After 18 years off the air, the wise-cracking, movie-riffing phenomenon known as Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back. The series returns to for a 12th season, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. but this time around, the show is streaming on Netflix. While there have been many classic series with a cult following brought back for the modern era, MST3K is one–and the only–revamp that embraces its roots and provides new content that is as good, if not better, than the original.
The new series follows Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray), a Gizmonic Institute employee who falls into a devious trap set by Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day) and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (Patton Oswalt). Heston ends up aboard the Satellite of Love, where Forrester and Frank send him cheesy movies–the worst they can find. Heston must watch the movies, while Forrester monitors his mind. All of this exposition is mentioned in the opening theme song. Heston isn’t alone, though. Joining him are his robotic friends: Cambot, Gypsy, Tom Servo, and Crow. They watch the movies with Heston, all while making fun of them. Because of the early access to this episode, specific information about it, screencaps, and what movie the crew watches are not allowed to be released.
The opening moments of the episode, prior to the theme song, introduce Heston and how he became trapped on the Satellite of Love. Much like the original series, the show relies on models and cheap-looking special effects for all the moments that take place in space. In an age of computer generated effects, seeing models–and even the strings attached to them–is a breath of fresh air. It sets the tone for the show, mainly for those who have never heard of it. MST3K doesn’t take itself seriously, and it’s providing light-hearted fun.
In addition to Ray, Day, and Oswalt being included in the new season, Tom Servo, Crow, and Gypsy get new voices. Hampton Yount (@midnight) plays Crow, Baron Vaughn (Comedy Bang Bang) is Servo, and Rebecca Hanson voices Gypsy. It’s jarring to hear these new voices coming out of these well-known puppets. The voices simply don’t match what the viewers are accustomed to in the past. It can be bit hard to determine who is who. However, this group begins to meld together exceptionally well by the end of episode one, and it’s quite apparent that Ray will be a great lead for the new season.
Aside from the voices, the personalities are a big part of these robots, and it takes about halfway through the episode for that to kick in. It feels like there is a lot of trial and error in perfecting each voice for the characters. A lot of what feels problematic here could easily be placed on the viewer, as they may be expecting a carbon-copy of the characters from the original show. It’s apparent MST3K is trying something different, but after the first episode, that’s not clear just yet.
One thing the new season of MST3K did exceptionally well is in the writing department. The riffs are smart, natural, and most of the time, incredibly funny. There is a little bit of a lean towards nerd culture with the references, but at no time does that alienate anyone watching the show. It feels very inclusive in that respect. One of the new additions to the show is a couple of musical numbers, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Regardless, the in-show music is clever and well-written and should play exceptionally well to a younger viewing audience, creating a whole new generation of fans.
A few other familiar elements from the original series return, like the “Invention Exchange.” Aspects like this one help create an easy transition between seasons and casts. In addition, much like the original, there are breaks from the movie, so the viewers can get to know the cast a bit better. It helps the pacing of the show because as many longtime fans will know, some of the movies the crew watches are really tough to get through.
The new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 lives up to the high expectations. While there may be a few small bumps in the road, the opening offering is one of the better overall episodes of the entire series. The Netflix series continues the tradition of watching bad movies and making fun of them without messing with the original format of the show. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” seems to be the philosophy for the new show, and fans will be extremely pleased with its execution.
The new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 hits Netflix on Friday, April 14.
Disclosure: The author of this review backed the “Bring Back Mystery Science Theater 3000” campaign on Kickstarter, which gave early access to the first episode for some backers.