Netflixing: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return

Apr 20, 2017 | Netflixing, TV, Writing

This post was originally published at my account on



Once again, Netflix is cashing in on an underserved demographic of viewers who have been ignored or neglected by traditional broadcast television. And, once again, they have hit one out of the park and will be richly rewarded for their business acumen.

This is Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.

Some History, Si Vous Plait

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a cult classic film showcase where professional comedians watch obscure science fiction B-, C-, and even D-movies, recording their own snarky comments over the audio track, so that you, as an amateur, don’t have to do it yourself.

And when I say bad movies, I mean buh-HAD movies. These are some of the most embarrassing works of drivel ever put to film, acted out by stuffed shirts whose primadonnic bubbles are just begging to be popped.

After multiple cancellations, a viral Kickstarter campaign was launched to give the show an 11th season. And, unlike all other Kickstarter campaigns ever, this one resulted in a quality product that was delivered on schedule.

“I think you’re forgetting someone, human.”

The result is Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return, which constitutes the official 11th season of the show (as opposed to all the unofficial spinoffs, of which there are several).

How to Watch

MST3K: TR is the perfect show for Netflix (which is odd, considering that they inserted commercial breaks into each episode’s runtime, as if the showrunners expected to be welcomed back by broadcast TV). The hour-and-a-half long format works a lot better when the viewer can pause and resume the episodes at will (you will be taking bathroom breaks), and the fact that episodes can be watched at any time of day, on any day of the week, according to the viewer’s convenience, solves one of the biggest problems that plagued the original show, which was often only broadcast after midnight on backwater channels.

Perhaps as an homage to the original series’s time slot, each episode of The Return asks viewers to turn off all lights while watching. That doesn’t especially work if daylight is streaming through your windows, but the sentiment is appreciated.

I do, however, have one recommendation: don’t watch more than one episode per day. Watching bad movies, even with comedic commentary, is strangely draining. As a Netflix critic with a deadline to meet, I have no choice but to binge watch every TV series I review. MST3K: TR just about killed me when I attempted this. But you don’t have to make such a commitment.

I highly recommend you take a more leisurely approach as you consume this show.

The Story

After falling on hard times, the Gizmonic Institute is finally getting its act together. Every prisoner aboard the Satellite of Love has been returned to Earth. The mad scientists who nearly ruined the company are now a thing of the past and the suits have put their faith in a new generation of highly skilled engineers, such as Jonah Heston.

But all is not well in outer space. Kinga Forrester, heir to the Forrester penchant for mad science, has built a secret base on the dark side of the moon, where she hopes to resurrect the Mystery Science Theater 3000 experiment, and Jonah is the perfect test subject.

Putting out a fake distress call, she lures Jonah to secret base “Moon 13”, then sends him up the tube to the Satellite of Love, which is now physically tethered to the dark side of the moon.

There, she subjects him to fourteen of the worst movies ever made, in an attempt to see how much punishment he can take before going completely insane. The only defense he has are his robot companions, who help him see the humor in bad movies and thus stave off the madness.

Now, a number of questions must be raised in light of these facts. For example, is this the original Satellite of Love, or a new one? At the end of season 10, it crashed to Earth. Also, how are the robots back, since they escaped previously?

But on the other hand, nobody watches MST3K for the story. So lets dive right in to the good stuff.

The Movies

The showrunners found some real stinkers for the new season. Of course, it’s not like the world is ever going to run out of bad movies, but considering how many bottom-rung bombs the show has already riffed, I have to say I’m impressed that they found so many low hanging fruits still on the tree.

One of the biggest obstacles that always plagued the original series was the fact that they had to secure the rights to these old films before they could build episodes around them. And that’s not always easy to do. Acquiring or licensing rights is often very expensive, and sometimes it’s impossible to figure out who even owns the rights to these decades-old films to begin with.

But with the support of thousands of Kickstarter backers, season 11 was able to include a host of awful movies, including some well known titles, such as The Land that Time Forgot and The Christmas that Almost Wasn’t.

The Humor and the Spirit

MST3K: TR is largely an original product. Very few of the people who worked on the first ten seasons are present for this installment (except for one or two particularly important people).

However, it is difficult to imagine a reboot that has ever been more faithful to the source material. The humor and the spirit of the original MST3K has been lovingly and reverently preserved, which is why this is literally the 11th season of the original show and not the 1st season of a remake. Aside from the fast that the jokes come a bit more frequently (eliminating a lot of the downtime, which, honestly, was the biggest weakness of the older seasons), this is the same show you fell in love with years ago.

The cheesy, low-powered special effects are still here.

The snarky, sarcastic commentary is the same.

The nerdy bent of the comedy is undiminished.

Tom Servo is Tom Servo, and Crow is still Crow T. Robot.

The only significant difference is that the topical jokes now are pertinent to 2017. There are references to Bitcoin, BYU, Twitter, Game of ThronesThe Book of Mormon (the musical, not the actual book), and even Netflix itself. But these are not so frequent that they will date the series any more than previous seasons.

I only have one bone to pick with the new season: it doesn’t include the mocking of old newsreels that were often shown with old movies. Being Netflix, it should have been possible for them to produce maybe one or two minisodes, maybe fifteen minutes long, that serve as companions to the main season, where the characters mock old ads and PSAs. But I can’t complain, as these were never the main focus of the show.

My Judgment

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return is exactly what it promised it would be. It was made with the greatest deference to the continuity that came before it. It preserves everything that was great about that late-night sci-fi movie showcase you remember. And it proves, once again, that Netflix can pull off feats that broadcast television cannot and puts a degree of power back in the hands of the consumer.

It is, in short, a triumph.

As I stated above, you should take it in at a leisurely pace and not binge watch the whole thing in one setting. But be sure to watch it, in any case.

The humor is tooled toward families, and should be appropriate for most children (depending on how prudish you are). One scene in the Avalanche episode had to be censored, and a few well placed robot silhouettes pulled that off. Other than that, I don’t recall even hearing any swears during my viewing, so you should be safe on that front.

It is, at the moment, a Netflix exclusive, with all 14 episodes available for anytime viewing.


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