Since the end of its run in 1999, fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 have had their memories, re-runs, and similarly themed alum-powered projects like Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax to hold them over, but in a new oral history interview, series creator Joel Hodgson has expressed an interest in rebooting the series.
Though details are presently thin, the new iteration is primed to be a web project that starts up in the spring (so, soon?), and it will feature a new host (so, not Hodgson or Mike J. Nelson?) while also allowing for occasional guest appearances by the old cast.
Here’s Hodgson on Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s enduring appeal and why it’s ready-made for a new crew:
I’ve talked to a bunch of fans about their lives and what ‘MST3K’ means to them. I’m overwhelmed by how people took to that show. It really affected them. I thought, if enough people still love it, maybe we can bring it back.
Even avid viewers sometimes don’t realize that every major role in the show had been swapped out over time. So in my mind, the show is built to be refreshed with new people and new ideas. It’s like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as it applies to ‘MST3K’: If it doesn’t change, it’s not the same show. And fortunately for us, as long as there are movies, there are always going to be cheesy movies.
It’s actually charming that Hodgson still seems surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to the show that fans have. But while the question about whether there would be enough goodwill out there to warrant a few more episodes seems silly – the show has been lauded by critics and fans during and after its run and it’s one of the key cultural/comedy inspirations of the last 25 years – we’re not sure that that same goodwill would extend to a full reboot and a new cast. Nostalgia only goes so far.
Not only did Hodgson and Nelson (and the rest) cast a long shadow, but the show really does seem time-locked when you watch it. For better or worse, Mystery Science Theater 3000 helped lay the tracks for the chugging internet revolution that has made us all commentators and quip-wielding humorists. But while it is a forefather, it’s entirely possible that the format might fall flat if put in front of contemporary audiences without the cover of its original hosts and the nostalgia that their appearance would generate. Dr. Frankenstein, meet your monster.
Today, audiences want edge and they want the line to be pushed. But while that’s certainly what Mystery Science Theater 3000 delivered in its heyday, it’s hard to know if Hodgson (and, for that matter Jim Mallon – the co-producer who would seemingly have to sign off on a reboot despite the past “tension” between he and Hodgson) would be comfortable watching a new gang take the show to the darker and more adult-themed humor that might be required to push that line today.
Besides that, there is the waning level of familiarity with some of the classic films that were born to riff on. Younger viewers (watch as I deftly avoid saying “Kids today”) don’t necessarily know Colossus and the Headhunters and Invasion of the Neptune Men, whereas original Mystery Science Theater 3000 viewers often grew up watching these movies and those like them on lazy Saturday afternoons.
To update the show with newer, more relatable films might not just be a challenge, it could also be quite costly – something that the RiffTrax team avoids by selling their riffs as free-floating commentary tracks that can play alongside any film without worrying about rights issues.
Based on these observations, a rebooted Mystery Science Theater 3000 seems like a bad idea, but a show featuring a comedian, a few puppets, cheesy movies, and ample sarcasm probably seemed like a bad idea in 1988 and yet here we are. The fact is, the rules of the game are clear now, but they can always change.
Maybe older viewers will embrace a rebooted show and maybe the right kind of millennials will embrace a new version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as their favorite thing in the way that the original spoke to teenagers and twenty-somethings in the ’90s. Stranger things have happened.