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The new series is finally on the air, a reboot of the cult classic 90s television show funded by Kickstarted and finding a home on Netflix. For the first episode, we first get a little intro to the new star, a man named Jonah (Jonah Ray), a worker at Gizmonic Institute hauling astroids in space when he answers a distress signal on the dark side of the moon. There, he is captured by Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day), a mad scientist in a long line of mad scientist (Forrester!), who, along with TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (Patton Oswalt), trap the yellow jumpsuit-wearing mug in the Satellite of Love with some robot pals, including Tom Servo (voiced by Baron Vaughn) and Crow T. Robot (voiced by Hampton Yount). There, they must sit in a theater and watch wretched movies, but they don’t do it without some quick-witted banter.
For fans of the original series, there is so much fan candy in the first ten minutes of this episode, it’s almost too much to ask for, from the updated theme song to a lovingly re-created set with some decidedly big-budget upgrades. Keeping much of the same style and animation techniques though with much greater details, the opening bit is the stuff of dreams for fans who have longed for this return.
A cameo by none other than Wil Wheaton from Star Trek: The Next Generation and what? Erin Gray from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century mark the start of what is promised to be many walk-ons by famous sci-fi stars, and once they did their bit, the show got started, full systems go, tightly holding on to the formula of the decade-long running original, and that is just what the doctor ordered. From a brief invention exchange to some squabbling between the scientists, it’s then into the theater to watch the first of what is already scheduled for fourteen shows. And with series creator Joel Hodgson as one of the producers, and some sharp writers (including former Daily Show writer Elliott Kalan) at the helm, there is much to celebrate.
The film up for riffing in this first episode is a 1961 sci-fi monster movie called Reptilicus, Denmark’s first and so far, only monster movie about a group of copper miners who unearth a giant frozen lizard tail that by accident, allow it to thaw. This proves to be a bad thing as it regenerates into a massive prehistoric dragon-like beast that can fly and swim wreaks havoc over the countryside. It’s spectacularly bad.
Inside the theater, Jonah and the bots (Servo can now actually hover) have at it, with jokes, jabs, references, and sidebars flying at the screen in rapid fashion, many that are obvious, some that are thinkers, a few that are very specific, and one or two that go right over our heads. Hey, just like the old days.
During the film, the crew get breaks, what would be in the old show, segues to commercials, and for this first episode, they bust out into a showstopper that sets a pretty high bar. Jonah and the bots perform a rap style tribute to monsters around the world complete with wood carvings and references to 80s pop songs. When Crow chimes in with gunter, glieben, glauchen, Crow-bin (a spin on gunter, glieben, glausen, globen from Def Leppard‘s Rock of Ages) be sure not to be drinking milk as it will thusly spurt forth through your nostrils at great velocity. It’s epic.
As a first episode, Reptilicus is a great pick, one that certainly harkens back to some of the classic bad films of the original series and gives the new cast a chance to settle, and settling will take time. Perhaps playing a bit heavy into the fan service, there were some writing moments that fell flat and some missed opportunities in the film that might have gotten better zings with the old crew, though it’s all easy to overlook. It’s the first show and the gang will find their footing. What’s more fun though is noticing the subtle changes and tweaks to the set and show. Pay attention to the trip to the theater between breaks, a little jaunt through a series of mechanical doors that has been modified a bit with each section given a bit more depth and place on the ship, showing us the laundry room, sleeping quarters and more. And it’s details like this, with a significantly larger budget in the new iteration, that really give the set some pop. Maybe it betrays a little of the cheap, homemade feel of the first series, but it looks great and given that Hodgson is behind it all, seems like possible a vision he always had in mind but wasn’t able to build before.
Either way, it’s great to have MST3K back. As a die-hard fan since the first season, it’s just nice to see that familiar silhouette again and laugh at some truly bad movies. Stay tuned for more. Until then, turn down the lights where applicable.