For those unfamiliar, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a cult TV show that ran from 1988 to 1999. The story revolves around a man and his robot sidekicks trapped in space. Evil scientists monitor the captive’s mind as he’s forced to watch awesomely bad films. The show’s plot intentionally matches the cheesiness of the films being roasted. A non-stop barrage of clever wordplay and improvised dialogue are framed with short skits by cast members on intentionally low-budget sets. In November of 2012 show creator Joel Hodgson launched a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign that resulted in an eleventh season of fourteen episodes on Netflix. Critics and fans alike hailed the new season, and new series star Jonah Ray, as worthy successors to the originals.
In July, Mystery Science Theater 3000’s new cast followed up the wildly successful Netflix revival with a short tour of live riffing and hijinks. That tour arrived in Richmond on August 10th to legions of obsessed geeks. Fans descended upon the Carpenter Theater for worship at the altar of cheesy movie mockery. Show creator Joel Hodgson greeted the ravenous crowd with playful observations about the theater, show insights, and his usual brand of lighthearted sarcasm. After fielding a few questions from the audience, Hodgson turned the evening over to Jonah Ray and company.
Mystery Science Theater is incredibly meta. I can’t think of a single show before the internet age so unapologetically self-referential. Joel and company were turning popular culture on its head well before the world was ready for the likes of Community, Deadpool, and Robot Chicken. These shows are like the character Comedian in Alan Moore’s comic The Watchmen: They “see the true face of the twentieth century and chose to become a reflection of it, a parody of it.” That same self-awareness holds true to MST3K’s live show. Stage actors flawlessly preformed dialogue against a pre-recorded video of evil scientists Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day) and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (Patton Oswalt). Without missing a beat Kinga mentions she’s a recording before continuing on with more plot driven dialogue. At one point a snake-gun malfunctioned (yes, I said “SNAKE-GUN”). Instead of playing it off, the cast drew attention to it, causing an explosion of cheers as the gun erupted it’s full snake-y glory. Uproarious laughter carried through the night as we watched skits about terrycloth bathrobes, fancy hats, and puzzle buddies. All this, and we haven’t even discussed the movie yet!
Richmond’s geek community was treated to the hilariously sexist and bawdy Argoman: The Fantastic Superman. This Italian James Bond-like superhero film has all the elements of the perfect riff movie; The dialogue is terrible, the plot is confusing and full of holes, the acting is wooden, and the soundtrack is wonderfully dated. Jonah and the bots took aim and unleashed a relentless volley of quips, added dialogue, and pointed observations that left the crowd crying with laughter. My cheeks ached from smiling, my stomach hurt from laughing, and I needed a drink. Intermission was a welcome break. The crowd during intermission was just as warm, friendly, and geeky as I remembered Jonathan Coulton crowds being. We wandered from the bathrooms, to concessions, to our seats; Masses of nerdy t-shirt clad fanboys wandering in a giggle-stupor. The second half remained as good as the first, though bittersweet. We all knew the movie was reaching it’s conclusion. Still, I learned valuable lessons when watching out for snakes (You’ll get that reference if you were at any of the live shows).
As we listened to Crow the robot discuss Argoman‘s insulting portrayal of robots on screen, I thought back to being thirteen years old and staying up past midnight to catch re-runs of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Watching with absolute glee as a man in a jumpsuit and two robots picked apart bad movies for my amusement. MST3K Live! recaptured the magic of first discovering the show, and that’s a rare feat. Though tickets to the show weren’t cheap, I ABSOLUTELY got my moneys worth. This tour is nearly over, but I will be crossing my fingers for the chance to again sit in a crowded theater with my geek brothers and sisters and sing the song of our people! “In the not to distant future, next Sunday A.D…”
A solid 10 out of 10 on the ABV Scale (Awesomeness By Volume).
It’s a dick kicker!