Years: 1988 – Present
Synopsis: A human test subject is kidnapped and forced to watch terrible movies by an evil mad scientist, but luckily has some robot friends to help him keep his sanity.
• Subversive yet well-meaning at heart.
• The writing continues to be strong and inventive overall.
• Fused sketch comedy, puppetry, anthology, and movie heckling with surprising ease, especially after the first few seasons.
• The sketches always provided almost cathartic breaks while watching some of the worst films ever made, as the Stooge-like trios guided us through the madness, often while screaming.
• Created its own mythology, which now has a surprising degree of depth.
• The self-awareness always made up for any arguable weaknesses.
• Like with all long-running franchises, different eras might be favored over others by some fans.
• Not all sketches are at the same level of hilarity, as the the various films shown can have positive or negative effects on the overall episode.
• Perhaps with some irony, mocking films might not be for everyone.
Even in its early days on local access in Minnesota, KTMA, there was something unique and different about this show. All the elements existed in their horrid primordial ooze — movie of the week, peanut galleries, tongue-in-cheek commentary, topical sketches, but it took the surreal mind of Joel Hodgson (aka Joel Robinson) to pull it all together. Sure, it took a couple years to work out the kinks, but that did not make the series any less groundbreaking in its own right. RiffTrax is the worthy descendent of the series, featuring the trio from the Sci-Fi Channel sub-era, while the series still holds its own today.
Revolutionary Era: Joel Robinson (1988-1993)
Even into the early seasons on Comedy Central (then The Comedy Channel), there was a district sense of tentativeness. The riffs came far less frequently, and at time far more dryly than later. It was already fun, though, watching the horrid films with our suffering hosts …
After a couple seasons, everything just began to come together. The films were as painful as ever, but the Deep Hurting was becoming so refined that it did not matter. Plus, the mad science got zanier! Sure, Burt I Gordon would slow things down to almost a halt, but our intrepid test subject masterfully guided us through the many layers of cinematic Hell …
Descendent: Cinematic Titanic
Riff Mastery Era: Mike Nelson (1993-1999)
Comedy Central (1993-1996)
Sci-Fi Channel (1997-1999)
Mike was already the Head Writer of the show for three years before Joel decided to leave (a mutual decision between he and co-producer Mallon, it would seem). So, there was not much in the way of power transfer. As Joel was the janitor and creator, Mike was the aimless everyman. One could identify with Mike more than his predecessor. We laughed at his lame escape attempts as hard as when he became Capt Janeway to save them all successfully with technobabble! The mad science would evolve, too, especially when Pearl Forester and co took over from Dr. Clayton Forester and co. Regardless, if Mike could survive the worst bad movies with a smile, so could we …
Reinvention Era: Jonah Heston (2017-present)
Live Shows (2017-present)
Though never stated directly, there seemed to be some bad blood amongst some of the alums of the series after it ended its brief run on Sci-Fi (now SyFy). Mike Nelson, who was already running RiffTrax since 2006, did say that he had little personal or monetary connection anymore to the show in 2015, at the time Joel Hodgson began his successful Kickstarter campaign to bring the show back. Yet, it was Joel buying back the MST3K rights from Mallon (Best Brains) that seemed to begin a not terribly slow healing process that came to a completion when all the Mads and hosts came together for a reunion not long after. RiffTrax not only aided some support to the campaign prior, but now sells all episodes on their site, with the specific purpose of giving back to all involved.
This era was perhaps the biggest change the show ever experienced, even with Joel pulling the strings in the shadows. New hosts, new sets, new writers. It was all familiar yet different. They were faster, perhaps too fast at first. They were perhaps too giddy at getting away with giving films the MST3K treatment. It was perhaps, what it needed to be in order to prove the show could exist in the twenty-first century. The live shows of this era have been known to be brilliant, as it is unlikely we have seen the last of the show. Netflix might have not been the best choice for distributor, in how they released entire seasons at once. [Cough … looking at you RiffTrax for plausible first run distributor … cough] But significantly, I can now die happy that they finally did Lords of the Deep …
More importantly than ever, we must remember it was always just a show, and should still just relax and enjoy …
Rotten Tomatoes (Seasons 1-10)
S1 — 73%
S2 — 80%
S3 — 83%
S4 — 60%
S5 — 100%
S6 — 100%
S7 — 100%
S8 — 80%
S9 — 80%
S10 — 100%
Rotten Tomatoes (Seasons 11-12)
The Return — 100%
The Gauntlet — 100%