Mystery Science Theater 3000 bring riffs and laughs to the Pabst Theater


Jonah Ray with his robot friends Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. Photo via: Brianna Griepentrog/PTG Live Events

The Pabst Theater welcomed the cast of critically acclaimed TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000” to Milwaukee this weekend. Dennis Tracy and Ian Schrank of the Marquette Wire give their thoughts on the show and the “Watch Out for Snakes!” tour.

Dennis Tracy: I really wished I could have been more into Mystery Science Theater growing up. I was in junior high when my friends were showing me clips of the Gumby short the MST3K crew did as well as a few PSA shorts before moving onto highlights from Rifftrax episodes. It’s an absolutely hysterical show, but there was a lot of other things I wanted to watch. In 2015, original series creator Joel Hodgson announced a Kickstarter project to bring MST3K back from the dead (Disclaimer, I contributed to the project) for a brand new season. Netflix picked up the show and returned back in April with 14 new episodes because of the nearly 50,000 backers the project received. I’ve seen about six episodes of the new season, and have enjoyed every minute of it thus far, what about you Ian? How much of the new show have you watched, and what are some of your memories with the show?

Ian Schrank: Admittedly, I have not checked out the Netflix reboot yet. I watched more of the original series when I was in high school, usually in the form of clips and episodes uploaded to YouTube. I think that is common of most MST3K fans our age because for a long time there were not many ways to access the series. Since the show mainly consists of the characters watching and making fun of old cheesy movies, the usage rights and ownership of the old movies made syndication and DVD release more complicated. The new series seems to have solved those issues with the entire first season available for streaming on Netflix. This new tour of live shows is the original creators’ way of passing the baton and introducing old fans to the new cast.

Listen to Marquette Professor Amanda Keeler discuss “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and the role it plays in her research.

DT: I wouldn’t say he’s passing the baton; Joel left the show before the end of its Comedy Central run, but it seems like he’s back full-time to write for the show now, especially when he said they were working on the next season and they hope to announce something soon. The new cast is GREAT. There’s so many things that have happened since the original run ended back in 1999, so it’s fun hearing these guys make references to so many things that have happened in pop culture since. “Do Millennials even know what M*A*S*H* is?” or even in the Netflix season there’s a moment where all the characters dress up as people from “Mad Men,” and Tom Servo is singing the theme song to the tune of his last name. Shout Factory acquired the rights to the original show back when the Kickstarter launched, and some of the episodes have appeared on their website for people to watch, so I’m hoping one day all 198 of the originals are in one place. Let’s talk about the movie they did, “Eegah,” which I guess was an original episode back in the Comedy Central days.

IS: “Eegah” is a 1962 horror film from the mind of director/producer/star Arch Hall Sr. (yeah, so it’s one of those movies). The story follows a young woman who discovers giant cavemen living in the California desert. The young woman and her father are kidnapped by the cavemen, while the woman’s boyfriend runs around the desert for two days trying to save them. The film itself is somehow uncomfortable and uneventful. It would have been forgotten today if it had not been featured on a 1993 episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” “Watch out for snakes,” a quote from the movie, became a running joke on the show and the name of the current live tour.

DT: Yeah, you got to love 10-minute dune buggy chases out in the middle of the desert. The riffs were fantastic. I hope the MST3K crew puts this live version out on a Blu-Ray release or something; it was wildly funny. I was crying at one point from laughing too hard. The audience interactions were fun to watch too: at one point Jonah and Tom Servo were competing to see who can shave the Caveman the fastest (a reference to the movie). It’s goofy stuff like this that makes me so happy this show has returned from the TV graveyard for a new generation of viewers to enjoy. What about you, what did you enjoy?

IS: One thing that stood out to me before the show even started was seeing the variety of fans that filled the Pabst lobby. There people our age and people our parents’ age, all sporting MST3K t-shirts and laughing together. This variety of generations was reflected in the references the cast made. During a helicopter flying montage, they began singing the theme from M*A*S*H. In another scene, the hairy caveman is hit by a car and Jonah Ray shouts, “No! I hit Father John Misty!” There were jokes for everyone in the audience. For me, being used to the old episode of the show, it felt a bit strange hearing them make fun of modern things like Pinterest, Tinder and fidget spinners. It was still a fun and hilarious experience, and now I can’t wait to start watching the new show.

DT: Yeah, thanks again for letting me tag along with you — I really should finish the recent batch of episodes that debuted back in April. MST3K is doing another show in Green Bay August 6. If you can make the trip, I say it’s definitely worth checking out. If you want more MST3K content,  you can catch episodes of the original series on Shout Factory or Netflix. For one night, the Pabst Theater got to have “Movie Sign,” and it was glorious.