Saturday, April 15, 2017

My review of the new MST3K reboot

As many of my tens of loyal fans might know, I’m a big Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan (a.k.a. MST3K). I’m not a knows-every-riff-in-every-episode-type fan, or even a donated-to-the-MST3K-reboot-kickstarter-type fan (I’m not exactly making a fortune blogging), but I am a still-has-episodes-recorded-on-VHS-somewhere-in-my-mother’s-overpacked-storage-type fan.

The new MST3K reboot came out on Netflix last Friday, and most people seem pretty happy with it. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive—especially because I’m a biased-as-hell Minnesotan who likes the midwestern heavy-handedness of the humor in the original show—but of course I gave it a try.

I’ve watched one episode and it was… okay? It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t exactly knock my zubaz off either.

First of all, you can tell it was made by a big crew in LA and not by a handful of doughy Minnesotans in Hopkins, MN, like the original. There’s a lot more production involved, which is welcome in some areas (like the nice opening sequence with Har Mar Superstar and a band dressed up as skeletons singing the theme song), but completely unneeded in others (seriously, we don’t need Tom Servo flying around the theater). The cast and crew are much bigger too, as you don't see characters pulling double-duties as mads and puppets anymore.

There are also apparently going to be frequent cameos from famous-type people too, including Jerry Seinfeld (who is admittedly an old friend of creator and current writer Joe Hodgson’s, so okay, whatever). The most famous cameo back in the original series was Vikings running back Robert Smith, because the Vikings used to practice next door to where they shot the show and often watched or something. He just happened to be around and willing to do it.

However, the first cameo in the first episode of the reboot was probably one of the funniest parts of the episode to me, so fine.

The actual most annoying Californian stuff is the over-acting and speed-talking.

Jonah Ray and the others just seem over eager to be taking part in the experiment. Totally understandable. After all, they’re rebooting MST3K—the best TV Show EVER!!!!! But in the actual show, they aren’t supposed to be so upbeat and enthused about watching and making fun of these bad movies. The riffing is not quite as dry and passive aggressive as the original, and those hallmarks of Midwestern humor were part of the reason I so enjoyed the show. Rats.

It did seem like there were a couple of attempts to incorporate part of the show’s old Midwestern roots, but they all fell flat. Gypsy—who has an entirely new and different voice (that I actually quite like)—is explicitly supposed to have a Midwestern accent, but as a Midwestern myself, the accent is so faint I can’t even hear it. Also at one point during the movie, a blonde Danish family was attacked by a monster and one of the characters (their voices are still hard to tell apart) quipped, “It’s attacking a Minnesotan family!” Hey—I’m all for making fun of pasty Minnesotans, but the joke felt shoehorned into the show and wasn’t funny as a result. Plus, less than a minute later, one of the characters made a riff referencing Duck Duck “Goose”, which felt like they were purposely trying to piss off every fiber in my admittedly overly fibrous Minnesotan body.

But yeah, I’m biased and picky.

At times Jonah and the robots talk too fast and try to fit too many riffs in that you can’t digest them. I’m hoping that gets better with time. I've heard the second episode is better, and despite my mostly minor qualms, I'm looking forward to watching it.

P.S. — They did a fan mail segment and it sucked because it was obviously fake fan mail. How was it obviously fake? No one sends actual letters anymore, much less 8-year-olds to a show before it even makes a first episode. The fan mail in the original show was real and that’s what actually made it so funny. Please don’t try to recreate that artificially.


  1. I'm a rabid MSTie and also more than little underwhelmed at its new incarnation. Remember all the spontaneity and freshness of the show when it was being presented my Joel with Mike as head writer? All gone now and replaced with a machine-gun like flat delivery of unfunny riffs. Whereas before the riffs were immaculately timed and could come out of left field, really original and witty retorts, now it's, well, not very funny. However, got to say I appear to be in the minority, most seem to love the rebooted version.

