Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return is the continuation of the cult favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show that lampooned cheesy B-movies and aired for 10 seasons on Comedy Central and SciFi (Now SyFy). The reboot follows the same premise as the original: two mad scientists, Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day), daughter of Dr. Clayton Forrester, and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (Patton Oswalt) capture a young worker from Gizmonic Institute, Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) and force him to watch cheesy movies in order to find the perfect movie for them to take over the world with. To keep his sanity, Jonah enlists the help of some robots on the Satellite of Love, Tom Servo (Baron Vaughn) and Crow T Robot (Hampton Yount), to riff the movies with him.
The episode begins with an amazing five minute – or so – long sequence explaining the general premise of the show. The sequence features an unexpected celebrity cameo who many people will be familiar with. The appearance of this person is a delight to see when it happens. While establishing the premise of the show, the sequence also manages to add some things to the lore we never knew before. MST3K has never been very concerned with continuity, and that hasn’t changed. At no point is it ever explained how the robots got back to the Satelite of Love after escaping with Mike at the end of Experiment 1013. That being said, the opening sequence gives us a little bit more information about what it is that Gizmonic Institute actually does. We don’t learn much, but it’s a little teaser of information and it made my inner geek squeal with delight to learn something new.
The whole first 10 minutes (which includes the new opening theme as well as the first “Host Segment” and sort of the first Invention Exchange of the new season) is beautifully put together. It looks cheap, but in the same way that MST3K has always looked cheap. That being said, there’s some cool stop-motion animation that happens in these first ten minutes, and I love myself a good bit of stop motion. All the new actors are good. Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt have great chemistry together as the new Mads, Jonah is very much like Joel was in the original run – nerdy and awkward, but endearing and loveable – and Baron and Hampton are great as Tom and Crow, respectively. They’re clearly still getting used to the demands of the puppetry involved, and it shows, but I have faith they’ll get the hang of it as the season goes on. We can’t expect them to be experts at it from day one, after all.
The next host segment is this really silly song that Jonah and the ‘bots sing about various monsters that plague various countries around the world (The Loch Ness Monster, the Chupacabra, the Yeti, etc). They do this through a hilarious “rap” song, and it feels so much like classic MST3K that you could almost be fooled into thinking it was from the original run. The song is up there with some of the great songs from the original run.
The third host segment involves Crow trying to use Servo’s arm to make clones of him. This sketch isn’t that funny. It’s not bad, but it’s short and sort of a miss. But there’s almost always at least one host segment per episode that doesn’t quite land. This one’s a short one, so it doesn’t detract much from the episode as a whole. It’s still enjoyable, just not as good as the other two.
The next host segment features the return of letters being read on the show! This was a staple during the Joel years of the original run. Joel would read out letters people had sent to the station, and now Jonah is doing it tool The ones he showed in this episode were mostly from younger kids, so there’s something endearing about it all – even if the drawings or writings aren’t great. It was a nice touch to bring back letters to the show.
Side note, it’s worth noting that Gypsy (played by Rebecca Hanson) has received an upgrade. She now enters from the ceiling which gives her the freedom to drop into the theater to make a riff or two in the movie. It’s cute and I’ll always love seeing more of Gypsy.
Now, for the most important part: the riffing and the film. The film is the kind of film MST3K has always excelled at riffing: a foreign-made monster movie. On the chopping block, this week, is Reptilicus, a film about a prehistoric reptile tail found in an archeological dig that is able to regenerate itself and becomes a monster. Perfect MST3K fare. And they do a beautiful job at riffing it. The jokes come fast and hard, but they almost always land. Jonah, Hampton, and Baron have such a great repertoire between them that you immediately forget these aren’t the same people and robots you remember from the old run – it just feels right. There are gags and jokes aplenty, none of which I will spoil for you, but the riffing is up there with some of the best of the original run. It certainly helps that the print of the film itself is good looking – watching a film that doesn’t look utterly awful always puts you in a better mood, even if the film is still bad. At least it looks nice. As you’d expect, however, the monster in the movie is pretty bad. It’s not all that scary at first, and the design of it and the execution of the special effects that bring it to life don’t really work. But that’s often the sign of a great MST3K film: a scary monster that isn’t actually scary and looks like crap.
On the whole, this new episode of MST3K is a worthy addition to the series and a promising start to the next season. If the rest of season 11 is as good as this first episode was, then we’re in for a treat. I look forward to the rest of the season. (One other thing – every time the show goes to “Commercial break” it cuts to Patton Oswalt’s character leading a house band into playing something. It’s a nice touch that really plays up the variety show aspect of MST3K.)
I highly recommend this new series to anyone who likes the original run or anyone who enjoys making fun of a bad movie. This episode is a great first episode to show someone who’s never seen an episode of MST3K. It’s a great watch for anyone! I recommend it!
(4.5 out of 5 wands)
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return is available to stream now on Netflix.