MST3K live! The Cheesy Movie Circus Tour brought down the house Monday night at the Tobin Center, reminding everyone that even in times of conflict there is still much to laugh about in the world.
This is especially true of old, cheesy films, the idea that launched a thousand episodes of the cult TV series. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Where MST3K.
This tour will be the last to feature original creator and actor Joel Hodgson. True to its status, the show opened with the sleepy-eyed host leading the crowd through a chant from the show’s theme song and a brief monologue, featuring a silly San Antonio joke (“Is it named for Saint Anthony, the patron saint of Inexpensive Italian Cuisine? ”) and a few bars, on request, from“ Freebird ”.
Much like the show, the live presentation revolved around the mockery of an old movie. In this case, it was No retreat or surrender, a 1986 martial arts film that stars a young Jean-Claude Van Damme in a much smaller role (“The Russian”) than the movie poster suggests. The film is a thinly veiled film Karate kid scam that features a streak with the ghost of Bruce Lee and elements of Michael Jackson that have aged as well as Captain Eo. Nuff said.
But the live show, of course, revolved around Hodgson and his friends ruthlessly raking the film over the coals, which they did. Hodgson and Co. were visible in a dimly lit box on the left of the stage, throwing beards at the screen and – judging by their lively appearance – enjoying themselves as much as the crowd.
The TV show, which celebrated the 30th anniversary of its premiere last November, originally featured Hodgson as a human leader and also featured his robot co-stars Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. The two sidekicks were on stage Monday night, although the roles were played by Nate Begle and Conor McGiffin for the live show. They perform together via bunraku style puppets, which means they are dressed in black but visible on stage behind the characters. The approach suited MST3K, adding to the ambience “you can see the strings of the puppet” without harming the talents of the performers.
The characters took part in skits that periodically interrupted the film with silly asides such as Crow’s discussion of workplace safety. Segments were also a feature of the TV show, although at the time they were used to shorten the length of movies.
It was hard not to be drawn into the feeling of nostalgia evoked by Monday night’s performance. As Hodgson noted in an interview with the Running, one of the reasons the show has aged so well is that it has avoided politics. Indeed, it was hard to recall a comedic performance from the past few years that didn’t allude to One Who Should Not Be Named at least casually – good, bad, or whatever.
But the live presentation also provided an opportunity to reflect on the ironically futuristic way Mystery Science Theater 3000 ended up being. At the time of its premiere, there was no one else doing a show about people watching something else. Now this format is a huge part of YouTube. These crazy kids love their unboxing videos and video games. While the creative value of these formats is questionable, there is no doubt about their cultural impact and popularity.
With a Netflix revival and Hodgson’s promise of more MST3K action soon, things are looking promising for the Satellite of Love. Fortunately, there is an endless supply of bad movies. And if the current state of the cineplex is any indication, there should be a lot of MST3K far beyond our lives.
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