MST3K Returns! (A Non-Spoilery Review of 11.01)

Today, the 9th of April, 2017, saw the advance online screening of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 11.01 for the Kickstarter backers. I was sure to be awake at 3am local time so I could start watching it the moment the stream launched.

I backed the MST3K Kickstarter at a sufficient level to allow me digital downloads of the entire season once available. Recent updates from Joel have revealed that I can start streaming the new season on Tuesday.

Anyway, my thoughts on 11.01, while giving away as little as possible (because this episode works best when you don’t have anything given away).

In the months leading up to this, I wondered if they would explain the hiatus in any way within the narrative. I also wondered if they would explain how our new main character, Jonah Heston, ends up on the Satellite of Love and as the subject of these experiments. Joel Robinson was already there at the start of the show (in both versions of the narrative (Joel Hodgson as a lone survivor on the Satellite of Love and Joel Robinson as a guy not-too-different from you or me who is shot up into space because his bosses didn’t like him) and Mike Nelson just ended up there after Joel’s last episode (his arrival on the SoL implied but never explicitly shown on-screen other than what was used in the title sequence). Turns out this episode’s intro handles all of this quite deftly, combining an “origin story” with the title sequence, setting the stage for this new season nicely. (The only nitpick I could possibly have is that the Satellite of Love is back and the bots are on board. How did that happen? Did Kinga build a new SoL? Did she kidnap the bots away from Mike (and steal Gypsy back from wherever she was)? I should really just relax)

With backstory out of the way, we’re tossed right into the first experiment. It’s a bit jarring to see an HD print of a movie used but, hey, technology marches on and it fits with modern-day broadcast resolutions (a thing I neither care about or keep up with (4k 8k or whatever doesn’t really mean anything to me)).

Riffs were fast and frequent, but sometimes they flew by so fast that I wasn’t able to catch everything. This is kind of par for the course, especially with the Mike-era of the show. This episode introduces some really neat visual effects for the silhouettes, especially for Servo. Even Gypsy visits the theater a couple of times. Riffs involved references both old and new fans of the show will get. This, the real meat of the show, felt true to form and convinced me that MST3K is really and truly back.

Host segments are back, although they all feel a bit rushed. There’s a single gag and the segment is over, ended all-too-quickly by movie sign. There was a really great song in this episode which had a great segue into movie sign, though. It’s just…after rewatching a lot of Mike-era episodes, the host segments in this first episode felt like an afterthought (which isn’t to say they weren’t entertaining, they were).

The door sequence has been nicely updated, with tons of visual easter eggs to sift through. There’s even a replacement Crow head hidden in the last section before the theater.

Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt join the cast as the new Mads. There’s not much to say about the characters at this point as they were only barely in the episode (they were in the title sequence and the segment just before end credits, but that was about it). I like the idea of the characters, but it’ll take some more episodes to get a better feel for them.

Something I’ve seen a lot of people complain about is the blatant use of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” as a name within the lexicon of the show itself. The name is referenced several times by main characters, and the moon logo is even seen within the world of the show itself. Is this a problem? I don’t think it is. Going back to the Joel era, you’ve got numerous mentions by Dr. Clayton Forrester to his “Mystery Science Theater” or “Mystery Science Theater 3000” project. KTMA episodes have Joel “Hodgson” referencing the theater as “Mystery Science Theater”. It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie, but I think Dr. Forrester again mentions MST3K by name as his project in the movie’s intro. Usage of the name died off in the Mike-era, though, and I don’t think Pearl Forrester ever used that name. So, is having Kinga referencing MST3K by name a problem? It really is not, and helps to tie the show back to its earliest seasons.

The show will air on Netflix, and being there the show will not have advert breaks. The original show was built around advert breaks, with host segments leading to those. In a recent interview, Joel Hodgson said he was including those segues again not just to hold true to the show’s history but also because he found that relic of TV show evolution to be fascinating. These new episodes retain those cutaways to advert breaks and do so in a really neat way. There are references to the original show in these interstitials as well.

The sets hold true to the show’s original spirit of kitbashing, or taking stuff from various models and kits and throwing them together. To me, though, the SoL bridge feels a bit empty. They’ve a lot of screen-space, but there’s little going on in the background when compared to Joel- or Mike-era SoL sets. Maybe this is a minor complaint, because it all looks good on screen, it just doesn’t have a lot of personality.

Overall, the show looks great and has the sense of humor and fun of the original, which is what I wanted. Jonah fits right in as test subject, and is already establishing a different connection to the bots than Joel or Mike had. Joel was their creator. Mike was their big brother. Jonah is trying to fit in and the bots are already resigned to this guy going away and being replaced.

I enjoyed the first episode. Bring on the remaining 13 episodes and many seasons more!

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