Review of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return On Netflix

Crow T Robot from Mystery Science Theater 3000

First, a little bit of background. Way back when the Kickstarter campaign started and the thought of bringing back MST3K was first tossed about, some expressed concern that the new show was going to try and be an extension of the old tried and true format with characters that were going to be VERY hard to replace.

When Joel announced the characters and the actors that were going to play them, the concern grew. It would be hard to continue with the existing line-up of Crow, Servo, Forrester, Frank, and the rest given the impact the original players left when the show ended in 1999. Since then, the internet, Netflix, Shout Factory, and others have kept the memory of this cherished show alive and well. With that, the original characters, their mannerisms and personalities, were etched into our collective consciousness. It’s like when they switched Darren’s on Bewitched. You can’t just switch Darren’s!

Incognito Cinema WarriorsIn the 2000’s, we were treated to an MST3K-like show called Incognito Cinema Warriors. This show featured a man trapped by a mad scientist, four robots, and has to watch bad movies. The premise behind it is that the main character, Rick Wolf, was a SWAT team member during a zombie apocalypse. His crew is wiped out and he has to take refuge in an abandoned drive-in movie theater occupied by Dr. Blackwood, who allows them to stay there if they watch a movie a day. Dr. Blackwood claims he wants Rick to view the films so he might monitor his reactions and admits he lifted the idea from “some low-budget cable show back in 1999.”

The way ICW did it was the right way. That is, they followed the format of MST3K but introduced an entirely new backstory with new characters and new robots. This was the hope of some for the new MST3K because it would just be too hard to get die hard fans of the original to accept an entirely new cast playing their beloved characters.

Finally, April 14th arrived and we saw the new episodes. Let me say that as a die hard fan of the original, I was very pleased. The new cast seemed to work well, especially the robots, and the background characters (like Kinga’s Skeleton Crew) were an awesome addition. Joel seemed to have found robot voice actors (Baron Vaughn – Tom Servo, and Hampton Yount – Crow T. Robot) that not only sound like the originals, they enunciate and deliver the riffs with the same timing, inflection, and enthusiasm.

The more episodes I watched, the more comfortable I became with ‘strangers’ trying to fill some pretty big boots. The show flows like the original, riffs like the original, and is just as funny as the original.

One of my favorite things was to listen to references and riffs used in the original show. For example, when a character named Paul had his name called in “Cry Wilderness,” the riff was, “I really enjoyed your letter to the Corinthians.” This of course paid homage to a Season 10 favorite “Werewolf.” Sadly, they left out any references to Debbie.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan art printsThe bots have changed physically. For instance, Tom Servo has longer arms and can fly, although only in the theater. Crow now has enormous hands and arms, much unlike his original Wallace Leisure Product desk lamp arms. Gypsy is now connected to the ceiling and actually makes appearances in the theater to assist in some riffs.

Others have returned for cameo’s including Bill Corbett (Brain Guy), Kevin Murphy (Bobo), and Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester). Alumni also join in behind the scenes like Beth ‘Beez’ McKeever and Paul Chaplin.

With the increased agility of the ‘bots, additional puppeteers were needed. There are now three per robot. However, the result is less than stellar. It really makes you appreciate the job Kevin and Trace (later Bill) did with their robots. As an example, watch an original MST3K and pay careful attention to crow’s eye and mouth movements.

I don’t think I need to update my robots to match the NEW season of the show, as the spirit and popularity of the original still lives strong. But the reboot will certainly win new fans and even convert some old ones… Like me.

There are only a couple of things I would offer advice on regarding the new “season” of the show:

  • – Some of the riffing is delivered so quickly that the voices overlap, making hard to sometimes decipher or fully appreciate the riff because you have to listen closely and carefully as another person is making another fast-talking riff right on top of the other. Maybe slow it down a little and not try to fit so many riffs on one line, just pick the best and go with it.
  • – The host segments seem a little weak… comparatively. This may just be a time and comfortability thing.  I know the original MST3K had host segments that sometimes seemed ‘phoned-in’, but there were a lot of them that shined. Off the top of my head I think of Time Chasers where the host segments had Crow traveling back in time to save Mike from getting on the Satellite of Love but it all backfires, or Werewolf (I don’t know, you saw him last… Badumtish), or Manos: The Hands of Fate.

Speaking of my ‘bots, be sure and visit our booth at Phoenix Comicon this Memorial Day weekend. We’ve got prints, Amigurumi, buttons, stickers, and more. Heck, just come by and challenge my knowledge of MST3K or compare notes.

6 thoughts on “Review of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return On Netflix

  1. Thanks for the stellar review !!! I was wondering how others felt as I was also pleased with new MST3K. I think that the producers were well aware of the backlash that would happen if they put out a substandard version of the show, and worked very hard to meet the expectations of the loyal fans everywhere.

    I have only watched the first episode, ‘Reptillicus’, and boy was it ever goofy, the riffs were great and the host segments were right on the money.

    I would love to see guest appearances by Joel and Mike as well as the others from the old show.

    Thanks goes out to Netflix and Shout and everyone else involved in getting the best show ever back on the air !

    1. Thank you, sir! BTW I added some additional material. I wrote this last night and had some afterthoughts this morning! Thanks again for reading!

  2. “The host segments seem a little weak… comparatively.”

    Actually I always thought the host segments (Joel and Mike) were the weakest part of the show, some were really good but overall, sadly, I would just fast forward through a lot of them… Although….haha… one of the best ones I saw was ‘I Accuse My Parents’ , when they did a mobile art presentation of that poor sap Jimmy’s brain… God, I laughed till I hurt, I always thought ‘I Accuse My Parents’ was one of the top five MST3K shows…

    I also wonder if they have any ‘shorts’ in the new Netflix episodes ??? Sometimes they were better than the films… ‘A Date With Your Family’ ‘Last Clear Chance’ ‘What To Do On a Date’… all classic MST3K riff material….

    1. Good call on some of the host segments. The new show is only 12 episodes in so maybe some ‘story arc’ host segments are coming.

      I’d really have to dig deep but you’re right there’s probably more ‘weak’ host segments than memorable ones. I guess I only remember the good ones because they were good 🙂

      I also totally forgot about the shorts! I’d add one to your list… HIRED! from Bride of the Monster (part 1) and Manos (part 2)

  3. “Some of the riffing is delivered so quickly that the voices overlap, making hard to sometimes decipher or fully appreciate the riff because you have to listen closely and carefully as another person is making another fast-talking riff right on top of the other.”

    You are right… When I first started watching the show years ago, it sometimes was hard to follow as the riffs were on top of the soundtrack to the film. Later when the show was released on DVD, I looked forward to using subtitles to catch everything they were saying, but unfortunately, Shout did not include that option in the DVD’s (also my hearing is a little shot from years working in a loud factory).

    Later on, Youtube started showing episodes with a close captioned option, then Netflix has the old episodes with subtitles and now the new version, again with subtitles, so in the end I am able to catch it all…

    ‘Hired’… what a hoot, if any of those sales people showed up at my door, I would call the cops and get a restraining order. How things have changed… But the guy who produced that short (and plenty others) was a very eccentric, yet successful film maker in his time, Jam Handy…..

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