After three and a half decades and nearly as many cancellations, cult favorite comedy show Mystery Science Theater 3000 proves that sometimes a premise is just too damned good to die. To promote the fifth iteration of the beloved series, the cast – including creator Joel Hodgson, returning host Jonah Ray, and newcomer Emily Marsh – recently appeared Rolling Stone’s Twitch channel to discuss latest revival.
Originally airing on local Minneapolis station KTMA-TV from 1988-1989, MST3K has always been scrappy at heart. The show’s premise saw creator Joel Hodgson play the character Joel Robinson, a janitor for the nefarious Gizmonic Institute who is abducted by mad scientists (affectionately and canonically referred to as “The Mads”) Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and Dr. Laurence Erhardt (J. Elvis Weinstein). Their goal? Test the limits of Joel’s sanity by forcing him to watch truly abysmal b-movies – which in turn the viewer themselves must suffer through. It’s all made bearable by Joel’s desperation play: building cybernetic companions Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot to mock the features, riffing their way through each flick in iconic silhouette. It’s an elevator pitch aptly summarized in the show’s opening theme, and relatively low-cost concept that would keep the show alive and kicking for far longer than anyone expected.
After jumping from KTMA-TV to the fledgling Comedy Channel (eventually Comedy Central) for Seasons 2-7, culminating in the theatrically release Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, the show was cancelled before being revived by the Sci-Fi Channel, where it lived until its ultimate cancellation with Season 10. For the better part of two decades, the series continued amassing a cult following with fans keeping the flame alive with the circulation of bootlegged VHS tapes of their favorite episodes. “Keep circulating the tapes” became the mantra for fans who often had no way of viewing the massive archive of previous episodes due to licensing issues and a general lack of complete collections available for purchase.
In 2016, after a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, Netflix announced that it would be reviving the series under the guidance of Hodgson, who returned to foster the funding campaign and development of the show after departing in Season five. Hosted by newcomer Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray), the new series would continue the premise originally established with torture delivered by new Mads Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day) and the incredibly named TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (Patton Oswalt), both offspring of previous legacy characters. This newer, flashier version of the show saw a noticeable bump in production value – with larger sets, higher quality set design, and even a full-piece band performing a revamped version of the show open in character. Although some fans took issue with the new cast members and glossy overhaul the show was generally well received by fans and newbies alike but, like most Netflix shows with a cult following, it was axed after just two seasons.
During their Rolling Stone on Twitch appearance, the returning cast reflect on those Netflix seasons, with Hodgson saying, “It really felt like kind of a little speed bump for us a community and a group. And it was very disorienting, I think, for a lot of people because the old time fans just got used to seeing it like a new one everyone week or a new one every couple of weeks so to get them all at once was a completely different experience.”
But much like a plot point of a terrible movie they’d riff, the show has been resurrected yet again thanks to another wildly successful Kickstarter campaign at the hands of Hodgson. The difference this time, however, is that the team is set on doing things their own way without a network or streaming service overlord to please. That all leads to The Gizmoplex app, which will now house not just the latest season, but make available to subscribers a massive back catalogue of archival episodes from every era of the show. And learning from their experience with the “binge model” approach, new episodes will be released monthly with an event-like focus, livestreaming at first before becoming available on-demand.
Speaking about the Gizmoplex app and livestream premieres, host Jonah Ray mused, “It’s that form of community, which is so great about MST, and people really want that.” He continued, “When you’re watching a bad movie, you’re making jokes, it’s starting conversations, you’re having fun – it’s hanging out.”
The Gizmoplex app is now available on most streaming devices with Episodes 1-3 available to view with a subscription.
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