Mystery Science Theater 3000 is finally back. The original, influential series starred Joel Hodgson as a man stuck up in space with nothing but wisecracking robots and the worst movies ever made for company, and spawned an entire generation of comedic “riffing.”
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“MST3K” for short) had been off the air for nearly 20 years but now, thanks to Netflix and a very successful Kickstarter campaign, fans can now once again watch a hapless boob – this time played by comedian Jonah Ray – riff on terrible movies against a friendly backdrop of gadget-based lunacy and the maddest of mad science.
The show debuted last night at midnight and it seems to have successfully captured the humor and tone of the original cult classic. It’s safe to say that we’re fans all over again. But as fans, we have questions. Lots and lots of questions. That’s why we invited Joel Hodgson onto our show The B-Movies Podcast for an epic interview, where he revealed lots of new information about the series, where it came from, where it’s going, and why there aren’t any of our beloved short films this season.
You can listen to the whole informative episode right here, but we don’t want anyone to miss the good stuff, so here are the top nine things we learned about the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 from Joel Hodgson on The B-Movies Podcast!
Jack Black Was Supposed to Play Captain Beefheart
Several guest stars appear over the course of the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, including Mark Hamill and Jerry Seinfeld. But one big name was supposed to play a role on the series, and it just didn’t work out.
“Jack Black was going to be in this iteration of the show, this first/eleventh season,” Joel Hodgson explains. “As a guest star, like the same we have Mark Hamill, Jerry Seinfeld. Jack Black was going to be one of those guys.”
Those guests play some of the various space-faring individuals who happen to chance upon Jonah and the Bots over the course of the series. “So Jack Black was going to play Captain Beefheart,” Hodgson continues. “Captain Beefheart the musician. And he was going to fly up in trout mask replica ship.”
Kinga Forrester is Based on the Villain from Infra-Man
The new MST3K villain is Kinga Forrester, played by Felicia Day, and if she and her skeleton minions look familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen the 1975 Chinese superhero movie Infra-Man… or at least I Love Lucy.
“When I first started thinking of Kinga I basically grabbed an image of the Dragon Queen from Infra-Man and Lucille Ball’s head, and put Lucille Ball’s head on the Dragon Queen from Infra-Man and I said, ‘This is Kinga,'” Joel Hodgson says. “And if you think about it, it’s kinda true. Felicia is, in a way, that.”
“And then along the way I go, man, I always loved those henchmen from Infra-Man. I’d love to do something with them. And then I got to the Bonehead thing, just a visual blur on that idea, just to alter it. The henchmen are so fun in Infra-Man though because they’re kind of nymphlike, and they run around really fast and they’ve very manic-looking. So I wanted that, and then I kind of engineered that off of there.”
“Then the idea was that they were the band, too. The Skeleton Crew Band. So they’re kind of like her failed attempted at creating a race of atomic supermen. It just didn’t work out.”
And if your recognize the songs the Skeleton Crew plays from earlier seasons of MST3K, that’s on purpose. “That’s Kinga’s gesture to deify the culture of MST,” Joel Hodgson explains. “[To] keep running, see how deep this is, how rich this is, because she has an agenda, you know?”
Joel Hasn’t Officially Decided Who Kinga Forrester’s Mother Is
Kinga Forrester is the daughter of Dr. Forrester, the mad scientist who originally trapped a man up in space and forced him to watch bad movies with robots. But who, exactly, is Kinga Forrester’s mom?
According to Joel Hodgson, the answer is a little up in the air.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s interesting,” Hodgson says. “I think the questions you’re asking are like reactions to what we did, and then we’ll look at that and go, ‘Yeah, you know… who IS her mom? Like, who is she?'”
“I have an idea but it could easily change if we got to a better idea,” Joel adds. “Do you got one?”
We’ll Find Out Why The Bots Are Back in Space in Season 2
The original series of MST3K ended with Mike and the Bots back on Earth, but in the new series Crow, Tom, Gypsy and Cambot are trapped up in space again. What gives?
“My plan was to explain it second season,” Joel Hodgson says. He intends to “dedicate time to what happened and how they did that,” but he didn’t want to get too bogged down in exposition right off the bat.
“Because if you think about front loading it,” Hodgson explains, “if you look, we had seven minutes before we riffed [in the first episode], and I didn’t want to go any longer than that, because I wanted it to be as long as the old sketches used to be, which were seven minutes long.”
