Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back, and the first thing on its hit list is Stranger Things. Netflix has released a short MST3K crossover teaser that features the cast of the revival version of the show taking a break from their movie-centric entertainment to riff on the opening of Netflix’s breakout science-fiction thriller. Although the actual show is focused on questionable movies rather than viral-hit TV, the clip is still a brilliant bit of marketing.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is old. When the show premiered in 1988, it was rooted in a kooky plotline involving mad scientists forcing a janitor named Joel Robinson (played by creator Joel Hodgson) to watch lousy movies with his helpful, smart-assed robot friends. Joel and his pals would sit in the corner of the theater and toss jokes back and forth about whatever was happening on the screen.
It was a funny, clever show more often than not. Still, it was canceled not once, but twice — once from its Comedy Central home, and then again from its subsequent home on the SCI FI Channel. In 1999, MST3K went off the air seemingly for good — until Hodgson launched a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015, and Netflix picked up the show. But reviving MST3K isn’t as simple as translating its humor into modern-day media. Fans are great. The fans will come back to see whether this new version matches their memories of the old one. But Netflix also needs new viewers to accept this specific brand of back-seat comedy, even after nearly nearly 30 years of imitators and spin-offs muddying up the well of bad-movie reaction comedy.
Stranger Things is one of Netflix’s strongest original series. The show was met with universal acclaim upon release; Netflix credits its 2016 “over-performance” to Stranger Things’ unexpected success. Handing the MST3K gang a Stranger Things clip to pick over is a strategic move — a way to draw out the rabid fanbase of the beloved supernatural show, while also drumming up attention for the new show’s debut.
The good news? MST3K doesn’t disappoint. Even in this quick clip, the audio is crammed full of funny gags about how proud the “Duffer mothers” must be of their writer-director boys, and other, less verbal audio reactions to sudden on-screen action. As writer Noel Murray explains in his primer on MST3K’s importance, the show has always encouraged viewers to watch the little details onscreen closely — in this case, everything from the font onscreen to the brand of lighter in Jim Hopper’s hand. Studying this teaser is a perfect way to enjoy some subtle Stranger Things content while waiting for season 2 to come out — and to get a taste for how the new MST3K series resembles the older models.