Review: Rifftrax/MST3K Reunion

This week I attended the Rifftrax Mystery Science Theater 3000 Reunion show at the State Theater in Minneapolis. I saw Cinematic Titanic at the same theater in 2008, and had long hoped to catch Rifftrax in person.

This was a special treat, since in addition to Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, the show also included Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, Bridget Nelson and incoming host Jonah Ray.

That’s pretty much everyone who has been on the show (J Elvis Weinstein, Jim Mallon and Paul Chaplin weren’t there). I couldn’t miss it, and luckily it was in the Midwest.

The show was a night of shorts, the kind of educational films of yore that were often played before the main experiment on MST3K. It was a mix of new material (“The Talking Car”) and returning Rifftrax favorites like “Shake Hands with Danger” and “At Your Fingertips: Grasses.”

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Mike, Kevin and Bill kicked things off, then brought out Mary Jo and Bridget for “A Word to the Wives,” a 1950s look at the wonders of the modern kitchen, starring the dad from “A Christmas Story.” An incredibly timed riff about the oven being “The Sylvia Plath model” got a huge reaction from the crowd.Next up were Trace and Frank (who will be in Iowa next month for O Con) riffing “A Date for Kay.” The duo have been touring, riffing movies under the name “The Mads Are Back,” and I keep hoping someone will book their show in Iowa. Hint hint, Sam Summers.

I’d say their humor is a little darker, but it fit with both the short, and the fact that Trace and Frank were the bad guys on the show. Still, you can hear a lot of Crow T. Robot in Trace’s voice, which gave me a giddy thrill.

Joel and Jonah came out to riff “Barbers & Beauticians,” and if you had any doubts about Jonah on the MST3K revival, this should put them to rest. He was on point with his delivery here (and in the later riffapalooza). Now I’m just more excited for what’s to come.

The evening was closed out with all 9 riffers coming out to do “Stamp Day for Superman.” The film starred George Reeves and highlighted the importance of buying savings bonds and also… typing, I think? It was good, but couldn’t measure up to the closer, “At Your Fingertips: Grasses.” Many of the jokes were recycled from previous riffs of the film, but all of them work and hearing the jokes with new deliveries by the various riffers really made the short sing.

After all that praise, how about some negatives? The sound wasn’t great at the State Theater. Some of the jokes seemed to get drowned out by the crowd and the films. I’ve seen concerts and riffing at the State before, so I’m not sure what the problem was with this show. Our seats were in the balcony, which may be a contributing factor, but I’ve never had that problem with music there.

I wouldn’t call this a negative, but if I ran the show I might have changed the format a bit. At other live shows Mike, Kevin and Bill have had guest riffers join them throughout the show. I would have like to have seen the trio be joined by, say, Frank and Trace for a short, then have the next short be Frank and Trace by themselves. Then use the same Rifftrax trio + guests/guests alone grouping with Mary Jo & Bridget and Jonah and Joel.

It also would have been great to get the three MST3K hosts, Joel, Mike and Jonah, together for a shot. Mike and Joel never riffed together on the show, and while we did get that in the two closing shorts, it was part of a large ensemble. I would have loved to see the show’s hosts get a spotlight moment together.

Also, there were only 3X and 4X shirts left after the show. I love Rifftrax, but I’m not going to jeopardize my health by gaining a bunch of weight just to fit into a shirt. And this is coming from a guy who is putting himself through a drinking challenge. Did Rifftrax overestimate the weight of their fans? We’ve lost a lot of weight, Rifftrax, it would be nice if you noticed.

But those are minor gripes. I’m tempted to atrend the rebroadcast on July 12 to catch any jokes I missed due to the audio at the State. I’ll definitely be buying the DVD when it comes out later this year.

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