I got my hands on a pre-release screening of the new Mystery Science Theater episode 1101, and have been watching the newest shows as time allows on Netflix. I was one of the early backers when they launched their comeback campaign (and raised over $6 million clams) so I’ve been following along closely with the relaunch. I’ve gotten 53 email updates, in fact! Their Kickstarter campaign was, and still is now that rewards are being distributed, exemplary in their communications and follow-through.
I’m trying to watch these new episodes with an upbeat, open mind, and also view it as if I had never seen it before; was the age I was when I discovered the show which was early 20’s; and all sorts of different perspectives to see who it may be trying to click with. Being somewhat of a marketer and having a graduate degree in marketing strategy, I enjoy doing that. It was changed around significantly from the old classic episodes, and the reasons for those changes were deliberate. So I like to try and figure out why and I’m usually close to the bull’s eye. But I’m having a hard time with this so far. There are interviews and podcasts and media available with Joel Hodgson, the creator, about the directions they chose. I love the show, obviously, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I’m not sure “confounding” is the direction they realized they chose, however.
I’m updating this post as I watch more of the new episodes. I’m thinking as with the “classic” episodes, some of them have to grow on you after watching them a few times. Some of the ones I thought were the lamest are now among my favorites, like Girls Town and Prince of Space. Some of the later episodes of season 11 do seem a little better. The cast is looser and the jokes are funnier because the timing is better. But I’m really going to have to focus on these to maintain impartiality between the Mike and Joel episodes and the new Jonah ones.
However, my initial impressions are that the new shows are sort of comedically weak and there’s a lot going on that doesn’t seem to have a purpose or exist for any real reason. The wobbling camera when it’s on Patton and Kinga makes me seasick and plead “why?” Perhaps it was explained and I missed it, but what is it adding? As far as the design of anything goes, that isn’t ideal. The cast? It seems bloated and not really funny in a quirky, spontaneous way. Which is what I enjoyed about the first run, and am not seeing it here. Maybe Jonah isn’t writing a lot of his own lines so they don’t pop out like they would for the originator. And all the people. It’s getting crowded around there. Even the weird voodoo band that plays(The “skeleton crew.” Groan.), with the motorcycle helmets and half-bones on their heads and personal flotation devices, formerly known as life jackets, have 7 members. What kind of accident is that band expecting? Does cutting to them serve a purpose? Is it becoming a late-night talk show? Someone just had a big payroll, which is evident by watching the credits. I’ve never seen so many co-producers and writers and editors since watching some of the MST3k movie credits. The cash sure didn’t go towards impressive computer graphics, though.
I can’t figure out what’s with the bone theme. Used to just be the SOL. Kinga, the bucktoothed lizard-faced girl that I can’t believe was the top choice, has them in her hair, and the set’s designed with them too. As if people that have the technology they supposedly have wear animal scraps as clothing accessories and wall-art? I don’t know how they can rag on cheesy graphics when theirs are even worse. The sets and backdrops are a mish-mosh of hot glue projects that are visually confusing a lot of the time, and lazy at others. Poor animation mixed with bad stop-motion, combined with paper mache models, models built from junk, and backdrops of a bunch of rivets. All deliberate, I realize, and part of the show’s character. But…why, and why so much? It wasn’t a lack of resources. Some people may enjoy all that zaniness, but I prefer to focus on the actors and writing rather than figure out what it was I just watched. Maybe like many MST3k episodes, they age well and the more you see them, the better they become.
I don’t know how they can rag on cheesy graphics when theirs are even worse. The sets and backdrops are a mish-mosh of hot glue projects that are visually confusing a lot of the time, and lazy at others. Poor animation mixed with bad stop-motion, combined with paper mache models, models built from junk, and backdrops of a bunch of rivets. All deliberate, I realize, and part of the show’s character. But…why, and why so much? It wasn’t a lack of resources. Some people may enjoy all that zaniness, but I prefer to focus on the actors and writing rather than figure out what it was I just watched. Maybe like many MST3k episodes, they age well and the more you see them, the better they become.
