The New Mystery Science Theater 3000 Gizmoplex Gets The Show Back To Its Homemade Roots

The longevity of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" has been fascinating to behold. Beginning on Minnesota public access television in 1988, Joel Hodgson's watch-bad-movies-with-sarcastic-buddies cult TV series has deeply entrenched itself into the collected Jungian lore of every Gen-Xer worth their weight in flannel. For much of its life, "MST3K" lived either on KTMA in Minneapolis or, when it became more successful, running at midnight on Comedy Central. 

Throughout, the show famously included the phrase "Keep circulating the tapes" in its credits. That was an acknowledgement from the show's producers that world-of-mouth and shared VHS recordings of "MST3K" were responsible for its modest cultural foothold. Fans would call friends, mail them cassettes (this was long, long before internet video), and implore that the cult grow. In 2008, when "MST3K" was finally made widely available through DVD box sets (put out first by Rhino, then by the Shout! Factory), Dr. Forrester/Crow T. Robot actor Trace Beaulieu said in an AV Club interview to "Keep circulating some of the tapes." Buy any available episodes on DVD, please. 

After "MST3K" proper wrapped in 1999, the various cast members all took a brief hiatus before each returning with "MST3K"-like projects. Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy made four riff-centric videos as The Film Crew in 2006 before striking gold with RiffTrax, a service that allowed viewers to download comedy commentary tracks for pop movies, as well as purchase videos of the usual B-movie shlock. Hodgson teamed with Beaulieu, Frank Coniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and Josh Elvis Weinstein to create "Cinematic Titanic" in 2007, a very similar riff-based show. Both "Titanic" and RiffTrax toured with love shows. 

In 2017, "MST3K" was revived on Netflix, completing a strange mainstreaming of something that once gained power from being on the fringe.

The mainstreaming of MST3K

Fans' interest in "Mystery Science Theater 3000" never waned in the years since it went off the air, and reruns/DVD of the show were enthusiastically hoarded by collectors. Indeed, enough time had passed since the show's heyday that a new generation of comedians began citing it as a major influence. As such, Hodgson began thinking about reviving the show in 2015 and subsequently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring "MST3K" to Netflix. Jonah Ray was to take over hosting duties, Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn would play his plucky robot sidekicks, and Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt would play the evil children of the original show's evil mad scientists. The setting of the show was moved from a satellite orbiting Earth — where the host was trapped and forded to watch bad movies — to a secret moon base. 

The new "MST3K" was slick and well-moneyed. It still retained some of the "homemade" aesthetic of the show's early days, but featured its own band, and, if this is possible, higher-profile bad movies. The Netflix revival, which launched in 2017, was sold as the show's official 11th season. It was followed by a six-episode "marathon" 12th season wherein all six movies could be watched in a single stretch. 

The revival was impressive and well-viewed, and the writing was as strong as ever, but something felt a little off. "Mystery Science Theater 3000," after all, began its life as something surreptitious, something borderline contraband. It was a fringe phenomenon. The new show, in being so slick, didn't possess the scrappy, can-do spirit that the show was originally predicated on. Additionally, the riffs seemed to come faster and faster in this new version, seemingly frantic to be accepted. The show appeared mildly overwhelmed with itself.

The Gizmoplex opens

At this juncture, one may finally make mention of the Gizmoplex. 

Netflix seemed content to let their version of "MST3K" lapse after two years, and it appeared that the show was finally at an end ... again. Mainstream studio backing was not part of the "MTS3K" future. 

Hodgson, however, perhaps pleased to have been working on his creation again — he wasn't part of the show from 1995 until the revival — seemingly wanted to keep the ball rolling. He understood that "MST3K" wasn't a very hi-fi concept, and that big budgets and spectacle was never its central appeal. As such, Hodgson launched another Kickstarter campaign, this time far more modest, to bring back "MST3K" on its own streaming service that was to be called the Gizmoplex.

The Gizmoplex was to bring back Ray, Yount, Vaughn, Day, and Ostwalt, but would transpose the action to the eponymous theater on the moon. Pehl would also occasionally appear as Pearl Forrester, as would two evil clones named Synthia and Mega-Synthia (both played by Rebecca Hanson). The robot once named Gypsy, understanding problems associated with the word, was renamed GPC. The mad scientist segments were to be filmed against a green screen, and the host segments were to be on a similar one-wall set as was seen on the original show back in 1988. Additionally, Emily Marsh, who had been touring with live "MST3K"-branded stage shows, was brought on as a secondary host. Ray, Marsh, and even Hodgson himself were to take turns riffing on movies. 

To access the Gizmoplex, fans can download an app and buy a "season pass," allowing them watch all the show's new episodes as they come out, along with access to most of the shows from the first 10 seasons besides. 

The spirit of the thing

The Gizmoplex is, when compared to other major streaming services, incredibly modest. A dedicated channel to "MST3K" might seem churlish in the face of a Netflix or a Prime Video that is constantly stuffing their coffers with well-financed hit TV shows with dragons in them. But, in terms of its spirit, how is a dedicated streaming service all that different from broadcasting on a public TV station in 1988? In both cases, a team of dedicated comedians and sarcastic movie riffers have gathered to make their own low-budget, high-concept, puppet-based entertainment on their own terms, and released it into an entertainment marketplace occupied by nothing but Big Fish. "MST3K" was never a billionaire's fan project. It was people doing it for fun. 

The Gizmoplex has allowed "MST3K" to regain its old-fashioned can-do spirit. In working with lower budgets, the show — in a very Great Pumpkin sort of way — feels more sincere. Also, in switching hosts on the regular, the production schedule feels less rushed, less forced. Everyone appears to be more relaxed and laidback on the Gizmoplex, likely because the pressure is off and they can play more freely. Also, as the hosts change, so does the energy. Jonah Ray has a put-upon little brother vibe to his episodes, while Marsh feels like a secret weapon, unexpectedly inserting riffs that make one's head explode. Hodgson hasn't missed a stride in moving back into his realm, and Day and Oswalt seem to be there as a hobby. 

Meanwhile, the audience is there enjoying things the most of all. 

Perhaps a little off to the side, the new service modestly awaits discovery ... kind of like the early days. There may be no more tapes to circulate, but now we can spread the word