It is official: We are living in the age of television and film reboots. Classic TV shows such as “The Twilight Zone,” “Twin Peaks,” “Full House,” “Boy Meets World” and “Magnum P.I.” have experienced recent revivals, proving that nostalgia is the most profitable and successful tool of the movie industry. One of Netflix’s recently added shows, “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return” is successfully following in the steps of other ‘80s and ‘90s TV reboots.
If you have never heard of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” you are not alone; the show is more of a cult classic than a pop-culture phenomenon. The original show premiered in the late ‘80s, ran throughout the ‘90s and ended after being cancelled in 1999.
The Original: Late ‘80s to Early ‘90s
By combining science fiction with comedy, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” appeals to self-appointed nerds and those just looking for a good laugh.
The premise of the show is original, to say the least. In the initial episodes, a janitor named Joel Robinson is kidnapped by two mad scientists and held prisoner on a satellite orbiting the Earth, ironically named the “Satellite of Love.” Robinson is forced to watch low quality “B” movies by the scientists in an attempt to make him go insane, which is part of their greater plan for world domination. Each episode contains a full-length movie along with several short, comedic videos starring Robinson.
However, Robinson does not take his imprisonment sitting down. He instead chooses to rebel by building three robot companions to keep him company. Robinson and his companions, Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot and Gypsy, keep their sanity by comedically riffing on every aspect of the movies they are being forced to watch. Nothing is off-limits: The gang comments on everything from the poor acting to the crappy sets and they even make fun of the names rolling through the credits.
“Mystery Science Theater 3000” is an interactive experience for the audience. Robinson frequently breaks the fourth wall by asking viewers questions and giving asides. During the actual movies, the silhouettes of Robinson and the robots are visible at the bottom of the screen, making it seem like the viewer is in the theater and experiencing the movie with the characters.
The Triumphant Return
After a string of cast changes, a couple cancellations and some subsequent pick-ups, the TV series was ultimately cancelled. Yet fans of the show refused to let MST3K go without a fight. Joel Hodgson, the creator of the series, crowdfunded enough money to produce a revival of the series, making a surprising $2 million within the first two weeks of the fundraiser.
After the funds were allocated and production was finished, Netflix released the 11th season of the show, complete with 14 episodes, now under the name “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.”
“The Return” isn’t a reunion show that’s purely a celebration of the past. Hodgson wanted to maintain elements of the original show, but he also wanted to keep the reboot modern and fresh.
The original concept of the show is the same, but Hodgson has introduced some new faces into the old roles. The host of “The Nerdist” podcast, Jonah Ray, was cast as the main character and protagonist of the show, which was Robinson’s previous role.
As a longtime fan of the show, Ray plays his role with the enthusiasm of a fanboy meeting his favorite celebrity. Comedians Baron Vaughn and Hampton Yount voice Crow and Tom Servo, while fan favorites Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt are the show’s new mad scientists and wannabe villains.
“The Return” successfully fulfills the sentimental needs of former fans of the show, the same people who donated their own money to bring back their beloved MST3K. With 90 minute long episodes, sketches with Jonah and the robots that feature letters from fans and the infamous invention exchanges, the new show could just as easily be found on cable TV in 1995 as on Netflix in 2019.
The first season of “The Return” features a hilarious variety of low-quality movies. “Cry Wilderness” follows the adventures of a boy and his companion, Bigfoot. The movie comes complete with a sketchy gorilla costume. Jonah and the robots also rip into a cheesy stop-motion South Korean “Godzilla” rip-off titled “Yongary.”
The second season contains a mere six episodes, but each one will have viewers rolling on the floor. In a form of torture labeled “The Gauntlet,” the mad scientists force Jonah to watch six movies in a row, ranging from an “E.T.” knock-off to a flick about killer fish.
Even though the reboot manages to capture the old charm of the original series, “The Return” incorporates fresh, modern readjustments. The set is still a quirky mess of mechanical parts and space equipment, but its bright, bold colors give it an up-to-date look. The riffs are still hilarious, but now they include current pop culture references. The first episode of the new series, “Reptilicus,” alluded to a diverse range of topics, from Carvel Ice Cream commercials to “Sailor Moon.”
The reboot demonstrates that MST3K isn’t just about making fun of low-quality movies. It’s about delving into the diverse worlds represented in the movies and relating them to the current world through comedy and sci-fi. The show is a masterful combination of thoughtful, quick quips and detailed comedic observations.
In today’s world of technology and social media, everyone craves a quick fix, a way to satisfy their need for instant gratification. For sci-fi nerds, fantasy fans and those looking for a good laugh, watching “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return” is the perfect way to meet these needs.
With jokes coming in at the speed of a Twitter feed, “The Return” does a fantastic job of adjusting to today’s social climate while simultaneously retaining the sentimental aspects of the original show, satisfying old and new fans alike.