The not too distant future is now. After making its triumphant return last year, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back with new episodes on Netflix. This time the best brains behind the show have dubbed this second season of the revived MST3K as The Gauntlet, daring Jonah and the bots as well as you at home to binge six disastrously bad movies. This season of MST3K is just as funny as the last, with the new crew of the Satellite of Love once again capturing the comedic spirit that made MST3K a cult sensation that has lasted for 30 years.
To be clear, technical issues with the advanced screeners have prevented me from watching all of Mystery Science Theater: The Gauntlet. Rest assured, fellow MSTies, that the technical issues only affected review screeners and won’t in any way affect the episodes on Netflix.
Once again, Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day), the nefarious daughter of Dr. Clayton Forrester, and her trusty henchmen Max (Patton Oswalt), aka TV’s Son of TV’s Frank, have trapped Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) along with the trusty bots Tom Servo (Baron Vaughn), Crow T. Robot (Hampton Yount), and Gypsy (Rebecca Hanson) on the Satellite of Love to watch bad movies as part of some twisted experiment. Before the captive crew of the Satellite of Love are stuck with the dredges of cinema’s history, the long-standing tradition of the invention exchange must take place. It’s great that the new MST3K has revived the invention exchange and its lunacy that highlights the creative side of the crew beyond just witty barbs at bad movies.
The six movies that Jonah and the bots are subjected to as part of The Gauntlet are Mac and Me, Atlantic Rim, Lords of the Deep, The Day Time Ended, Killer Fish, and Ator, The Fighting Eagle. There’s a fascinating blend of old and new in this new batch of bad movies.
Naturally, the first one is the one that sticks out the most as Mac and Me is like a white whale for MSTies. Fear not, my friends, it doesn’t disappoint. For those unaware, Mac and Me is a 1988 E.T. rip-off about a young boy in a wheelchair (Jade Calegory) who befriends a whimsical alien from beyond whom he dubs Mac. The film is an early example of egregious product placement with Coca-Cola and McDonald’s constantly appearing throughout the movie. The awfulness of Mac and Me delivers an array of opportunities for Jonah and the bots to eviscerate the underwhelming creature effects, cheesy dialogue, product placement, and perhaps the most bizarre scene featuring a wheelchair-bound child ever. It’s obvious that everyone involved in MST3K: The Gauntlet knew the expectations that would come with riffing Mac and Me and they pulled out their A-game on this one.
The second episode of The Gauntlet proves to be a trickier movie to handle. The best episodes of MST3K are movies that are trying and failing to be good. For the most part, these movies require a level of earnestness in their original production and that’s what makes Atlantic Rim a bit tough. Atlantic Rim was produced by The Asylum, a production company known for churning out cheap, borderline unwatchable movies with titles similar to major blockbusters right as those blockbuster are ready to land in theaters. Atlantic Rim, obviously, is their rip-off of Pacific Rim.
Even though Atlantic Rim is a cynical cash grab made with complete indifference towards competence, the riffs do work because Jonah and the bots take on the film on its own cynical terms. The chintzy special effect, no-name cast, and abysmal dialogue give Jonah and the bots plenty to riff on. Perhaps the best thing they riff on in this horrid film is the completely indifferent performance from Graham Greene. The veteran actor seems as if he couldn’t be bothered to emote while playing a military leader. But hey, a man’s gotta work to make his car payment, am I right? For my money, Atlantic Rim and its modern production as well as its cynical foundation made it the toughest test for this latest season of MST3K and, once again, this creative team passed with flying colors.
For those MSTies who were a bit disappointed in the rapid fire jokes of last season, there’s not a change of pace in The Gauntlet to appease you. Jonah Ray and his cohorts are going for it with a rapid succession of jokes and gags. I find it a welcome change of pace as MST3K: The Gauntlet is invested in the past of the series, and features numerous callbacks to some classics, but it has to forge its own identity in the grand scheme of things and that’s what the fast and furious joke style establishes. Sometimes it takes a little while, but MSTies are very good at adapting to change as they did when the show changed hosts as well as the voices of the bots over its initial run.
Netflix is dropping all six episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Gauntlet on Thanksgiving Day, a fitting tribute as it’s the 30th anniversary of when the show first premiered on KTMA, the Minnesota channel that was the first home to MST3K. I can’t think of better way to spend another Turkey Day than with Jonah and the bots along with six truly awful movies. Jonah Ray and the rest of the newer cast members avail themselves well, carrying on the tradition started by Joel Hodgson 30 years ago. There’s plenty of life left in Mystery Science Theater 3000. I can only hope that this party doesn’t end now. It feels like it’s just getting started.
MST3K: The Gauntlet
MST3K returns for a second season of its revival with Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Gauntlet, six awful movies headlined by Mac and Me make for another entertaining season of the cult comedy that carries on the spirit of the original while forging its own identity.