New 'Mystery Science Theater' Coming To Netflix In The Not-Too-Distant Future The show originally aired in the '90s and helped spawn the entire attitude of the Internet. Sure, it had a silly premise — but it also had a cult following. The reboot's first season drops on Friday.

New 'Mystery Science Theater' Coming To Netflix In The Not-Too-Distant Future

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/522639096/523997058" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

"Mystery Science Theater 3000" is back to the delight of millions. The wacky TV series had a passionate following during the 1990s. Time magazine called it one of the best shows of all time. It featured a guy and his two robot pals watching bad movies and making snarky comments. Now nearly two decades after the series ended, its original creator has revived it. Tim Greiving has more.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: Here's the setup.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MST3K LOVE THEME")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) In the not too distant future...

GRIEVING: Mad scientists send a guy named Joel into space and force him to watch cheesy movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MST3K LOVE THEME")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) The worst we can find.

GRIEVING: He can't get back home because he's used the parts from his spaceship to build two robots whose commentaries make the movies bearable. Sure, it's a silly premise, but take a cue from the theme song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MST3K LOVE THEME")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) If you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts, then repeat to yourself, it's just a show; I should really just relax.

GRIEVING: It was the brainchild of Joel Hodgson.

JOEL HODGSON: I was, like, a kid ventriloquist. Like, I was way into ventriloquism. And I took a correspondence course, and I used to build ventriloquist dummies.

GRIEVING: Hodgson was a prop comic from Wisconsin who made a few appearances on "Saturday Night Live" and "David Letterman."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

HODGSON: Joel Hodgson, age 22, Minneapolis, Minn., white human starting now.

(LAUGHTER)

GRIEVING: His combination of stoner absurdism and Midwestern nice proved perfect when he got the chance to start his own show on Minneapolis TV in 1988. Making fun of dumb movies with your friends is a time-honored tradition, but with "MST3K," your friends were much funnier.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000")

MARILYN MANNING: (As Roxy Miller) Worry isn't the feeling that I have.

HODGSON: (As Joel Robinson) It's more nausea.

MANNING: (As Roxy Miller) I don't know what it is. He's a creature. Well, you just have to look at him to see that. He even tried to kill us.

HODGSON: (As Joel Robinson) But basically he's a good egg.

MANNING: (As Roxy Miller) But yet - but...

ARCH HALL SR.: (As Robert Miller) You can't get him out of your mind.

HODGSON: (As Joel Robinson) Bonk.

GRIEVING: The show got picked up by Comedy Central. It ran there for six seasons, then another three on the Syfy channel. But in 1993, Hodgson left and a new host took over. It was the age-old story of creative differences.

HODGSON: It was really, like, a tragedy for me the way it worked out. It was, like, the most public, frustrating thing I could imagine. And so that took a really long time to, like, grapple with. And then once I started to get more distance from it, I started to kind of feel like it could happen again.

GRIEVING: In the meantime, the show acquired such fans as Frank Zappa, Questlove from The Roots, Al Gore and Jonah Ray, a stand-up comic who hosts a parody travel show called "Hidden America." Ray grew up watching "MST3K."

JONAH RAY: "Mystery Science Theater" was someone I could watch old sci-fi movies with and make fun of them by myself, you know? Essentially you have these friends with you while you're by yourself. And I think that's why it connects with people.

GRIEVING: The show connected with so many people that when Joel Hodgson got the rights back and launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a new season, it broke the crowdfunding site's record for video projects, raising more than $5-and-a-half million. Superfan Jonah Ray the call of a lifetime when Hodgson asked him to be the new host.

RAY: And I was just like, how does that even happen? How does that happen? That's the one thing I always wanted. Like, when I was growing up, that's, like - that's what I wanted.

GRIEVING: Once the cast was assembled and Netflix signed on to distribute...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Moving on.

GRIEVING: ...The new "MST3K" started shooting last fall.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And door, camera, action.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As character) OK, seriously, what's...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (As character, humming).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (As character, humming).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You guys are scaring me. Answer me. What are you doing?

GRIEVING: The cast includes Baron Vaughn and Hampton Yount as the new robots and Patton Oswalt and Felicia Day as the new mad scientists.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000")

FELICIA DAY: (As Kinga Forrester) You speak to I, Kinga Forrester, commander of the Moon 13 research station, third-generation supervillain and the inevitable master of all profit-making media (laughter).

GRIEVING: Day also grew up watching "MST3K," and in addition to starring in "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," she created a popular web series called "The Guild." She says "MST3K" spawned a whole culture of silly online commentary, from dropping pop culture references to riffing on bad movies and bad news and bad politics.

DAY: Nowadays, people are used to having that commentary in their day-to-day lives. They're used to commenting on Twitter about, like, hey, did you see Batman's new, you know, codpiece that looks like a misshapen face or something, you know?

GRIEVING: The Internet is a make-fun-of-everything, snarky place, and it can be downright mean. Day says "MST3K" isn't like that.

DAY: I actually think there's a kindness to the sense of humor. Joel, on the conference calls when we'd talk about the movies before he started writing on them, would always talk with love about the movies, never hate. He would be like, guys, this movie is so awesome. There's this thing, and he's flying through the air. And you're like, oh, wait; this sounds terrible, but Joel loves it.

GRIEVING: Hodgson makes a few on-screen cameos in the new "MST3K," but he mostly stayed behind the camera as a writer and creative director.

HODGSON: Honestly, I would have preferred that from the beginning. It kind of makes me uptight. It's a lot of pressure, and I just feel so relieved to not have to worry about being on camera. I'm, like, really happy just being, like, the guy who came up with it and being creative.

GRIEVING: Joel Hodgson's absence as the show's host and head movie riffer may make nostalgic fans sad and may even make some people snark online. But take his original advice and repeat to yourself, it's just a show; I should really just relax. For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.