This has been a pretty great year movies and games so far, but television is a pretty mixed bag. We laughed at comedy of the Santa Clarita diet, we enjoyed (mostly) the novelty of Legion, and we liked the visceral feel of Taboo. On the other hand, we barely tolerated the long tedious drag of The Walking Dead (relatedly, welcome back, Better Call Saul) and totally skipped Iron Fist. Just when we were losing our faith in television, along comes the incredibly awesome revival of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Like most people, we’d been watching our reruns of the show for decades and were excited for new episodes but we doubted anybody could capture the magic of the original series. We needn’t have worried, the new show lovingly and faithfully recreates the old one with a few new flourishes. Here are five ways the new MST3K improves on the original.
GYPSY’S VOICE IS VASTLY IMPROVED
If there was one thing I would have changed about the original series, it was Gypsy’s voice. I liked the robot fine, but her grating, whimsical voice reminded me more of Jar Jar Binks than anything else. The new series changes this right away; Gypsy is now voiced by Rebecca Hanson, and she lands some pretty great jokes during the movie. She’s a peripheral character but – whenever she appears – she delivers a great reaction shot and brings a needed female voice to the almost entirely male cast. I’d actually like to see Gypsy play a bigger presence on the series going forward, and that’s a sentence I never thought I would type.
TOM SERVO CAN FLY
I’ve always liked Tom Servo but I’ve never enjoyed him as much as the other robots on the show. He always seemed like a jovial sidekick to the other characters. Here, though, he’s given a new purpose through his new-found ability to fly around the theater. To be clear, he only utilizes this ability every now and then, but this gives him the ability to interact with the action on a particular portion of the screen, giving him access to jokes the other characters don’t have. This gives him a fun, unique role on the show and it’s always great to see how this ability is employed.
THE GUEST CAMEOS
In general, the new episodes greatly tighten up the segments between the movie of the episode. There are still skits to break up the action of the movie but these are pretty quick and streamlined. Most episodes also include a quick guest cameo from a wide range of celebrities. Identifying who they are would take away from some of the magic of their surprise appearances. Some of them are sci-fi heroes, some are main stream comedians, and many of the original characters also return as well. The celebrities seem to be fans of the show and they add a lot in their concise appearances. It’s impressive how well these are incorporated and how funny they are and great to see famous fans of the show participating in the revival.
THE EPISODES FEEL ENERGIZED
As much as I liked the old series (and I still will rewatch every episode, particularly Mitchell), there was a tendency for some of the skits to meander and squash some of the show’s energy. Granted, the shows had a relaxed energy that allowed for an easy humor, and I enjoyed that. However, I often found myself fast forwarding through the skits to get back to the theater. Not here, the side skits and the interactions between the characters all feel very tight and streamlined. While the old shows had a nice late-night energy, the new shows feel tightly designed and well orchestrated. Set ups are quick, jokes land, and then the characters run back to the theater. As much as I loved the original series, the laid-back energy left me sleepy by the shows end and I never watched more than one episode. With the quick pace of the new episodes, the entire series easily binge-able.
There are some people who brighten a project with just their presence, and Patton Oswalt is one of those people. He’s a great comedian, he’s a solid actor, and – after the events he’s lived through this last year – he’s a poignantly powerful tragic figure. I have no idea whether he filmed his scenes before or after the loss of his wife, but here he seems happy and funny, just as I hoped to see him again. As hard as it is to laugh sometimes, seeing him on the screen doing his best to make others laugh is downright moving.