An article in Salon magazine reports that Glenn Beck has started a training camp to indoctrinate incoming college students in fringe views of history. Working with pseudo-historian David Barton, Beck plans to hold a two-week, $375 per student camp to teach students a fundamentalist Christian version of American history so “they can then set their ignorant professors straight on the ‘real’ history of America.” Beck, as you will recall, is a Mormon who has used his media outlets to promote hyper-diffusionism and fringe history views about Mound Builders and other “mysteries” of ancient America in a bid to support the fantasies of the Book of Mormon. Barton believes that the Founders were fundamentalist Christians who ensconced creationism in America’s founding documents because they somehow intuited the theory of evolution and rejected it as ungodly before it had even been proposed. Both men prefer a version of history that places white men at the center of events. Beck’s camp seems to hit all the fringe history sweet spots: fundamentalism, anti-elitism, white nationalism, etc.
But enough of that misery. Today I’d like to talk a bit about the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which debuted yesterday on Netflix. I have to admit to being of two minds about the resurrected series. The original was a favorite of mine as a kid, and the new version both recalls the original and doesn’t quite live up to my memory of what it used to be. Insofar as that’s the case, it’s more due to the vagaries of nostalgia and rose-colored glasses with which I view media from my younger years than anything specific about the new series.
For the resurrected MST3K, a new cast has taken over, with different voice actors for robots Crow and Tom Servo (Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn), and a new host, Johan Ray, playing space delivery man Jonah Heston. I haven’t really warmed to Ray/Heston yet, and in the couple of episodes I’ve watched, he seems to be a competent if unmemorable presence. As the series goes on, perhaps the character develops some personality traits, but in the early going, he is a character without qualities.
New villains Kinga Forrester and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank, played by Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt, are instantly more compelling than our heroes, and their comedic experience as regular TV presences helps give more life to their characters in their brief appearances. Even so, I can’t help but feel more excitement at the special guest appearances of late original-series villain team Pearl Forrester, Bobo, and Brain Guy in episode 2 than in the somewhat derivative shtick of the new team, which at times comes too close to what Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank did in early seasons of the first MST3K run. I have high hopes, though, that over time they will develop personalities of their own rather than emulating the villains of yore.
But all of this is really window dressing for the question of whether the jokes are any good. So far, they’ve been pretty good. During the first episode, the deathly dull Danish disaster Reptilicus, I thought they leaned a bit toward the juvenile, but by the end of the second episode, the bizarre Bigfoot film Cry Wilderness, I was convinced that the writers had captured the pop culture magic of MST3K’s riffing. That said, the new team reportedly said that they wanted more jokes per minute because the internet has trained audiences to take in more information. Personally, I found the nearly non-stop taking to be less effective than allowing the movie a little room to breathe. At times, it was a little hard to follow the movie for all the talking, and jokes pass by too fast for the best ones to have the time to really land. Sometimes judicious silence can make the joke stronger.
However, these are mostly minor quibbles, and perhaps my reaction is mostly due to the fact that the old MST3K team never really went away, so there is a natural temptation to compare. MST3K vets Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett currently produce MST3K-style riffs for RiffTrax, and it is completely bizarre to think that I have spent more than twenty years (!) listening to those three guys make jokes about crappy B-movies. When you listen to the same guys making fun of movies for decades, you sort of get used to their rhythms and their style. Two episodes can’t really compete against twenty years of memories, especially since there have been some RiffTrax episodes that would stand up against anything MST3K ever produced.
So, in short, the new show is good, but at this stage it still feels to me a bit like seeing a tribute band, at least until they find a way to make their own music.
4/15/2017 10:09:09 am
They need to do a series based on ridiculing Glenn Beck's or Alex Jones rants about all sorts of ridiculous conspiracies. "Dumb Conspiracy Theory 3000"
4/15/2017 10:32:34 am
Talk about rose-colored glasses. I saw Reptilicus as a kid and enjoyed it. Then again, I was at the phase where any monster movie remotely like Godzilla was cool.
