New ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ Is Not ‘MST3K,’ Does Not Even Have Robots

New 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' Is Not 'MST3K,' Does Not Even Have Robots

You are on the internet (we are guessing), so you have probably heard about how Mystery Science Theater 3000 aka MST3K is back, because everyone is talking about it all over the everywhere. The problem, though, is that MST3K is not back; that is a lie from the pit of hell. Instead, RiffTrax is now on your cable teevee instead of your DVD-computer-thing. What does this actually mean? Will it actually be any good? Let’s explore!

What is MST3K, you ask? Do you even like funny things? we ask back. “Mystery Science Theater 3000” was a show on Comedy Central, also known as “KTMA,” an acronym that stands for “the Sci-Fi Channel,” from 1988 to 1999. It was created in Snipy’s arctic tundra of Minnesota, and starred a guy named either Joel Hodgson or Michael J. Nelson, depending on whom you ask.

He was stuck in space and being tortured by mad scientists and forced to watch bad movies, and his only help of coming out of these experiments with his sanity intact was to sit around and make fun of the movies (“riff”) with his robot buddies. It got dicked over by various networks several times, which is a sure sign that it was really good. And it was full of ugly props, and cheesy sets, and really bad movies, and really funny people, a lot of whom went on to shape comedy for the rest of the ‘90s. (Did you know that MST3K’s Frank Conniff was one of the minds behind “Invader Zim”? Now you do!)

We have really, really strong feelings about MST3K because it is what buoyed us and our loved ones through large portions of our respective lives. When our father couldn’t stand his marriage anymore but was too somethingorother to ask for a divorce, he would console himself by holing up in the den and watching MST3K. When we were sick with simultaneous mono and strep, and dragging ourselves between our loathsome public employee job and bed every day, the only thing that kept us going, emotionally, was the fact that we could go home and fall asleep to robot puppets. In fact, imagining Tom Servo in his cute little costume from the last segment in Gamera vs. Guiron was enough to keep us smiling for about a week straight, even when we literally wanted to die.

So it is with bated breath that we read all over the lamestream media that MST3K will be coming back to teevee. And it is with rolled eyes that we point out that that is not even true, because it is not MST3K that is coming back, it is RiffTrax, broadcast for the first time. RiffTrax is the pet project of Nelson, Kevin Murphy (“second Tom Servo”), and Bill Corbett (“second Crow,” also known as “not Trace Beaulieu,” but only if you are our dad).

So it is basically the entire second iteration of the MST3K lineup, what with the human guy and both bots, but no actual bots, much less sets or anything like that. Instead, you buy the movie or you go find it on the Netflix or the Bittorrents (shh!) or whatever, and you also buy an audio file from the RiffTrax people, and then you play the two things at the same time and ta-da, people from MST3K are making fun of movies again for the first time since the show went off the air. THIS IS NOT EVEN REMOTELY THE SAME THING.

We gather it’s funny! Maybe! But we don’t know for sure, personally, because we have never exposed ourselves to it. We kind of boycott it actually, because Michael J. Nelson has completely reprehensible political beliefs, but we know people who say that RiffTrax is hilarious and totally worth giving a reactionary guy your cash, but blah blah blah Mike vs. Joel, this is all secretly about loving our huggable sleepy-eyed stoner, still bitter about Mike after like 20 years, etc.

So anyway: RiffTrax on TV? Yes! In the not-too-distant future, April 1st, 8-9pm Eastern, the gentlemen from RiffTrax are going to start a three-episode mini-series on National Geographic called “Total Riff-Off.” Is it cause for alarm, MST3K purists? No it is not, because it is not even MST3K. There will be no robots, no silhouettes, none of that. It is a bunch of invisible dudes hanging out and making fun of National Geographic “classic videos”, which we can only get mad about because it’s being billed as the return of MST3K. Although to be honest, if it turns out to have skits to it, we’re going to be driving up to goddamn Minnesota to ask if we can recap this.

Say, what the heck is a National Geographic ”classic video”?

The trio will offer commentary over clips of shows like “Honey Badgers,” “Unlikely Animal Friends,” “Man v. Monster,” “Swamp Men,” “Alpha Dogs” and more.

