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Why you should watch Mystery Science Theater 3000

13/04/2017TV

If you spent your Saturday nights staying up until 2am watching terrible old movies on obscure cable channels, surrounded by questionable paraphernalia, then you might remember Mystery Science Theater, one of the greatest cult TV shows ever made. Don't recall? That's not a problem, because MST3K is back, back, back with a new home on Netflix, new stars including Patton Oswalt – and the same terrible old movies.

Riffing on movies

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 format was created back in the late '80s by comedy writer Joel Hodgson, but it's a perfect fit for how we watch TV in 2017. The show was an intentionally campy sci-fi romp, with wobbly sets and hammy acting straight off an Ed Wood movie – but that wasn't really the point. The plot, if you could call it that, saw courageous human pilot Joel Robinson (Hodgson) and his robot buddies Tom Servo, Crow and Gypsy, forced to watch kitschy old B-movies as a psychological experiment. Here's the kicker: we sat there and watched the films right along with them, as they quipped, made wisecracks and generally riffed over the top of the film's soundtrack. That's literally it. Joel and his robots appeared in front of the movie in silhouette, sat on a row of cinema seats, and the films – movies like, say, 1980's Revenge Of The Mysterons From Mars – played out in their entirety.

It was a genius conceit, totally suited to late night cable back in the '80s and '90s – and it's now a no-brainer for Netflix's huge geek community. Support for MST3K never really went away, even though it hasn't aired "new" episodes since 1999, and fans always hoped that one day the format would be revived. Then Joel Hodgson made their dreams come true in November 2015, when he created a Kickstarter page, pledging to resurrect Mystery Science Theater 3000 with three special new episodes if funds of $2 million dollars were met.

Stretch goals

The people voted with their wallets: within a week, the project had amassed its base funding; within 28 days, the MST3K Kickstarter had made $5.76 million with almost 50,000 backers, including many celebrity fans. It surpassed the Veronica Mars movie as the most popular Film & TV Kickstarter project ever, and Hodgson had the funds to commit to 14 new episodes in total. Including a Christmas episode. The mind boggles.

Now a multi-million dollar affair, the new MST3K could afford a higher calibre of star – although all involved with the new Netflix show profess a deep love of the original. Comedian Patton Oswalt was scouted to write the new episodes before Hodgson decided he'd work better on camera, and plays Max, henchman to Felicia Day's villain Kinga Forrester. They lure comedian Jonah Ray – flanked by good old Tom Servo and Crow on the Satellite of Love – to their home planet, Moon 13, to watch more brain-numbing old movies for yuks.

Writing staff includes such comedy luminaries as Elliot Kalan, former head writer for The Daily Show With John Stewart, with Community and Rick & Morty writer Dan Harmon and actor Joel McHale also involved. Even the music has got an upgrade: EGOT-winning composer Robert Lopez – maybe you've heard of Frozen's "Let It Go"? – will write tunes for the show.

Be there or B-Movie

Of course, Mystery Science Theater lives and dies on its movie choices. Who could forget such classics episodes as The Robot Vs The Aztec Mummy, First Spaceship On Venus and the classic Robot Monster? The movies weren't chosen so much for their sparkling dialogue or stunning special effects, but for their overall naffness – and due to the fact that they were movies in the public domain, they were cheap, too. As yet, none of the movies from the 14 new MST3K episodes have been revealed; Hodgson claims the films will be slightly more recent than in the older series, with maybe one from the '50s and '60s, but they're keeping their playlist close to their chest for maximum fun when the series hits Netflix on April 14th.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 makes almost too much sense for 2017 telly bingers. How many of us enjoy watching bad television or movies on one screen, with a running Twitter commentary on a smaller, second screen alongside? "Snark watching" feels like a modern phenomenon but MST3K was ploughing that furrow decades ago.

At its best, Mystery Science Theater 3000 replicates that great feeling you get when you sit and watch a film with a group of friends – it's not the movie that matters, it's the experience. The films may be a little newer and the faces involved may be a little more famous, but the concept of talking trash to a TV screen? Some things never change.

All episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are available to watch on Netflix from Friday 14th April