Note: this article is also posted on SciFi4Me.com.
RiffTrax Presents: The MST3K Reunion Show live cinecast. Seen June 28, 2016
In the mid-90s, the Eagles got together after a 14 year break. (Stay with me here. This is relevant.) The tour and album, cheekily titled Hell Freezes Over, was a hit, as the idea of this group getting together was something most fans thought would never happen.
When RiffTrax announced that there would be a reunion of the folks behind Mystery Science Theater 3000, this was the geek equivalent of that Eagles reunion.
When MST3K ended, there were a few variations of the concept done by various subsegments of the team. MST3K creator Joel Hodgson created Cinematic Titanic (which ended in December 2013), with Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein. Meanwhile, Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett created RiffTrax. (And — according to the reunion Tuesday night — Beaulieu and Conniff have continued riffing as a touring stand up event.)
For whatever reason (put your favorite conspiracy theory in the comments), the camps stayed separate. Oh, both would have some of the others occasionally as guests on the various recordings, but there was obviously never going to be a time when they would all get together.
But nostalgia has reigned. (On both sides.) And RiffTrax, as part of their 10th anniversary, was able to get (most of) the gang back together for one night of riffs. (Of course, Hodgson’s recent successful Kickstarter to bring back MST3K — albeit with a new cast — was probably part of why he and his team were up for it, as joining the gang for the reunion was the new host Jonah Ray.)
Going in, all I knew was that it was a reunion show: that was more than enough to get me excited about it. And, for the most part, it was everything I had hoped for. “It’s like a family reunion, right down to the heartburn,” said Murphy at the beginning of the night.
The evening consisted of seven shorts, all but two of them riffed by segments of the attendees. The shorts were interspersed with various promos; these included the RiffTrax app, showing the winner of the cosplay contest, a reel showing 10 years of RiffTrax (including a clip from the RiffTrax Live screening of Birdemic, which I reviewed here), and RiffTrax announcing their next live event, Mothra, on August 18.
The shorts had everything from a nightmare-fueled bit with talking cars to the (unfortunately) earworm inducing “Shake Hands With Danger”; the riffs were — for the most part — hilarious and an excellent send up of these horrendous pieces of cinematic “genius”.
Unfortunately, this is where I get a bit political. There were a couple of transgender jokes and a racist joke about Koreans eating dogs that I felt were in bad taste. Yes, humor is subjective and not everyone shares it, but I remember hearing someone talk about how the difference between good comedy and bullying is that good comedy is making fun of those in power. Considering the current political climate (and considering there was a joke about xenophobia later), I was a little thrown at these more bullying style jokes. I wasn’t offended per se, but the jokes left a bad taste in my mouth.
Another issue was the fact that these various shorts were broken up by riffers. When I heard the word ‘reunion’, I was expecting a lot more interaction with the various crews. Yes, we got a lovely bit where we had the two Crows (Beaulieu and Corbett) — with even a joke about Crow on Crow action (and Corbett complimenting Beaulieu, chastising him for, “how much you put me through by being great”) — but for the most part the groups stayed separate. To go back to my Eagles parallel above, it’d be like if said tour had consisted of Glenn Frey singing “The Heat is On”, Don Henley singing “The Boys of Summer”, and Joe Walsh singing “Life’s Been Good”.
The whole point of a reunion, in my mind, was to see these folks interacting together for the first time in almost 30 years. I also expected a bit more ‘behind the scenes’ talk: while the segments were introduced with the performers giving their favorite memories of working at MST3K, I had hoped for maybe some outtakes from the show or more bits about how it was all put together.
Thankfully, we did get a ‘riffapalooza’ at the end, where the entire group stood on the same stage. The first, “Stamp Day for Superman”, was pretty good, but it still felt a bit forced and separate. However, the encore was fan favorite “At Your Fingertips: Grasses”, and it finally felt like seeing the Eagles play “Hotel California” or “Take it Easy” after a 14 year separation. Seeing all of them in a row on the same stage was the best part of the evening.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a vital part of my late high school and college life. It helped shape my sense of humor, as well as hone my taste in movies. This outing was a hilarious hoot from the team behind RiffTrax. I just hope we don’t have to wait another 30 years to see these fine comedians all on the same stage again.
If you missed it (or want to catch it again), there will be a rebroadcast on July 12. For more information about the rescreening, visit Fathom Events. Or, you can find out more about it (and other information about RiffTrax) from the RiffTrax website. (Hint: you can buy DVDs of their previous live shows.)