Jumpsuits, Robots, and Crappy Movies: A (Satellite of) Love Story
There are three things in my life that have influenced my sense of humor above all others: MTV’s The State, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’ve always been told I was a funny guy, but it wasn’t until I started watching MST3K that I learned the art of reactionary wit. But MST3K is more to me than a source of comedic education, and the news of its return is the best Patrick Swayze Christmas gift a guy could ask for.
Originally premiering on public access channel KTMA on Thanksgiving Day 1988, Mystery Science Theater 3000 lasted 11 seasons, aired on 2 different cable networks, spawned a major motion picture, had a flash animated series, and was eventually cancelled in 1999. The show’s alumni never gave up the riffing though, with Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett (host #2, Servo #2, and Crow #2, respectively) starting Rifftrax, and Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Mary Jo Pehl (host #1, Crow #1, henchmen #1, Servo #1, and mad #2 respectively) forming Cinematic Titanic. Both are great, but neither have ever truly scratched the itch MST3K created. Sure, the actual riffing of the movies was intact, and sometimes better than ever, but there was a certain soul to MST3K that these new productions couldn’t match. Something about the Satellite of Love, the robot puppets, and the weird overarching plot (and I use that term very loosely) strung the whole experience together into a TV show that could be the perfect weekend afternoon boredom killer, or something to get together and watch with your friends at night. It had something for anyone who liked weird stuff, and earned its cult status by being an obvious labor of love, always encouraging viewers to “keep circulating the tapes” (referring to fans exchanging VHS tapes of episodes they recorded off TV), and a constant love for its fanbase, commonly illustrated by reading actual fan mail at the end of episodes.
My history with MST3K is unfortunately shorter than I would have liked it to be. I didn’t discover it until it came to the Sci-fi Channel, where I absolutely loved the movie riffing part, but didn’t care much for the host segments. Mary Jo Pehl is a very funny woman, but I never really cared for the whole Pearl, Bobo, and Brain Guy thing. However, not long after my first exposure, I came across a circulated tape of my own, met Dr. Forrester, TV’s Frank, and Joel Robinson for the first time, and my love affair with the show became complete. I grabbed any tapes I could come across, bought the DVD sets as they came out (a practice I’ve sadly fallen out of due to a lack of cash), and watched until I had them memorized. I will proclaim myself more of a Joel fan than a Mike fan, but that’s just a matter of personal preference. Mike is fantastic, especially during the Comedy central years. In fact, those seasons are some of my absolute favorite TV of all time. There’s just something about the way the show felt that’s always resonated with me. It makes me laugh, sure, but more importantly, it makes me smile.
When you think of comedy shows on TV, you usually think of sitcoms or sketch comedy. Sketch comedy is all jokes all the time, but it lacks the familiarity that comes with a sitcom’s regular setting and cast of characters. Sitcoms have a recurring cast you follow around, but they also include moments of drama. This isn’t a bad thing by any stretch. Some of my favorite shows skate that line between comedy and drama. But, MST3K managed to be the best of both worlds, featuring a regular cast to keep things feeling familiar, and absolutely no drama, meaning that the show is all levity all the time. There’s something infinitely calming about that fact, and whenever I’m in need of something to take my mind off of life, put me in a good mood, or even lull me to sleep, MST3K is my go-to, and for that I will always be grateful.
A few weeks ago, Joel Hodgson, the creator of MST3K, started a Kickstarter to bring back Mystery Science Theater 3000. The goals were lofty, but if they could be reached, a whole new audience would get the chance to travel to the not too distant future, and watch a guy and his robot pals make fun of bad movies. As a long time MSTie, this was a very exciting proposition. MST3K has a long history, and I wouldn’t call any of it bad, so new stuff could only be a good thing, right?
Well, when I first heard the news, I was skeptical. Mostly because the new show was going to feature a new cast and new characters, and this made me feel very uneasy. But the thing that made me throw my money at their Kickstarter campaign was that Joel is in charge. Watching the campaign video and reading everything Joel had to say about his vision for the new MST3K made me feel like whatever he has in store is in fact the right thing for the MST3K brand. In Joel I trusted, and I have to say, I haven’t been let down. The new cast is absolutely incredible. The new voices for Servo and Crow are a pair of comedians I’ve never heard of, but they seem to have a great understanding of what made those characters tick. Jonah Ray from the Nerdist as the new host makes me happy because he has a similar low energy delivery as Joel, and he’s a pretty funny guy in his own right. Then you have the one-two punch of Felicia Day and Patton freaking Oswalt as Kinga Forrester and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank, and I honestly can’t imagine how this show could be bad. Throw in Joel’s invitation for any of the old cast to come back and guest as their old characters if they like, and my excitement levels have gone through the roof.
Thing is, this isn’t like Fuller House or new episodes of Heroes and the X-Files. MST3K is more timeless than that. The premise of the show is so simple and absurd that it can work as well 20 years from now as it did 20 years ago. The show lends itself perfectly to a rotating cast, and it’s not like there’s a shortage of crappy movies to make fun of. At first I was scared of what new MST3K would mean without Mike or Joel in the jumpsuit. Now, I can’t wait to see what’s next. And that’s where we come in.
Crowdfunding can be a scary thing. Just look at something like the Retro VGS or that guy who made some potato salad. However, thanks to Kickstarter we got Shovel Knight, a Veronica Mars movie, Exploding Kittens, and spiritual successors to Mega Man, Banjo-Kazooie, and Castlevania. I’m convinced that Bring Back Mystery Science Theater 3000 fits squarely in that second group. The thing is, even though it’s already surpassed its initial goal, there’s more to do. Joel is convinced that if they can raise enough on Kickstarter, he can convince a TV or internet content provider to actually pick MST3K up and put it back into regular production. This would mean that instead of the handful of episodes the Kickstarter alone would bring, Mystery Science theater 3000 would actually be back for multiple seasons of goodness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful to see any new MST3K, but where we are now is like getting a visit from an old friend. I want them to move back into town. A few new hours on the Satellite of Love would be great, but a few more years would be spectacular.
If you haven’t done so already, consider pitching in for this one. There are a ton of crowdfunding campaigns out there, but in my humble opinion, this is one that deserves to be a success. Not only is it obvious that this project is coming from a place of love, but it’s also something I believe can be successful if given the chance. TV is a very different place now than it was back when MST3K aired its final episode, and honestly, it fits in with TV today far better than it did in 1999. It’s just the right amount of weird that can easily capture a fresh new audience. We just got a brand new miniseries based off Wet Hot American Summer for crying out loud. Anything is possible! Bringing back MST3K should be a no brainer. I guess in the not too distant future, we’ll see.
Head on over to the project’s Kickstarter page for more!