Following its splashy relaunch in 2016, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is returning for its second post-revival batch of episodes (its 12th season overall) on Thanksgiving Day, November 22. Turkey Day, of course, is the day MST3K premiered on humble KTMA in Minneapolis/St. Paul, way back in 1988, a milestone which the new episodes commemorate with a jaunty “Celebrating our thirtieth year!” announcement now incorporated into the title sequence.
Fellow MSTie Tony Redman and I will return in a week or two with a detailed, episode-by-episode recap. What can I tell you in the meantime, without spoiling the pleasures to come? The major change from last season to this one is already public: Netflix ordered just six episodes, making this the shortest in the series’ run since season seven, (correctly) interpreted by fans as a sign of Comedy Central’s waning interest in the show, which they promptly canceled. What this presages for the future of MST3K: The Return is not known, though given Netflix’s recent push to denude itself of its third-party productions, I for one am a trifle uneasy.
But that’s a worry for another day. Whether six episodes or sixteen, any new season of MST3K is cause to celebrate, and these new shows make a good argument for a hypothetical season thirteen. Series creator and showrunner Joel Hodgson tries to make a virtue of the shortened run, framing this season’s movies as one continuous experiment dubbed “The Gauntlet,” in which Jonah (yeah, he survived apparently dying in the last season, and no, absolutely no narrative energy is wasted on explaining how) and the Bots supposedly watch all six films basically in one go. “Forget binge-watching the show,” Max boasts, “we’re binge-making it!”
While the extra dash of momentum does make the show a little more bingeable, the most noteworthy improvement to the show is the pacing. Joel evidently listened to fans’ complaints that the riffing in the new episodes was too dense and too fast, as the jokes now come at a more manageable pace and volume reminiscent of the Mike years. (Now if we could just get them to make fewer Uber references.) In an equally welcome development, Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn have made even more progress in making Crow and Tom Servo their own, respectively. Vaughn, in particular, has really made Servo his own; I’ve long thought Kevin Murphy was irreplaceable in the role, and with season 12, Vaughn’s finally won me over, giving Tom a wider range and carving out a more distinctive space for himself in the theater segments.
As for the movies, I won’t attempt to predict which ones will turn out to be fan favorites. The season’s bookend features, Mac and Me and Ator: The Fighting Eagle, are predictably strong (OK, I’m predicting Ator in particular will be a fan favorite), while the movies in between vary somewhat, as you might expect. Not every episode is a home run, but the quality overall is encouragingly high, and fans streaming this new season as a backdrop to their Turkey Day festivities will not be disappointed.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Gauntlet streams beginning Thanksgiving, November 22. Watch the new episodes, and then check back here in a week or so for Dan and Tony’s episode-by-episode recap.