Greetings from the edge!
Today we’ll be taking a first look at the revival of a classic series, Mystery Science Theatre 3000!
The brainchild of Joel Hodgson beginning in 1988 on UHF station KTMA-TV in Minneapolis, Minnesota, making the journey to Comedy Central, and finally the Sci-Fi Channel to end its original run in 1999. A well loved institution among fans of bad cinema and low budget sci-fi alike. MST3K never really dropped off the radar and alumni Michael J. Nelson , Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett would go on to Rifftrax, a similar series featuring commentary to be played over more mainstream movies and a regular feature on the Fathoms Events movies circuit.
The return of MST3K after a seventeen year hiatus is a testament to the tireless work of Joel Hodgson to reacquire the rights to the series and the love of the fans for this classic show. Funded through the most successful film & video Kickstarter to this point, it raised $5,764,229, reaching and far exceeding its goals.
The first new episode is “Reptilicus,” featuring the titular Danish entry into the Kaiju giant monsters running amok genre, famous for its use of a very, very obvious puppet to rampage through a cardstock Copenhagen instead of a Harryhausen-esque stop motion creature or a “Suitmation” man in a costume monster popularized by Toho’s Kaiju films.
While not a famous film, Reptilicus is still far and away a bigger production than the old MST3K could have afforded and, right off the bat, the new series shows that it is taking its legacy seriously…….by not taking itself seriously at all.
With guest appearances by both Wil Wheaton of sci-fi & internet fame and Erin Grey best known for her role as Colonel Wilma Deering on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the 11th season kicks off with a bang and drums…lots of drums.
While the production values have obviously increased from the classic series, MST3K maintains its handmade look and feel with a crisper, more refined edge.
Of course, the question foremost in most fans’ minds is, “How does the new cast measure up to the classic crews of the satellite of love?” Jonah Ray takes over as Jonah Heston, our stranded stand-in, however he seems to be a bit more on the ball in character than his predecessors, being an astronaut instead of a janitor. Felicia Day plays Kinga Forester, a descendant of the Mads of the original series, who seems more interested in growing her brand and nefariously stealing some designs from the revived show classic “Invention Exchange” segment than driving our intrepid crew out of their minds with bad movies. Rounding out our live action characters is Patton Oswalt as TV’s Son of TV’s Frank…..but everyone just calls him Max, Kinga’s right hand henchman who is perhaps carrying a torch for her? We’ll have to see as the rest of the season unfolds.
Baron Vaughn, Hampton Yount, and Rebecca Hanson make their premiers as Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, and Gypsy respectively and maintain the snarky energy that made the characters more than simply cute sidekicks in the classic seasons. The breakout of the voice cast may be the deadpan Rebecca Hanson, whose character Gypsy has lost her speech impediment and seems to be set to take a bigger part in the series than before.
It would be premature to judge them from their first efforts, but I believe that if they maintain this trajectory, they’ll more than live up to the classic series.
Highlights of the first episode include an excellent little monsters of the world song, the introduction of Kinga’s skeleton crew minions the “Boneheads” and their band that plays us into and out of breaks, and of course, some classic riffing of a truly silly puppet menacing Denmark’s national lutefisk production.
I found myself looking forward to the actors segments as much as the monster movie mockery and hopefully this trend will continue.
In closing, if you enjoyed the classic series, I highly recommend you give the revival a try, and if you’ve never seen an episode in your life, this makes an excellent jumping on point with its original music, higher production values, and a cast obviously dedicated to both the memory of the classic series and forging their own legacy.
And as always, remember, “Keep circulating the tapes!”