I think there was even some doubt by Joel Hodgson and company on whether or not fans wanted a reboot of MST3K. Sure, the merchandise sells well, but most reboots of nineties properties have either stunk or just failed to deliver, period. Plus it’s not like the show was around for a short time like “Firefly” or “Freaks and Geeks.” It was on ten years and even earned a movie of its own. Surprisingly enough fans proved that the show is just as special to them as it is to Joel Hodgson and his crew of brilliant creators that gave us the original series. Like all the other fans, “MST3K” has a very special place in my heart and I have such a deep bond with its characters and love for its formula. So naturally I was frightened the reboot would be stale.
Even with the series bringing ace talent like Jonah Ray Rodriguez, Patton Oswalt and Felicia Day to lead the new season. Imagine my relief when the series’ return didn’t just manage to continue the saga of the Satellite of Love, but also remind me why there’s never been anything like it and never will be. It’s a show we need right now, as youtube has been crowded with a ton of movie fans that have injected a dark cynicism to the love of movies injecting so much unwarranted derision and bile. Sure, we have a lot of great reviewers in the digital age, but MST3K’s return reminds us once again that you can mock movies without sticking your nose up at them. When MST3K mocks a movie, the heart and the love is there. It’s a novelty, it’s an event, and you come out of every experience remembering why you love movies, in the first place.
Even after sitting through junk like “Cry Wilderness” and “The Beast of Hollow Mountain.” Granted, the new season isn’t perfect, but hot damn, the original series was never perfect, either. Much as I love the original runs with all my heart, there were the occasionally episodes that didn’t quite hit the mark. The reboot begins wisely by speeding through the set up and building the universe that Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson wanted to in the original movie. This is a new generation, so there’s Jonah Heston, a normal mug in a yellow jump suit who becomes a guinea pig for two new “mads”: the evil Kinga, daughter of Dr. Clayton Forrester and the granddaughter of Pearl Forrester, and Max aka “TV’s son of TV’s Frank.” The basic idea is Kinga is trying to study Jonah’s brain on Moon Base 13, by driving him mad and making him watch bad movies.
All the while she and Max are trying to find Jonah’s next invention that they can use to advance their company. The new season takes off on a rocky start where you can sense the creators are finding their own rhythm with the spoofing of bad monster movie “Reptilicus.” Along the way this new episode also introduces us changes to the show that are small but welcome. We see more of Crow’s legs, Tom Servo can hover and often tends to fly around during moments of a bad movie to mock it, and Gypsy has a new voice and a larger role, appearing once every episode to throw in her own jokes. As voiced by Rebecca Hanson, Gypsy has a bigger role in the series, being given almost as much screen time as Servo and Crow.
My reaction to all was: “Okay, that’s new. I’ll just roll with it.” Surely enough I learned to accept the new subtle alterations. Jonah Ray’s chemistry with the robots is fantastic and often times raucously funny, as Jonah’s talent for comedy allows him to exercise his keen ability for timing, double takes, and sometimes being victim to Crow and Servo’s antics. He’s a mix of Joel and Mike, one of whom was more a witty straight man, while the latter was wacky and sometimes eccentric.
Day and Oswalt are also very good in their roles as the new “Mads” who revel in their own lunacy, and have a good time trying to drive Jonah mad. It’s shocking how well the typically timid Day plays bitchy so well, while Oswalt obviously studied original “Mad” Frank Conniff, while also injecting his own great comic timing and quick wit. The writers juice up the segments with more compact skits that are hysterical, and larger segments. The latter can either transform in to a laugh out loud spoof of “Starcrash,” or a wonderful musical number during “Reptilicus” where Jonah teaches his Robot Friends about the various monsters every nation in the world has.
As I mentioned the new series stumbles sometimes, with the first episode feeling its way around. There’s also what feels like a very tacked on musical number between Kinga and Neil Patrick Harris who appears as her long distance boyfriend. He literally appears just to remind us about “Dr. Horrible” apparently, shares a song with Ms. Day and that’s all she wrote. That said, Season eleven is a welcome return to the series with an aesthetic that remains true to the public access TV roots, while also exercising its nearly six million dollar budget as best as it can. There are a ton of surprise cameos, damn good music, and a ton of tributes to the original series that are there for the older fan base to chew on and enjoy.
Plus Crow and Servo are still the same Crow and Servo we know and love. They’re wacky, weird, and have a tendency to have fun driving Jonah nuts. “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return” is a welcome revival of the original series, and it’s one I hope wins over a new generation of fans that will go back and sift through the classic Joel and Mike episodes. Speaking as a true blue fan who watched MST3K religiously during its Comedy Central and Scifi Channel days (and yes, even—ahem–wrote in to their fan club time and time again, thank you very much), “The Return” feels like the show never left. Every episode is a high energy party, and Jonah Ray has earned his stripes to stand alongside the pantheon of hosts with Mike and Joel. We have movie sign!