Tuesday, May 16, 2017

TV: Mystery Science Theater 3000 - The Return

I've been a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 ("MST3K") since the old Comedy Central days. The premise was preposterous - a guy is trapped in a spaceship and forced to watch awful movies with his robot companions, making jokes all the while - but I ate it up as a kid. My Saturday mornings were filled with obscure B-movies, silly prop comedy, and robot puppets:


I followed the show when it moved to Sci-Fi (before it was "SyFy"), but when MST3K finally got canceled, I resigned myself to never seeing a new episode again. I never predicted that the show would get its own revival on Netflix, courtesy of more than 48,000 determined Kickstarter backers:



So how does the MST3K revival fare in a time when seemingly every beloved '90s-era show is getting a reboot? Really well, actually. The new season features some wonderful cult classics (including "Cry Wilderness," "Starcrash," and both "Wizards of the Lost Kingdom" movies) that strike the satisfying balance of being bizarre enough to be interesting, but bad enough to make fun of. The revival also benefits from being helmed by the show's original creator, Joel Hodgson, who wisely kept everything - the sets, costumes, and skits - cheesy and low-fi.

The jokes are a little different this time around, of course. The original MST3K writing room had a pleasant intellectual Midwestern sensibility in its riffs, but the comments in this one sometimes feel a little mean-spirited (calling out a film for using cheap sets or costumes) or lowbrow (making random fart noises). The streaming format also imposes more serialization than before (it's weird to have jokes reference earlier movies in the season, and to have continuing storylines). For the most part, though, this is a very faithful continuation of a show that I thought was long gone.

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