The MSt3K Live Social Distancing Riff-Along Special was this afternoon (though you can watch the repeat above), in which the traveling MST3K Live cast riffed literally alongside Joel and the Bots for the season 1 episode Moon Zero Two... albeit from the safety of their own homes in split-screen via Zoom.
It was MST3K inside your MST3K, and for the most part, I’d say it worked pretty well for something they just kind of threw together with everybody broadcasting from a different state (There were some sound issues as well as a bizarre “moonsplaining” skit in the middle that just kind of went nowhere.) The KTMA and Season 1 episodes weren’t anywhere near as “rapid fire” in their riffing as the later seasons, so there were longer gaps between the jokes in which to insert new riffs, and for those who wanted to see what the new SOL crew sounded like on their own, they followed up the movie with a brief 4-minute short called Circus Day which was gloriously disturbing, as any clown-narrated experience should be.
For many people, myself included, this was our first real look at Emily Marsh (AKA. Emily Crenshaw as she’s known in-show) as the 4th official host of MST3K. Her character was introduced during the 2019 “Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour” but up until now, we’ve only seen her during a brief appearance during one of last year’s Turkey Day bumpers. A lot of fans who saw her in the live shows seemed enthused by her addition to the cast, and now I can see why. Immediately, she seemed right at home wearing the grey jumpsuit. (Other than complaining that the jumpsuit itself was rather hot and uncomfortable during the breaks.) She’s quirky and fun, but without Felicia Day level scenery chewing. She’s got a bit of Mike or Bridgett Nelson’s unfazed midwestern stoicism (despite being from Vermont) and deadpan delivery, combined with Joel’s slightly more laid back cheerfulness and maternal relationship with the bots.
She’s also joined by Yvonne Freese (who played the Pearl Forrester clone “Synthia” during Season 12 and 13) who has taken over the role of mad scientist as “Mega-Synthia” who just happens to be a clone of both Pearl Forrester and Synthia... somehow. I can’t get as much of a bead on her character other than that she looked and sounded a lot like an angrier version of Pearl.
Yvonne also voices GPC... the new compact version of Gypsy (who apparently got a name change because Gypsy can be considered an ethnic slur rather than just a name you give your golden retriever) who’s now joined Crow, Tom, and Emily full-time in the theater.
The new Tom and Crow voices are pretty good too. One of my complaints about Season 12/13 was that Jonah, Baron, and Hampton all sounded very similar in the theater and their riffing tended to bleed together a bit so it was hard to tell who was talking. The new cast has a far more traditional (for MST3K) vocal spread, with Tom returning to a deeper baritone voice, a higher register Crow, and Emily and GPC in the middle. Once again, the SOL crew can harmonize.
Tom still doesn’t sound like Kevin Murphy, who most people associate with the role, but the new actor (Connor, I think?) has gone for something that sounds a bit more like Josh from Season 1 and the KTMA episodes. There were actually a few points that I had difficulty telling whether it was old Tom or new Tom riffing during the Moon Zero Two parts. The guy they had doing new Crow sounded pretty close to Hampton’s version from Season 12/13 with maybe a touch of KTMA era Trace thrown in.
As for the riffing, on the whole I’d say it was a significant improvement over the S12/13 seasons. Joel, Trace, and Josh were still doing most of the heavy lifting during the Moon Zero Two riff, but the new riffs slid in fairly effortlessly, and were by and large pretty funny. Their delivery also felt a lot more relaxed and natural sounding than Jonah and the gang, who even during the season 13 episodes of ‘The Gauntlet’ still felt unnaturally rushed and scripted, like a trio of actors reading lines in a sound booth to a time code rather than a bunch of buds just hanging out together and quipping along to a bad movie.
This felt like a welcome return to the chill “small cowtown puppet show” vibe of the Joel/Mike eras. No big stars or stunt casting. Just goofy homegrown comedy, like grandma used to bake. Even my wife (who stopper watching after Reptilicus and says she wants to punch everybody associated with the new MST3K in the face) came in and watched the last half of the experiment with me, and said she’d be willing to watch more, as long as they had this cast for Season 14.
Sadly, it sounds like Netflix are passing for the moment, but during the post-show Facebook Q&A, someone asked if they would be releasing DVDs of the Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour, to which Joel gave a somewhat cryptic response which makes it sound like they were maybe holding off on DVDs in favor of... something else. (Presumably still trying to find a home for the show on another platform other than Netflix?) He also didn’t completely discount the idea of doing more of these live riff-alongs, so who knows... if this quarantine stretched on into 2021 like many people fear, we might end up getting a few more of these, and I certainly wouldn’t say no.