Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the gang is returning again to television to riff beloved nonsense at the big screen. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett have signed up with National Geographic, or NatGeo, to air three episodes starting April 1. The concept for the show’s re-emergence comes from the trio’s ready-made Mystery Science Theater 3000-like audio releases on Rifftrax of tracks that fans can listen to while watching movies. The releases on Rifftrax include comedic commentary for not just the old B-movies, but also for recent blockbuster hits like The Avengers or Twilight. The online audio track series has continued to maintain a strong internet following since the show’s cancellation in the late 90s.
MST3K, as the show is quaintly modified to, helped popularize the peanut-gallery-trend of comedic riffing, mocking, and heckling the screen. While watching old, dusty B-movies, the host and his robotic cohorts appeared in silhouette while talking over the script. They mocked the dialogue, the weakly designed sets, and the poorly directed plots. The theater set of the heckling costars was not particularly in any better shape than what was watched on screen, but enthusiasts of the show consider the low-budget production to be part of the overall commentary. It’s rather meta-production emphasized its nerdy appeal. The old movies watched by the misanthropic cast were mostly cast-offs of the sci-fi genre, with titles such as Rocket Attack U.S.A., Kittens With a Whip, Horrors of Spider Island, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Sub-culture and sci-fi enthusiasts turned the show into a well-loved cult classic.
Basically, the original show had a fairly simple premise. A regular ol’ Joe, named Joel Robinson, was a janitor at Gizmonic Institute, a top-notch research laboratory where even the janitors were really just displaced inventors. Joel was humbly coined as “just another face in a red jumpsuit,” as it says in the theme song. Joel’s employers, the Mads, Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt, displayed a general disregard for Joel, and as an experiment, they decided to expel him into space. Joel’s mission was to discover bad movies and experiment with the probabilities of a horrific film destroying the human mind. To keep himself company, Joel built several companion robots, Crow, Gypsy, Tom Servo, and Cambot. Since Joel invented the robots, he adopted the role of a father figure to the bots, which helped embellish the show’s comedic and sentimental appeal.
The show was produced by Best Brains, Inc. and created by Joel Hodgson, a mid- western prop-oriented standup comedian who played the character of Joel Robinson. MST3k premiered in Minneapolis, Minn., in 1988 on KTMA, a UHF local area channel made to broadcast Minnesota Twins games, however now the station is remembered for being the first home to MST3K. A few years into production, Comedy Central slated the show and ran it for six seasons. Following its Comedy Central cancelation in 1997, the Sci-Fi Channel picked it up, and the show continued for another three seasons until it was dismally canceled in the late summer of 1999.
Since Rifftrax is its own entity, and since someone else owns the rights to the original show’s name, the project will not be called Mystery Science Theater 3000. Although the program will not retain it’s original name, Murphy as Tom Servo and Corbett as Crow T. Robot can be expected. However the format of the show, whether the characters will appear in silhouette or not, is still unknown. Also, it is yet to be discovered what exactly will be airing on the screen. The pairing with National Geographic could make for some interesting choices. Will the trio replace the voice of David Attenborough in a classic natural historic program? Or perhaps they will make whimsically irreverant stabs Bear Grylls’ survival tactics. The expected riffing, no matter the programming, is a welcomed return for all Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans.
By Stacy Feder