When it comes to cult television shows, one of the first to come to mind is “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
For 11 years, the show introduced viewers to a nearly endless library of campy B-movie classics like Manos: The Hands of Fate and The Island Earth and popularized the method of mocking media known as riffing.
After the show ended in 1999, various personnel who worked on the series over the years took the concept and continued it through many other forms.
The original cast created a live touring show called “Cinematic Titanic” and still included B-movies as part of its repertoire.
The primary cast of the last three seasons created a website that provides fans with downloadable riff commentaries called “Rifftrax.” Unlike “MST3K” and “Cinematic Titanic,” however, the “Rifftrax” crew mocks more mainstream and contemporary movies.
Even though these new forms of the series achieved considerable success, love and appreciation for the original series has never dwindled. While there were various mini reunions over the years, only recently has talk of a full-blown reboot begun to manifest.
After a highly successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015, the series is finally returning as a Netflix exclusive.
Looking back at previous revivals of popular shows, there are two methods that producers use when tackling such projects. One approach would be to outright continue the series where it last left off with all, or at least most, of the original cast.
A few recent examples would be the revivals of “Arrested Development,” “Full House” and “Gilmore Girls” that also debuted on Netflix. Another would be to reboot the show with a different cast, either playing the original characters or new characters that are somehow connected to the original.
For the new season of “MST3K,” the producers have opted to use an approach that mixes both methods. While several beloved faces from the original series return, they are joined by newly written characters that add to the show’s mythos.
In the new series, the protagonist is Jonah Heston, played by Jonah Ray, an employee of the Gizmonic Institute who finds himself kidnapped and subjected to an unorthodox experiment.
The main villains of the new series are Kinga Forrester, daughter of original villain Dr. Clayton Forrester, played by Felicia Day, and her ever-present lackey “TV’s Son” of TV’s Frank, played by comedian Patton Oswalt.
Both villains decide to shoot Jonah into space and subject him to some of the worst B-movies ever produced.
In order to keep his sanity, Jonah discovers four surviving robots from the original series: Cambot, Crow T. Robot, Gypsy and Tom Servo.
During the screenings, he is joined by the first two robots to provide a stinging array of jokes at the expense of the movies.
Watching the new episodes, a lot of memories from classic episodes will come rushing back to people who are either casual fans or avid fans who have watched all the episodes from the original run. The featured movies, while more recent compared to the original episodes, are still packed to the brim with the type of cheesiness and low production values that are ripe for spoofing.
For that matter, the producers of the show still retain the deliberately flimsy and cheap set designs when creating the new Satellite of Love and new villains’ lair. Even with a brand new cast, several of the classic cast members make quick cameos throughout the season that provide just the right amount of fan service.
With all this said, the new “MST3K” seems like one of the few series revivals that actually works. However, while there are definitely a lot of positives going for this new season, there are a few flaws that make it far from perfect.
While the storyline seamlessly brings the series back, it is quite apparent that the riffing abilities of the cast seems to be a little bit rusty.
Rather than let the movie play out and let the jokes come from whatever the scenes entail, the trio makes it a point to cram in as many jokes a possible, even during scenes when nothing of any significance is happening.
Also, there seems to be a bigger emphasis on pop culture references than just making fun of the absurdities on screen. Even if the riffing leaves a little something to be desired, at least the jokes themselves are funny. They range from mildly amusing to outright hysterical.
The cast is also a little bit of mixed bag. The main human cast members are just as likeable and quirky as the classic cast members. For the robots, however, the performers do not seem to add a whole lot to the table.
Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn, playing Crow and Servo, do not seem to stray too far away from the mannerisms of classic performers, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy, in their portrayals of their respective characters.
While it may be a little rough around the edges after an 18-year hiatus, the revival of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” is still a very welcomed return.
For those looking for more “MST3K” after watching the entire new season, Netflix has also uploaded a greatest hits collection of episodes from the original series to compliment the new episodes.