Netflix has passed on renewing beloved movie riffing progenitor Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a third (or 13th, depending on who you ask) season, according to a statement made today by the show’s most recent host/test subject, Jonah Ray Rodrigues.
“Netflix decided to not do another season of MST3K,” Rodrigues said on Twitter. “We don’t know what the future holds for the show, it always seemed to figure out how to survive. From Comedy Central to SyFy. Then kept alive by RIFFTRAX & Cinematic Titanic. whatever [sic] happens, I want everybody to know that getting a chance to be on this show was a dream come true.”
Series creator Joel Hodgson echoed Rodrigues’ announcement in a tweet of his own: “If you didn’t see the backer update, I announced today that #MST3K is not doing a third season for Netflix. It’s not the end of MST3K, It’s [sic] just the end of the first chapter of bringing back MST3K.”
So, Netflix decided to not do another season of MST3K. We are off to Get Down in Lilyhammer while the OA helps us take it One Day At A Time. We will be in group therapy with Tuca & Bertie, Jessica Jones, & Lady Dynamite. The sessions will be run by Gypsy (w/ Naomi Watts.) thread pic.twitter.com/ZONkUxUlFb
— JONAH RAY RODRIGUES (@jonahray) November 26, 2019
Rodrigues has served as the host of MST3K since its record-breaking Kickstarter and subsequent revival as a Netflix Original series in 2017 — after decades, Hodgson was finally able to recover the rights to the series (with financial assistance from Shout Factory) from ex-collaborator and MST3K producer Jim Mallon, for a reported seven-figure sum. Creative and idealistic frictions with Mallon were Hodgson’s primary reason for leaving the show in the middle of its fifth season, at which point longtime writer Michael J. Nelson took over as host and star. Thus the show was divided into “Joel” and “Mike” eras, and while fans generally have a preference for one or the other, all agree that both eras have merit and are invaluable parts of the MST3K canon.
The same cannot be said for the Jonah era, which thus far has been met by a middling response, at best. Fans of the original show (aka “MSTies”) generally consider the show to now be too polished, over-produced, with too many jokes that don’t allow room to breathe, and a reliance on call-backs and references to the original series that feel more like fan-fic than fan service.
MSTie consensus varies most widely on the quality of the new hosts, as well as the necessity of casting established celebrities like Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt, though most seem to agree that for whatever reason, the new seasons just felt … off. This may be due to a production pipeline that greatly diverged from that of the original show, where talent riffed along with the movie in real time on a sound stage, while simultaneously being filmed to produce the silhouettes at the bottom of the screen.
For the new seasons, Rodrigues and his co-riffers, Hampton Yount (Crow) and Baron Vaughn (Tom Servo), recorded all of their lines voice-over style in isolation booths at a recording studio, prior to filming. The silhouettes were then filmed after the fact, miming along with the pre-recorded riffs, with additional puppeteers brought in to control Crow and Tom Servo. Interstitial “host segments” for the entire 11th season were filmed in a single day, adhering to a strict No Second Takes™ mandate, except where absolutely necessary. The result was a cluttered product that lacked chemistry and, at times, was legitimately awkward during some of the host segments.
Which isn’t to say that the new seasons were completely without merit, or that season 12 wasn’t an improvement over season 11. Hodgson is on record as saying that season 12 made an attempt to be less cram-jammed full of jokes, and while I personally don’t feel like they took that ideal far enough, it was definitely an improvement. And besides, having a rocky start is a Mystery Science Theater 3000 tradition; the original series stopped airing reruns of its first season after the writing staff decided that those episodes were dramatically inferior to their later material.
Rodrigues has never been shy about his life-long devotion to the series, which started on Minneapolis-area UHF station KTMA in 1988, where it ran for 21 episodes before being cancelled. The show was then picked up by Comedy Central (then The Comedy Channel) in 1989, where it found its footing and ran for seven seasons until 1996. After getting cancelled again, the show then moved to SyFy (then the Sci-Fi Channel) in 1997 for three more seasons, before its ultimate cancellation after its 10th season in 1999.
The world of movie riffing went dark until 2006, when MST3K‘s second host Michael J. Nelson launched an internet-based movie riffing project called Rifftrax. Rather than releasing a movie with added commentary, Nelson’s new model released just the commentary, which users would download and play alongside their own copies of the film in question. This allowed Nelson to riff on newly released films without having to secure the rights, since he wasn’t actually selling the movie itself. Nelson would quickly be joined by his previous MST3K co-hosts, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, who helped established Rifftrax as a sort of neo-MST3K for a new millennium.
Soon after, series creator Joel Hodgson launched Cinematic Titanic in 2007, a direct-to-DVD project more closely resembling MST3K in both form and function. Rather than riff on new films, Cinematic Titanic continued the original show’s tradition of showcasing bizarre and esoteric films from the 60s and 70s, complete with MST3K‘s trademark silhouettes. Hodgson was joined by Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, and J. Elvis Weinstein, all of whom were part of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s on-screen talent and writing staff. Cinematic Titanic released a total of 12 episodes before going on infinite hiatus in 2013.
Currently, Hodgson is headlining MST3K Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour, a live-show version of the Netflix revival, though mainly in spirit. Unlike 2017’s series of MST3K live shows, which featured almost the entire cast of the Netflix series, The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour cast is all-new, save for Hodgson.