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MST3K Has Changed a Bit, But Hasn’t Lost a Step (Review)

MST3K Has Changed a Bit, But Hasn’t Lost a Step (Review)

When the idea of officially restarting Mystery Science Theater 3000 first popped up, I thought “What? Now? It’s been like 15 years!” I loved the show to bits, and had spent a great deal of time watching my tapes and later DVDs of my favorite episodes following the 1999 cancellation of the show after its tenth season. Content was I to let those years and movies and riffs be it, because we had Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax and that was good. Then Joel Hodgson announced he’d be Kickstarting; I donated gladly. He said the new show would star Jonah Ray, and then Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn, and then Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt, and then oh my god, it was happening! And now we’re here…14 new episodes have dropped. And it’s really and truly back.

'Mystery Science Theater 3000' starring Jonah Ray, Patton Oswalt, Felicia Day, Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy, Mary Jo Pehl, Hampton Yount, Baron Vaughn, Rebecca Hanson, Tim Blaney, Elliot Kalan. Directed by Joel Hodgson & Rob Cohen. Photo by Darren Michaels, SMPSP

Several questions were buzzing through my mind before I watched the first episode: would it look the same, would it sound the same, and—most importantly—would it feel the same? There’s no argument that the show resolutely does not look the same—it looks better. It’s got that HD sheen, sure, but the props, sets, and even the movies being riffed look a ton better than they did when it was being made in Minnesota for local TV, then Comedy Central, then Syfy. The new effects look AMAZING, and the stop-motion countdown sequence is a thing of beauty.

The new show also doesn’t sound the same, not exactly. That makes sense, though—it’s got a whole new cast! Much how we had to get used to Mike instead of Joel, to Bill Corbett when he took over for Trace Beaulieu as Crow, or how older fans (I was way too young) had to get used to Kevin Murphy after J. Elvis Weinstein stopped being Tom Servo, we have a show now made up of entirely new principles. Jonah Ray as Jonah Heston is the sort of kindhearted everyman the show needs, and is perhaps the best actor to play the castaway on the Satellite of Love. Vaughn deftly captures Tom Servo’s rampant coolness and certainly makes the role his own. If you’re familiar with Vaughn’s stand-up, you know the new Tom.

'Mystery Science Theater 3000' starring Jonah Ray, Patton Oswalt, Felicia Day, Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy, Mary Jo Pehl, Hampton Yount, Baron Vaughn, Rebecca Hanson, Tim Blaney, Elliot Kalan. Directed by Joel Hodgson & Rob Cohen. Photo by Darren Michaels, SMPSP

As their captors, Day’s Kinga Forrester retains the manic energy of her ancestors, but with a self-assured showmanship that feels perfect for an age of fame-hungry YouTube stars. Oswalt’s aptly (and hilariously) named TV’s Son of TV’s Frank is somehow even more moronic a sidekick than Frank Conniff’s original was. The new version of the theme music is performed by Kinga’s costumed house band, and her desire to exploit the concept and fan love of MST3K for her own personal gain makes the whole of Moon 13 (their base) seem like a roadside attraction in outer space. It’s not Dr. F deep underground or Pearl in a remote castle; Kinga wants everybody to know what she’s up to so she can blow up the brand.

All of this is, of course, window dressing and context; what would make or break a new version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the last part—the feeling. Tons of people and shows have done the movie-riffing thing that Hodgson and crew popularized in the late-’80s and ’90s, so what would stop this from just feeling like an imitator instead of the genuine article. It’s ineffable, really, but when you put the silhouettes in front of a screen watching an old movie, and have them spit out a truly gargantuan quantity of jokes (seriously, I don’t think any pause or longueur went without some kind of joke; the sheer volume is staggering), then friends that’s Mystery Science Theater 3000.

'Mystery Science Theater 3000' starring Jonah Ray, Patton Oswalt, Felicia Day, Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy, Mary Jo Pehl, Hampton Yount, Baron Vaughn, Rebecca Hanson, Tim Blaney, Elliot Kalan. Directed by Joel Hodgson & Rob Cohen. Photo by Darren Michaels, SMPSP

Comedy is different now, but making fun of movies will always remain. The references are updated, the sets are snazzier, but the heart and soul of MST3K certainly remains intact. Go enjoy the over 22 hours of new Satellite of Love antics now sitting on Netflix and get transported to Next Sunday AD all over again.

Image: Netflix/Satellite of Love, LLC

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist and a lifelong MSTie. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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