Oof. We’d snark that … but we just the got commercial sign.


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  • Mahousu

    Wasn’t there a somewhat bitter three-way split-up of the MST3K guys? Joel and some others (Trace, Frank, Mary Jo Pehl and Josh Weinstein) occasionally do Cinematic Titanic – live version, but again without the robots. Jim Mallon (the executive producer) ended up with the rights to the MST3K name and I believe the robots as well, but I don’t know that he’s done anything with them in the past decade.

    • Sensory_Homunculus

      Yeah – I was lucky enough to see the them live a couple years ago in Cinematic Titanic. It was SO great. This sounds sorta meh.

    • nzmccorm

      Mallon tried to launch a web series that was going to be cartoons starring the bots, but it was too terrible. Also while I’m kinda sad that they apparently jettisoned the MST3K like plot when they moved to focusing on the live shows, there’s no denying that CT is way better than Rifftrax. God, Mary Jo Pehl is so fucking funny.

  • Estproph

    RiffTrax are most def worth it, even though I also would rather watch Joel. I have come away from some of their broadcast events laughing for days!

    • Estproph

      So I’m looking forward to it, I should add

  • Erik

    To clarify, RiffTrax did not bill it as “the return of MST3K” – the modern conception of “journalism” can be blamed for that. One blog with zero citations said it, and then everyone lost their minds and reposted it, without bothering to contact RiffTrax for confirmation or a quote or anything of that nature. That’s because this is the Internet and much like your link to Mike’s “personal beliefs” section, can be posted without question and readers will believe whatever is put in front of them.

  • toemac

    ‘“Mystery Science Theater 3000″ was a show on Comedy Central, also known as “KTMA,” an acronym that stands for “the Sci-Fi Channel,” from 1988 to 1999.’The what you say?

    • Mahousu

      It’s an extended metaphor for the Comedy Channel.

    • Kgprophet

      KTMA was the small local station in the Twin Cities where I first used to watch MST3K on Saturday mornings.

      • toemac

        Right. That’s why I asked what the hell that was about.

  • crummett

    “…because Michael J. Nelson has completely reprehensible political beliefs…”That can’t be right. Everyone knows conservatives have no sense of humor.

  • BouncyFlyer

    I find Mike’s politics disagreeable, but he -can- be funny when he doesn’t get all dudebro with his humor. And we have Kevin Murphy’s super liberalism to balance out.

    • Squirrel_t_robot

      Nelson is unduly influenced by his rather pious, but clearly much adored, wife.Yes, he could think for himself.But as MST3K constantly pointed out, Mike would Rather Not.

  • Dragoon21b

    I look at things like this as sort of an Expectations game…you just can’t go into it thinking that it is going to be what the original was…if you do you will be eternally unhappy. The problem is that often the people who make these shows think they can do something cut rate and cash in on the original and you wind up with a show that should be on MST3K not trying to copy it

  • timpundit

    It stopped being good once Joel left. I’m a big fan and still watch it from time to time. I’m happy enough with the reruns. I think it was ‘Manos; Hands of Fate!” or something that first hooked me. My pants haven’t been dry since.

  • $73376667

    But without the silhouettes, how are we supposed to get wigged out by trying to figure out if Cro is facing towards or away from the screen?

  • Squirrel_t_robot

    Mister B Natural, yikes.MST3K got me through a couple of overnight shifts at a teevee network that shall remained unknown — just know some one who refers to herself as ‘squirrel 05’ helped make it an international sensation, back in the day — whilst watching MST3K in her off hours.Plus, it helped my 10 years younger bro cope with teenage hood.All hail THAT.

  • MaxUdargo

    Well thanks for ruining Mike Nelson for me. Jerks.

  • One of my favs was the fashion show

  • Jim

    Not funny any more. WAAAYYY too much talk, not enough movie. Constant high school nerd interjections = change the channel.

  • JonahFalcon

    Michael Nelson’s political beliefs are overblown. And if you spend more than 2 minutes on Twitter, you’ll find Bill Corbett’s are very left leaning (as is Kevin Murphy). Also, Mary Jo Pehl and Bridgette Nelson do riffs on Rifftrax and both are left-leaning — so either Mike is extremely tolerant or he’s not what you think he is.