A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that on Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return characters talk over terrible old movies, and the amount of potentially offensive or inappropriate material largely depends on which movie they're watching. Some have violence (guns, battles, bloody fights with monsters) or sexual content (jokes, kissing, references to sex). On every show, jokes may veer toward the vulgar/adult, with jokes about drugs ("I like to get high and eat," says Crow about a dorky movie character), bodily functions, sex (when someone in a movie says "reptile," Tom chimes in with "dysfunction"). They're also so quick that young viewers won't catch most of the humor, and the show frequently depends on viewers understanding vintage references: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, old TV ads, or plot points from original Star Trek episodes. Even if kids/teens don't understand all the jokes, they're rapid-fire enough that if you don't get one, there'll be another in a few seconds -- and kids of any age can appreciate the humor of a man who spends all his time with a pair of wisecracking robots.
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What's the story?
Just as in the original, the setup of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE RETURN is found right in the opening theme song: Jonah (Jonah Ray) is just another mug in a jumpsuit at the Gizmonic Institute who answers a distress call and winds up trapped in his spaceship on the dark side of the moon by the granddaughter of original MST3K baddie Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day). Forced to watch ridiculous movies by Forrester and her sidekick, Max, aka Son of TV's Frank (Patton Oswalt), who monitor Jonah's brain while the movies play, Jonah's barely hanging on to his sanity with help from his robot friends: Tom Servo (Baron Vaughn) and Crow T. Robot (Hampton Yount), who enliven the terrible films by mocking them roundly and help Jonah demonstrate the inventions he comes up with on every episode.
Is it any good?
Here's the answer to the one question every single fan of the original wants to ask: Yes, it's still funny, even with different hands operating the robot arms. The jokes are just as rapid-fire and absurd, the references just as wide-ranging: In the first five minutes of the first episode, the bots and Jonah name-check the theme song to The Munsters, The Wicker Man, Stretch Armstrong, Star Trek, vintage ads for Smucker's and DiGiorno pizza, Prince, and North by Northwest. What's different? Not much. The actors, of course, have been switched out, although the show takes pains to point out how they're connected to their predecessors -- Max is the son of TV's Frank (played in the original by Frank Conniff); Kinga, who calls herself a "third-generation supervillain," bears the Forrester family name; Jonah, like Joel (Joel Hodgson) and Mike (Mike Nelson) before him, was a low-level worker before winding up on the Satellite of Love. Other differences: Jonah and company are now marooned on the Moon 13 Research Station instead of deep space, and Tom Servo's hands now appear functional instead of being mounted on Slinkies.
Otherwise? Same vibe, same style, similar sets, each episode ends with a "button" (a clip from the episode's movie), and the movies haven't gotten any better or better known (the first movie skewered is Danish monster movie Reptilicus, which of course gives Jonah and the bots a chance to sing a surprisingly catchy song about how each sovereign nation boasts its own giant monster). Best of all, the gags are just as sharp and unexpected, whether they're stupid-funny, surprisingly erudite, or oddly philosophical. This show hasn't lost its edge; Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return is just as much as a hysterical, lightning-quick, geek-freak cult artifact as it ever was. Thank heavens.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Mystery Science Theater 3000 takes on obscure bad movies. What makes these movies "bad"? How are they different from the kinds of movies you go to see in the theater? Is the dialogue different? Plots? Costumes, lighting, scenery?
Do you need to understand this show's references to find it funny? What type of person would understand all the references? How old, and how educated, would this person be? Do you ever want to look online to find more information on anything the cast here jokes about? Would it surprise you to know there are extensive reference guides for each episode of the original series?
Families can talk about pop culture and the way this show uses it for comedy. What is popular culture? Is it important to know about? Why, or why not?
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