Are you a fan of those movie nights where, rather than choosing something award-winning or long-beloved, you instead decide on something unimaginably old and cheesy, so that you can have fun relentlessly bashing it? Then you’re in luck, because so is Joel Hodgson, who just revived a classic series through Netflix based on that exact premise.
“Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Return,” which just premiered its first season on Netflix last Friday, April 14, is a revival of the original MST3K show that became a cult classic on Comedy Central during the 90s.
As with the original, the show centers around an average lab worker who ends up trapped on the moon, subjected by evil villains to the torture of having to watch horrible B-movies. In order to keep his sanity, he invents robots that make fun of the movies with him. Hilarity ensues.
Each episode runs about 90 minutes and features an entire movie, with running witty commentary from lab worker Jonah Heston (played by Hodgson) and his robot companions Crow and Tom Servo, who have remained from the original. It’s essentially just like having a cheesy movie night with your friends, but having all the work of making jokes done for you.
Hodgson’s revival thankfully proves to be just as funny as the original, allaying many old-school fans’ fears.
With movies as awful as “Reptillicus,” about the reign of a terribly made paper-mache Danish Godzilla, and “Starcrash,” a 1970’s Star Wars knock-off starring David Hasselhoff, the work is essentially cut out for the writers. Even so, the jokes remain smart, well-timed and delightfully absurd.
While 2010s topical humor occasionally comes off as forced (though mishaps are understandable when considering the task of filling a 90-minute movie with jokes), when it’s on, it’s perfect. Mentions of Twitter seem obligatory, but a well-placed Kickstarter joke is always welcome.
In a good move by Hodgson, the campy brand of humor from the original has remained intact, with the same cheesy theme song, commercial breaks and animations. Although it doesn’t feel quite the same without the grainy 90s VHS quality, it shows signs of a faithful adaptation and lends a warm, positive, family-friendly vibe to the show.
The only major misstep in the adaptation comes in the skits that display the behind-the-scenes lore of the show. While Jonah’s interactions with his robot pals are usually quite funny, the antics of his captors Kinga Forrester and Max (evil moon business tycoons who replace the protagonists’ enslaving employers from the original) are decidedly not.
Felicia Day, who plays Kinga, tries far too hard with the campy dialogue that she is given and doesn’t seem to understand the nature of the humor, and the hysterical Patton Oswalt is very underutilized in the role of Max. It’s bad enough to necessitate bringing on a fake-mustache wearing Jerry Seinfeld to play a space venture capitalist later in the season.
These missteps aside though, MST3K is a hilarious, faithful and original piece of comedy that will make for a great night’s entertainment, and thankfully, 14 nights worth of it is currently available on Netflix.