A few of my favorite things: ‘The Return’ of MST3K is an improvement, but nothing like the original

I’m still only in Saigon,” likely won’t be a phrase that we hear in the not-too-distant future. At least not when Jonah and the bots are making “Harry Potter,” “Parks & Recreation” and Facebook references.

I was laying on a mattress in the living room of my my grandparents’ old home in the country when I was first introduced to the absolute best show on earth: Mystery Science Theater. 3,000.

10_joelmikeBoth of my grandparents were deceased at this point and it was me, my dad and my uncle staying the night in the country home. I could write endlessly about the spookiness of the old farm in Deming, Washington (with its ramshackle barn in the backyard and the ominous wall of trees that loomed over us from the nearby hilltops), but I’ll spare you the details. The place scared the shit out of me.

Anyway. This is the late ‘90s and my dad was looking for something worthwhile to watch, turning the dial on the old TV in the living room while simultaneously wobbling the antenna.

Brace yourself, this post is about losing that sense of nostalgia.

There was no cable, so it came to all of our surprise when we found an old movie that was on. But if you know and love MST3K the way I do you know that it was more than just an old movie.

The one channel that wasn’t a church infomercial or washed over in static had an old black and white film with a few silhouettes in what looked like the front row of a movie theater.

You know the story: Some dude and his robot companions trapped aboard the Satellite of Love and forced to watch crappy movies while mad scientists monitor his mind. My dad and my uncle both got a hoot out of this show. They could not stop laughing. I didn’t get it at the time, but of course I laughed too.

It was absurd.

I was reintroduced to MST3K via the fan website Club-mst3k.com only a few years ago. I have watched the shows pretty religiously on the weekends and late at night ever since (along with Rifftrax, a similar show made by some of the original cast).

I never would have believed that the show would get a reboot almost 20 years later. Now, six episodes into “The Return” I can say that the reboot is just as good (if not better). Though, there is something different, and I’ll get into that.

The major changes to the show are changes I can put up with.

For instance, the longstanding “door” scene, a series of doors that transition the Satellite of Love’s crew from the bridge to the theater, is now completely revamped. Luckily, the effects are still as low budget as ever.

 

The voices of the bots, while very similar, also take a little getting used to. Most notably, Gypsy, the purple vacuum cleaner robot, is voiced by an actual woman (Rebecca Hanson), not some dude (Jimmy Mallon) pretending to be a woman. Bots Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot also have voice makeovers, though they are more similar to their originals than Gypsy’s.

The bots also have some upgrades. Gypsy is now wired through the SOL’s ceiling, making her more like a serpentine robot that snakes throughout the satellite’s ventilation (kinda bad ass). She also makes regular appearances during the screenings to deliver a strange package and to offer an occasional wisecrack as she oversees the satellite’s maintenance. Tom’s lower half is a hover skirt, as it turns out, which gives him the new ability to fly around the screen. Lastly, Crow has a pretty nice set of long legs that were almost always hidden in seasons past.

There are some more advanced changes to the show as well. The mad scientists, portrayed by Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt, are now located on the dark side of the moon on Moon 13 (as opposed Deep 13) and are accompanied by the Skeleton Crew, a group of music-playing henchmen. Their laboratory is more detailed looking too, which only adds to the nonsensical backstory. For instance, the “experiments” come in the form of a liquid TV technology, which is shoved through a tube and deposited via “The God Monitor.” Idk, man. 

I could go on and list all of the examples about how the newest season is a real improvement – and it is – but there is also something missing now.

The humor is still the same, but the content is different. “Saigon. I’m still only in Saigon,” likely won’t be a phrase that we hear in the not-too-distant future. At least not when Jonah and the bots are making “Harry Potter,” “Parks & Recreation” and Facebook references.

There are also no “commercial signs,” because the show is streaming on Netflix. The show has worked in brief pauses in between the screenings to make up for that, but it’s different, and I wonder if newer fans will understand this.

And for all of the thought and effort that was put into making the reboot look low budget… it still comes off a little too polished. The introduction song is prime example. The new song isn’t bad, but it’s a little too “hip.” (This description is why I avoid writing about entertainment.) It doesn’t have that same “look-what-I-made-in-my-garage” quality.

MST3K began for a pre-internet audience, and now some of that cable TV magic is gone, or at least it’s fading.

Things have changed. Time has moved on. And this is a different show because of that.

I don’t despise Joel Hodgson or the others who made “The Return” happen, but I think it’s important to realize there won’t be any walks down memory lane. And maybe that’s for the better in the end. 

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