  2. I watched part of the the second episode before my internet gave out. It seems to be much better than the first?

    1. I've watched 4 episodes so far. I know from reading other's reactions that I'm in the minority but my impression is this incarnation is not the old MST3K I love so much. The riffing is subpar with a lot of it just mundane and banal and it's all delivered at a one-note level, no subtlety, plus there's just a constant stream of it, no timing to the riffs. The witty zingers that would come right out of left-field and delivered with immaculate timing when Mike was head writer are just not there at all. Gone are the distinct personalities of Crow and Tom and almost totally absent is the great interplay between themselves and Joel/Mike in the old MST3K. But as I said, my opinion is in the minority, most seem to love the rebooted version although I've noticed a few others share my criticisms.
      After watching a couple of the new episodes with nary a chuckle I went back and watched a couple of old MST3K's and although I've watched both countless times was laughing out loud every few minutes.

  3. I think saying the reboot is ok is being too kind. I feel like it is what I imagine someone watching my friend and I try to do MST3K jokes over movies like Kull the Conqueror. I couldn't get into this new incarnation at all.
    I see that it has a lot of great reviews, but I don't know anyone that grew up watching MST3K that has been pleased with it.

    I think this may prove my belief that Mike was, and will always be, the best.

  4. I really like it! However, it hasn't yet reached the heights of seasons 8-10. At its best, season 11 is on par with seasons 3 and 4 - some real gems, but delivered inconsistently. The rapid fire delivery does get corrected in the later episodes, sometimes to the point that you can REALLY feel Joel's presence behind the scenes - this is once again a show that's primarily about watching the movie, not finding every possible opportunity to mock it. (Most opportunities, sure, but not literally every one.) Later episodes like The Loves of Hercules have almost uncomfortably long stretches of theater silence at times.

    You can really feel the crew getting their sea legs throughout the season, and they do start to feel more like a family towards the end. A few of the running gags just don't work, like the liquid TV "Kinga Vision" thing, but again, that was always Joel's calling card - things that are only sensible and/or funny to Joel - so it still rings true to the show even if I don't care for it.

    I think there are two major problems with the new season, for longtime superfans like me. However, I don't think the real issues are the cast, the new effects, or the new setting. The first big issue is that Mike Nelson isn't writing for them anymore. His tenure as head writer was about as long as Kevin Murphy's peerless run as Tom Servo, and it really elevated the original seasons of the show. Without Mike at the helm, the new seasons were never going to be quite the same, and without a single head writer, it sometimes struggles to find its voice even beyond that. Mike turned out to be a titan - THE titan - in this extremely specific area of TV comedy, and his lack of involvement with the reboot hurts it for the same reason that it's basically impossible to produce a really good remake of a Hitchcock film: the magic was in the man. I do think the new MST3K can "get there," but it'll never be quite the same, and it'll take time and practice. Like I said, things do start to tighten up as you go along.

    The second issue is simpler: they just aren't picking the same caliber of obscure, earnest, bad movies. Don't get me wrong: none of the films they picked are good, or especially well known, but most are better known than 95% of the original run's selections, and most have bigger budgets and better actors as a result. Taken to a logical extreme, this can be very funny - see the RiffTrax formula of mocking the biggest and best-received Hollywood films - but too often, they end up standing on a drab middle ground of dull movies that aren't quite howlingly bad but aren't good enough to be entertaining. Other times, they're dealing with really putrid material (The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, for example), but they still can't quite find a deep enough cut of sustained weirdness to get a firm grip. (This could also be partly due to Mike's absence, as previously discussed.)

    With that said, there are great moments in every episode, and a few episodes I would rank as on par with the run of the mill from seasons 3 through 6 of the original series - which is still high praise, all things considered. Cry Wilderness, Starcrash, and Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (I) are particular standouts, I think. And I have high hopes for the show moving forward. It's different, yes, but by the end of the season I found it more endearing than annoying. I hope it's grown on you since your original post!