‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ is back... again

Canceled shows being revived on streaming services is far from unusual now, but 'MST3K' survived cancellation multiple times before debuting in its latest incarnation on Netflix.

Darren Michaels/Courtesy of Netflix
Jonah Ray in 'Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return' on Netflix.

Long ago, somewhere in time and space, a man and two robots watched silly movies and joked about them. They did so on several networks before the show’s cancellation in 1999. But now the comedy “Mystery Science Theater 3000” is back.

The TV series began on a Minnesota TV channel in 1988 before airing on Comedy Central (then known as The Comedy Channel) beginning in 1989. After that network canceled “MST3K,” the program aired on The Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) from 1997 to 1999 before being canceled again. Throughout, the basic premise was the same: A human and some robots who are on a spaceship watch poorly reviewed movies and poke fun at them. Later story developments included scientists who are forcing the man – first portrayed by Joel Hodgson, then Mike Nelson – to watch bad movies. 

Mr. Hodgson launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive the show in 2015. The fundraiser set a record in the video category of Kickstarter, with fans raising more than $5 million (not counting “add-on” donations).

“This is the power of the individual viewer now,” Ross Brown, program director for the MFA in writing and contemporary media at Antioch University in Santa Barbara, Calif., says. “Because the public has become more and more accustomed to paying for things à la carte in terms of entertainment instead of just taking whatever ABC, CBS, NBC sends through the airwaves and so on ... they now say, ‘Yeah, I’d like to see that show,’ and they’re willing to put up a few bucks for it.”

Now new “MST3K” episodes are available on Netflix, with new stars Jonah Ray, Felicia Day, and Patton Oswalt coming on board. Baron Vaughn has taken on the role of robot Tom Servo, while Hampton Yount portrays robot Crow T. Robot. The appeal of the show is timeless, says Mr. Brown. “The beauty of the premise is that those characters ... being snarky and commenting on things is sort of what the audience does when they watch TV anyway, half the time,” he says.

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