Won’t someone play MST3K for me?
First it was on hold, but now it’s gone. In a recent report from Ars Technica — based on tweets from series star Jonah Ray himself — we learned of the cancellation of the revived version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Running for two glorious, riff-filled seasons, the show will always be remembered by its fans.
Netflix maintains a decent roster of original programming. Excellent originals like Bojack Horseman, Big Mouth, Glow and Disenchantment are among my favorite programs. They also have a tendency lately to cancel their best shows. The excellent Tuca & Bertie should have gotten a few more seasons. Two of the other shows listed above — Bojack and Glow — were hit by the Netflix ax already and have a limited number of remaining episodes before they’re done. To see MST3K join the list is almost a personal request from Netflix to cancel my subscription.
It makes sense. I am not a binge watcher, a miracle of the streaming age that we used to call “marathon viewing” and was reserved for holiday viewing. Wow, I’m old. Anyway, binge-watching is apparently more popular than ever and the subject of constant study. Is it hazardous to your health? Maybe. Or maybe not. Either way, it’s popular and isn’t going away anytime soon, even if some folks think it kills what makes TV special. Regardless of any of that nonsense — we’re not here to launch an academic analysis of binge watching and society — let’s establish two things:
- Binge watching is an integral part of consuming visual programming in the modern day, and
- It’s not for everyone.
I firmly fall into the latter category; I’ve always been drawn more to audio, whether its radio, music, podcasting, etc… I like some television, but can take it or leave it. Binge watching is not my thing, but I certainly understand why it works for everyone else.
That leads us back to the proverbial crux of the biscuit here: the abrupt termination of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival. The show’s revival felt less like a reboot and more a continuation of the original run. Jonah fit right in with the overall aesthetic and theme of the show. His riffs were hilarious and he was easy to relate to as the stranded everyman being forced to endure the cheesiest films the world of schlock has to offer.
Kicking off with a fantastic laugh fest focusing on the Godzilla knockoff Reptilicus, the first episode set the tone for a great first season. Reptilicus itself was like a discount Godzilla, and even spawned a song later in the episode. Each episode was spot-on with quick-witted, relevant riffs. Felicia Day’s Kinga Forrester was the perfect villain for the show and I enjoyed Patton Oswalt’s role as the TV’s Son of TV’s Frank. The visuals hearkened back to the original show and Gypsy received a voice update. It was perfect and I couldn’t wait until season two. Jonah Ray is consistently funny and I love his work — especially his “Weird Al” punk covers album (but that’s a story for a different project).
The second season tried something different: “The Guantlet.” The idea was to throw six movies at Jonah and make him watch them all at once. I recognized this for what it was: forced binge-watching. Ugh. Poor Jonah. I can certainly relate. Each episode was as strong or stronger than the previous season and I truly felt we’d see a third season of the revival.
I knew it when I heard one of the jokes in Mac & Me (basically a 90-minute McDonald’s commercial and the first episode of the titular Gauntlet) referenced my favorite media person of all time, Dr. Demento. This was my type of show. I liked all six episodes, but if you’re into such things, io9 ranked each episode of The Gauntlet in an amusing way last year. The idea of The Gauntlet ran parallel to Netflix’s ideology: my ancient nemesis, binge-watching. Encouraging viewers to watch every episode in a row may work for shorter programs, but it was difficult for me — and I imagine other, like-minded viewers — to watch more than one episode at a time. I simply couldn’t do it. Six episodes at 90 minutes a pop can give even the most dedicated viewer a run for their money.
MST3K is something to be spaced out and savored, not something to cram down your gullet all at once. That’s the kind of thing that makes someone who avidly collects the DVD sets throw them all up on eBay after watching them back-to-back in the space of a week and then thoroughly regret doing so a day later. True story.
MST3K seemed to be going strong. The successful 2015 Kickstarter campaign raised over $5 million. There was a series of live performances. Clowns in the Sky — the collected songs and funny performed during host segments from the original run of the show. They’ve been on a successful tour recently. Yet Netflix pulled the plug. It makes little sense, but it’s not a surprise.
Back in August 2018, I spoke with one of Crow’s puppeteers, Grant Baciocco for Tedium: the Dull Side of the Internet (if you don’t already read Tedium, it’s always a good time to start!). In my piece, The Podcasting Puppet Master, Grant — a comedy musician and phenomenal puppeteer — told us about the experience of working on the show’s revival and how it inspired him to pursue puppetry, so it’s worth a read for those interested in such things. To say MST3K is pretty close to the hearts of most of us at Nerdvana is an understatement, but it’s not the end of the world.
If you’re looking to fill the gap left by the show, Rifftrax is always good for a few laughs. Their website is stocked with hilarious riffs on some of the worst movies you’ve never seen. Their live events are amazing and worth checking out on the big screen. Since they’re independent, they aren’t at the mercy of a network or otherwise. The absence of the Satellite of Love and our favorite puppets makes it a different experience, but one that is still worthwhile and fun. Until MST3K comes back on a different network, stuff like Rifftrax or The Isle of Rangoon should help fill the riffing gap. There are a multitude of others, but it would take some time to go over each one.
At the end of the day, the fans brought it back, but Netflix killed it. Which unfortunately happens in the world of media. There’s no reason to be upset over it — there are plenty of older episodes that are ideal for re-watching — but it is a bit sad to see such an amazing piece of pop culture history fade into the night. So go find your favorite episode, grab some popcorn, remember that every country has a monster — and never forget to keep riffing.
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