4/15/2017 11:35:49 am
I also saw Reptilicus as a wee lad. I think this is the first time MST has done a movie I've already seen. If I give the new series a watch, I wonder how that will affect my feelings of it.
4/18/2017 06:21:59 pm
You have to see the original Danish version of Reptilicus to really appreciate it - the US release is crap next to it. I was able to get a bootleg disc years ago, it doesn't seen to ever have been commercially released as recorded - even in Denmark only the US version has been available for some time.
4/15/2017 11:49:39 am
Given that last year Beck fired his "correspondents," shuttered his many nationwide "offices," slashed the budget of his unwatched cable channel to a wafer-thin ribbon, and teeters on the edge of bankruptcy I'd be surprised if he can afford to build a one seater outhouse for his "camp."
4/15/2017 03:20:51 pm
Beck road the anti big govt tea party phase with all it was worth! Thesevfolks who ate on both sides of the political spectrum always flame out as the political landscape changed or pop culture moves on. They usually go out in a major hoax as the write themselves in a corner with escalating hysterics. That said teaching bs ancient america crap is different than economics depts teaching keynsian theory how?
4/15/2017 04:04:21 pm
If I lost my mind and payed Glenn Beck three hundred and seventy-five dollars for a two week camp there had better be a lot of free and easy sex and drugs to be had.
4/16/2017 08:22:17 am
Sex and drugs.... You are praying to the wrong beck. You have to turn to a different guru. Meet Claude Vorilhon aka raël and leader of the raelians. Not American but definitely fringe and sexy.
4/15/2017 05:59:00 pm
MST3K should do a riff trak of Glenn Beck'ss freaking awful cable program, but that might encourage him. Anyone gullible enough to still be listening to mister weepy guy with chalkboard drawings (like when he was on Fox, and on his show) deserves to lose 375 on his camps. He is not qualified to teach a course in making Mormon tablet trinkets for the summer camp bible school.
Ah yes, dear old MST3000. I always preferred Joel Hodgson to Mike Nelson. Nobody seems to remember Cambot or Gypsy, and that Gypsy's favorite actor was Richard Basehart.
4/18/2017 04:57:17 am
You'll be glad to know one of the things the new writers decided was to give Gypsy way more of an identity and personality than just "somewhat spacy with a RB fixation, who sometimes comes across as smarter, sometimes as a total airhead". They felt she wasn't getting a fair deal, both as a character and as the only "female" amongst the SoL cast.
4/18/2017 06:23:51 pm
Somewhere buried around here I should have tapes of the original local version - gad but those were rough to watch!
4/19/2017 12:22:52 am
You can find pretty much all of them online now - either through torrents (the modern version of sharing the tapes), and even on Youtube - they've got an official channel with the old ones, which includes annotations.
4/16/2017 12:53:51 am
Jadon, why all the angst against anyone with conservative views? While I don't always agree with Glen Beck, I don't loose my chiz when he says stuff I don't like. As for David Barton, he is spot on when it comes to early American history. Hate to tell you, but it was a bunch of white guys who founded America. Maybe you can detail Mr Barton's alt-republican mistakes in his version of American history?
"pseudo-historian David Barton''...That's a very easy 'drive by' opinion without any backup whatsoever except maybe your personal bias towards David, Jason...IDK yet...I've read a couple of Barton's Book's and they are very informative and footnoted quite well.
terry the censor
4/21/2017 03:55:54 am
I also found the new MST3K too rapid-fire (Rey did the same thing at the MST3K-Rifftrax reunion last summer). The Mads were underwritten and overwrought in episode one; I trust the actors will work it out, as they've both done good work on their own.
4/24/2017 11:18:00 am
Hard to do any series and make every episode solid gold. Harder still when your entire premise is so dependent on an outside event you have zero control over--the movie itself. The later seasons got rough as a large result of them running out of films that would hold up. Plenty of lousy movies but only a tiny fraction are bad in the campy sort of way where you can ridicule them for the entire watching.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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