Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (S01E01): “Reptilicus”

Film geeks of a certain age fondly remember the original Mystery Science Theater 3000. The weirdly awesome show centered around Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson), a janitor launched into space on the “Satellite of Love” by mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu). Forced to watch bad movies, Joel kept his sanity by creating a pair of robots, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. Together they made fun of the worst, bottom of the barrel movies Forrester would send them.

It was one of those crazy shows that just worked in its own unique way. The humor appealed to cinephiles everywhere, as fans learned to talk back to bad movies. Much to dismay of the show’s fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was cancelled in 1999.

But fear not B-movie lovers! Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return is a welcome, uh…return…for the original’s quirky humor. The first “victim, 1961’s monster movie Reptilicus, provides more than enough fodder for the new show’s sarcastic wrath. More importantly, this is a loving tribute to the original with a fun cast worth watching.

Moon 13

source: Netflix
The Return hilariously dives into its setting, spending only a few moments to establish new lead Jonah Ray and its silly universe. Much like the original’s Joel or Mike Nelson, Jonah has a natural “Aww shucks” likability that comes through from the moment we meet him. We do not get a whole lot of exposition since the catchy theme at the start does that job ably.

We get brief introductions to the new evil “mads,” played by Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt. Neither one gets a whole lot to do, this is the first episode after all. But Day, playing Kinga the daughter of Dr. Forrester from the original, has a fun line where she reveals this show is simply being rebooted so she can sell it to Disney for a billion dollars. It is a bit disappointing that Oswalt is literally a sidekick as Max, but again, this is the first episode. His insistence on being called the son of TV’s Frank from the original show is fun though.

source: Netflix
Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn are solid as the voices of Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, respectively. Crow is a tribute to the original sarcastic bot with an inflated ego, but Tom is not given a whole lot of personality in this episode. Unfortunately, because Ray, Yount and Vaughn have somewhat similar voices, it is hard to determine which person is throwing out the insult to the movie.

Like the original, the trio of sarcastic back talkers take breaks from the movies for some silly skits. And like the original, some of them work and others do not. The ones in the premiere are okay, but one stands out in particular. Jordan leads the bots in a fun pop rap song about the different monsters of the world that will stick in your head long after you have heard it.

The Return lovingly recreates the low budget look of the original show. The set of the experiment/theater has not changed a whole lot. The exterior “space” shots are mostly obvious toys and models with strings attached. The show likes to make fun of its terrible movies, but also reflects those B-flicks.

“A Good Thing There’s No More Like Him!”

Reptilicus, a giant monster flick from Denmark, provides more than enough material, and it is the highlight of the episode. No surprise…it is the point of the show. The movie is full of way too much exposition, terrible effects, awkwardly placed comic relief in the form of an  overall clad dunce, and horrible acting.

The source of most of the humor comes from General Mark Grayson. Played by Carl Ottosen, the man is sooo earnest and takes everything very seriously, but he lacks the acting talent (And the movie lacks the writing talent) to back it up. The guys often take him down a peg whenever Mark gets a little too full of himself.

The effects are especially bad, especially any scene where Denmark’s army battles the creature. The poor miniature is very obviously shot in completely different setting. “No wonder you guys can’t hit him,” one of the wise ass commentators quips (Seriously, it is that hard to distinguish the voices), “He’s in a different movie!”

As biting as the commentary can be, it never becomes too mean. They are making fun of the movie, but in a tongue in cheek way. There is a joy to the experience, no doubt due to Joel Hodgson’s presence. He co-directs this episode and his quirky but charming humor is present throughout. There are too many great one-liners to list here…and besides, that would be spoiling a fun experience.

A Bright Future

While this reboot is a great tribute to the original that hard core fans can enjoy, newcomers will also appreciate it. Any film fan will dig the silly, pop culture soaked humor. The first episode seems to promise a great continuation of a classic show.

SCORE: 9 OUT OF 10

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return is currently available for streaming on Netflix

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