Joel Hodgson and staffed by a nerdy dream team that puts Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland, Joel McHale, and Matt Oswalt in the writer’s chair for a couple episodes, featuring a new cast that includes Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt. There were even reports that Pendleton Ward, Rebecca Sugar, and even Adam Savage would contribute to the resurrection of the show. But with all this parading about and fanfare, it really begs the question: is it any good, or at least as good as the original?

mystery science theater 3000 felicia day

Does your dad even know who Felicia Day IS???

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For those completely unfamiliar with the format of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, I offer only this original rendition of the theme song, which pretty much sums up everything you need to know.

 

They really did the best they could with the “Next Sunday A.D.” verse

Roughly two decades since it went off the air, the show picks up with the arrival of Jonah, another employee of the Gizmonics Institute captured by the daughter of Pearl Forrester, Kinga, and her number two, TV’s Son of TV’s Frank, or Max. Her game is pretty much the same: steal Jonah’s inventions and force him to watch bad B-movies until he goes insane and their ratings go way up. It’s a fairly simple and somewhat banal plot, like someone had to think of a reason to have a dude and some robots watching shitty movies, but that’s probably exactly where it came from and ultimately contributes to the show’s charm.

Despite all the new additions and boatloads of money, the show feels like it could just as easily have been shot in 1995. The original had a DIY, public-access feel between the sets, costumes and puppetry, and the reboot hasn’t changed much of that. Everything is made with pretty simple practical effects, and the most technical things on the show aren’t any more advanced than anything from a Tim and Eric bit.

mystery science theater 3000 ska

It seems like the most expensive piece of production design was paying for the warehouse that contains the Skeleton Crew, the in-house ska band

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Whether the show is “good” is dependent on whether it’s funny or not. And it is.The jokes range from pop-culture references, jokes about specific facets of the movie, such as its pacing or set design (the puppetry in REPTILICUS has to be seen to be properly appreciated), and just observations about what’s going on. Not every joke lands, however, and the commentators try to make up for it by unleashing rapid-fire joke after joke, which sort of ruins the comedic timing. The machine gun approach to comedy ruins the feel that these people are sitting and watching a movie. It’s a key component that helps appeal to the sense of community that catapulted the series to cult-classic status. It’s the reason people watch Let’s Plays, for the feeling that they’re hanging out with some of their friends, and not letting the jokes breathe a little bit kind of stomps on that feeling.

mystery science theater 3000 familial

The kind of warm, familial feeling that only getting high and watching Danish kaiju movies with your friends can provide

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This is a bit of nit-pick, however, as the rest of the show is entertaining and really enjoyable, or at least as entertaining as ska played by dudes in skull masks can be. Despite playing on Netflix with no commercials in sight, MST3K is still structured around breaks and will pop in and out of segments featuring Jonah and the bots or the antics of Kinga and Max on Moonbase 13. This helps the sort of grassroots feel of the whole show, making things feel like they’re thrown together, but in a real charming kinda way. Even when celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris and Jerry Seinfeld show up, it still feels true to the original series.

Whether the current generation’s obsession with nostalgia is a good or bad thing is an argument for another article. If your excitement for the return of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 stems from the possibility of more content from something you enjoyed, and not a new take on an old classic, you’re going to be very satisfied. The new boss is the same as the old boss (literally), and that’s fine. The movies are still bad, the riffs are still as biting as anything you’ve heard on RiffTrax, and the heart is very much still there.

Verdict: Recommend

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE RETURN is available to stream on Netflix. OG Episodes are also available to stream on Netflix and Amazon. 

Steven Porfiri is a Crossfader guest contributor that has been slowly learning what true patrician culture is about after spending a lifetime in Bakersfield, CA. In addition to Crossfader you can find him at Top Shelf Gaming.

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