I’m not sure what Patton Oswalt is supposed to bring to the table except maybe his name, whatever a C-level actor’s name is worth these days, which may be some quality action figures with the nerd crowd. I can’t see or hear him as anything but Doug Heffernan’s loser friend Spence on the King of Queens, which isn’t unlike this character not suprisingly. He’s no Lawrence Olivier. His character here also seems inept and clownish but it isn’t funny because he doesn’t demand respect. He’s just a bag of fail. Har-har. He seems to simply accept his lot as a minion-boob, and that’s the depth of his character. I understand the tragedy of losing his wife before shooting, but if it was a distraction, he should have bowed out.
His boss, Kinga, not surprisingly, isn’t funny at all(I don’t think she’s supposed to be. I hope not, as weird as that would be for a comedy, but she’s not), and her parts don’t add much except contrived subplots. And her appearance, as much as I try not to let it distract me, is weird. She needs a good orthodontist. And she’s prominent in the show, for some reason. I’d guess 99% of the people who like the show are males. Even gay ones I know like it. But females think it’s stupid for the very most part. (Not all of course; I even once dated a girl that liked it as much as I do, so there are a few gems out there.) Yet diversity has crept into the show, for no apparent reason other than what seems like part of a simmering exit strategy, which is to grow the brand and sell out, as they joke in the first episode. I don’t believe that’s a joke. And part of gettings ducks in a row to be bought in Hollywood/Silicon Valley these days is making sure you’re PC. Whether you think that’s hypocritical or not is your call.
And other useless or unnecessary things: the robots popping up and flying around for no apparent reason. Gypsy makes a cameo during episodes by her silhouette descending from the ceiling and cracking a riff, then disappearing. And the joke is never funny. She’s just a strange-looking distraction. Servo, who I simply can’t get used to with a different voice, flies about like a runaway drone. I’m not sure why Servo wasn’t replaced with a whole new robot since the voice, which are the essence of the characters and most of the show relies on (It’s all we listen to for most of the show) was changed. Dubbed over just like one of the Sandy Frank Japanese monster episodes they make fun of.
Hearing other people riffing on these shows isn’t hard to get used to when they do it well. Jonah does a fairly good job but I miss Trace and Bill’s wild voice-acting though. You’ve got to be good to rely on deadpan. And it seems they pulled back on the sarcasm. (No more sashaying through the sarcasm) Sometimes they now miss getting the improvisational feel of the classic shows. At 46:35 in ep. 3, Time Travelers, Jonah stumbles over his line, for example. Or blow the riff, in my opinion, with things like in Reptilicus/1101 they start singing “Little Red Corvette” when a red Porsche 356 comes onto the screen. Fail. They’ve got to know the geeks that watch this show aren’t going to let that slide.
No one can do impressions, which is a shame. They don’t even try. A lot of the riffs are predictable and obvious, which is sort of lame too. I shouldn’t be able to outriff these guys. They seem to have gone with the “quality in quantity” theory because in some cases it seems they’re racing to see how many riffs they can fit in. Then other times, the clock ticks away. The movies chosen are a good selection of genres they typically rag on: 1960’s teen go-go movies, Japanese monster movies, campy sci-fi, monsters, etc… So at least the cheesy movies are cheesy. Even though a lot of the same names appear across the season as far as directors and studios go. That’s probably because of licensing, or lack of restrictive licensing. Like public domain. Although the movies are indeed cheesy, they aren’t funny-on-their-own cheesy, like many of the duds in the old seasons that could stand on their own for ridiculousness.
MST3k has always been a divisive show; people either are big fans, or they think it’s idiotic. That seems to be the case with a lot of things I like. And when Mystery Science Theater 3000 came out the first time a lot of people just scratched their heads. It’s a hard premise to sell in such a small amount of time. And has become more complicated with the new season. If all you saw was the skits or the intentionally terrible set design and effects, I can’t fault you for thinking it’s infantile. But it reminds me of Calvin & Hobbes in that regard. If nothing else, you have to admit there’s a lot of creativity involved. I hope Joel Hodgson is able to maintain the same control over MST3k that Bill Watterson sought to have with Calvin & Hobbes. Netflix has a reputation for allowing a lot of creative freedom, which is good. And probably explains why they’re having so much success with their original shows. Let’s hope Mystery Science Theater finds the same success.
NOTE: The “It stinks!” part of the title of this is a line from Pod People & Time Travelers. it doesn’t really stink. Much. But the first Season One was really rough around the edges, too.