MST3K: The Return of the Riff! A First Impressions Review

You know, I was going to write a long, beautiful post about West Side Story and its connection to Shakespeare. I was going to talk about its wonderful latin-fusion music, and go in depth about the social issues presented in the movie and its implications today.

But we can’t do that right now, because MST3K is back, you guys!

Mystery Science Theater 3000, or MST3K for short, was somewhat revolutionary in its time. Have you ever sat through a movie that you knew was going to be crud, but you stayed around to watch it anyway and ended up making fun of the movie out loud as you watched it? In a theater, you would probably either get kicked out or just get a lot of evil glares. But if you’re at home, watching a bad movie with a bunch of friends, you are allowed to throw social conventions out the door in favor of making your friends laugh.

That’s sort of what MST3K did for a TV audience: put on an old B-movie and let the hosts of the show make funny quips throughout the run. It lets you live the experience of Bad Movie Night with your friends, only with one guy in a jumpsuit and two robot puppets. But they were such a lovable cast that it was like they were your friends. Up on the Satellite of Love, there wasn’t anything to worry about other than what bad movie are you going to watch next. They made “riffing”, the act of making fun of movies, look awesome.

So after a successful Kickstarter, a new generation of riffers has been brought together, and Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return is now available on Netflix starring Jonah Ray, Felicia Day and Patton Oswald. I got my popcorn and a soda and sat down to watch the first episode, a riff on a 1960s Danish monster movie. After all these years, does the new series live up to its predecessor?

Short answer: Yes?

MST3K Jonah

Photo from LA Times

The main element of the show, the making-fun-of-the-movie part, does. While none of the original actors returned to their roles, the new gang fits right in. Jonah looks more like someone who is a fan of MST3K rather than the host of it, but he grows on you, and he’s legitimately funny. The two robots are easily the best part of the show; they not only sound like their original counterparts, but they bring out their personailities perfectly.

The main trio are very good at riffing, making both timeless jabs, 4th wall jokes and modern references (It’s kind of nice to actually get a lot of the references made in this show, rather than looking up 80s-90s pop culture references). There are times when the trio goes silent when they could be riffing, but apparently they solve this issue later on. The important part is that the main attraction to the show is entertaining, just as much as the movie itself.

The set design is also quite impressive. The original show used a good amount of stop-motion animation and scrappy props, making everything look like a set of a B-movie sci-fi movie. Thanks in part to the Kickstarter campaign, this season’s set looks much more flashy, giving off a retro vibe that even the original set couldn’t quite replicate. It feels like you’re in a high-budget version of the Satellite of Love, and it just feels right.

MST3K Villains

Photo from Game Informer

But while the show does hit the right notes, there are some places where it stumbles. The opening, closing and in-between skits are clearly trying to replicate the skits from the show, which only reminds you that the skits in the original show weren’t the pinnacle of comedy. Felicia Day and Patton Oswald are pretty good at playing capitalist villains trying to make money off of the gang’s movie-watching, but the delivery of these lines can be stilted, and the way the main trio and the villains talk to each other like they recorded their scenes separately is a bit off-putting. But again, this was a problem with the original series too, and those scenes are only a few minutes out of the hour and a half episode.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed watching MST3K‘s comeback to “television”. The movie was delightfully ridiculous to watch, and it was even funnier to watch it with the old gang again. If you have never seen MST3K and want to know if you should start here…well, you should probably get familiar with the original series, and see if it’s right for you. These are, after all, movie-long episodes with cutaway gags, so your milage will depend on if you can sit through the episode. I recommend watching one of the shorts- they’re only 10 minutes long, but they’ll give you an idea of what the riffing is like. My favorite short is the Gumby short, “Robot Rumpus”, that precedes the movie The Screaming Skull. The movie is great too, so stick around if you want to see more!

But if you’re a fan of the original MST3K, then what are you doing here? Get on Netflix, and get ready to be transported to the Satellite of Love!

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