When Gypsy Enters the Theater, She’s “Delivering the Payload”
Gypsy is responsible for maintaining the higher functions on the ship, and in previous seasons those duties kept her outside of the theater and unable to riff on the movies. (Except for a brief stint she did in Episode 4.12 “Hercules and the Captive Women”.) She’s still too busy to be in theater the whole time, but every once in a while in the new season of MST3K, she just happens to be passing through so she stops long enough to deliver a quick zinger.
It’s a fun addition to her character and a great way to make use of the widescreen space that Mystery Science Theater 3000 now has available, but what is she DOING, exactly?
“That’s the payload,” Joel Hodgson explains. “She’s delivering the payload, and then bringing up the payload.”
Joel Hodgson does not go on to explain what, exactly, “the payload” is, but he does say that it’s not the same payload from Overwatch, which makes a lot of sense.
Joel Prefers to Riff on Widescreen Films
The original seasons of MST3K were presented in “Pan and Scan,” a format that cropped widescreen movies down to a square aspect ratio which fit the frame of most televisions. In the new seasons every film is presented in widescreen, and Joel prefers it that way.
“I gotta tell you, pan and scan always made me crazy when we were working on this show,” Joel Hodgson says. “It’s just so weird that we even accept that. It was just constricted by the tools that we had. We take half the movie and cut it out. You see the middle of the movie and you accept this as real. So that always bugged me but I think people just expect it it. I just think we have a screen. We are not going to stretch it out so it goes to the ends.”
There Aren’t Any Shorts in Season 11, But They’re Not Gone Forever
Some of the most beloved installments of the original series of Mystery Science Theater 3000 included short films – mostly educational movies – but the new season of MST3K doesn’t feature any shorts whatsoever. There’s a reason for that.
“We definitely want to do shorts,” Joel Hodgson explains, “[but] you know, the shorts were a necessity for certain films we got that weren’t long enough. That’s why we did that, to fill it out.”
“But it became such a big part of what we did that I definitely intend to do stuff with it,” Hodgson continued later. “I don’t know if it will necessarily be in the body of the show. It might be in another purpose, or another, other thing.”
There may be a downside though. Joel Hodgson adds, “But then what you do is if you drop in another short, most shorts are 20 minutes long, so you have to cut the short in half and then you have to cut your feature up. You’d have to cut even more into your feature so you’d have to make your feature shorter. So you kind of get not the best of either.”
But does that mean there are limitations on episode times now that the series is on Netflix?
“No,” Joel Hodgson says. “The only limitations are the attention span of the audience.”
There’s a Reason Why MST3K Has Station Breaks on Netflix
The original MST3K had station identification breaks in between segments of the movie riffs, because the show had to regularly cut to commercials. The new season on Netflix has no commercials, but it has the station identification breaks anyway, featuring music by The Skeleton Crew and voice-overs by Patton Oswalt as TV’s Son of TV’s Frank.
So what gives? Why are they still necessary?
“That was just kind of a love tap for the people that watched the show over the years, that are used to those station ID breaks,” Joel Hodgson says. “I also felt like, the show’s long. It’s a real comedic deep dive for people. It’s 90 minutes long and it’s a lot. It’s kind of like the equivalent of […] it’s like Game of Thrones, kind of the way of going deep into a story.”
“Most people aren’t used to comedy being [that long.] Online it’s like ten minutes. On broadcast tv it’s 22 minutes. This is a long show and so I just put those in there to kind of break it up,” Hodgson continues. “A little breather. A little palette cleanser. But it doesn’t have any other function.”
Then again, maybe it does. “It’s kind of like Kinga’s agenda to keep reinforcing what you’re watching,” Joel Hodgson adds. “She’s branding. She’s giving you a tour of the show and some of the elements of the show. So that was really the purpose of that.”
Two Movies Gave Joel “The Shakes” This Season, But He Won’t Say Which Two
Not all MST3K movies are equally bad. It’s pretty rare for the show to riff on a movie like Manos The Hands of Fate. But there were a couple of films in the new season of that pushed Joel Hodgson’s limits.
“There’s two movies that I just, personally, just give me the shakes because I don’t like them. They were hard to do and I just… they’re hard when I think about them,” Joel Hodgson says. “And I don’t want to say what they are because I think some people would go into them and think it’s the funniest one, so I don’t want to color people’s impression of it.”
So we may never know, but we’re taking an educated guess here and illustrating this comment with a still from the second new episode, Cry Wilderness, because that movie is AWFUL. (Great episode though!)
Would you like to know more? Listen to the whole interview on The B-Movies Podcast!
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Top Photos: Netflix
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.