As with so many aspects of life during COVID-19, it started with a Zoom call. Joel Hodgson and the team behind Mystery Science Theater 3000’s latest live tour were scheduled to discuss their next project over the videoconferencing service in the days before social-distancing measures and emergency lockdowns were instituted across the United States. By the time of the call, any in-person MST3K events would have to be postponed for the time being, but the cast was firing on all cylinders, as if they were still on the road and mixing it up with the worst movies ever made.
“I was feeling the heat off the screen,” creator Joel Hodgson recently told The A.V. Club. And just as a fictional ’70s outbreak had helped spark Hodgson’s idea for a TV show where the hosts crack wise over a movie, this very real 21st-century pandemic set the stage for the next iteration of MST3K, coming to Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms next Sunday, A.D.
The A.V. Club is the first to announce the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live Riff-Along, a special streaming event taking place May 3 at 6 p.m. ET. Coupled with a new short, Circus Day, the centerpiece is a screening of the vintage MST3K episode Moon Zero Two, which will find the show’s touring cast riffing between the jokes their first-season counterparts first made in 1990.
“We tend to ignore the first season, because we got so much better the next season—we had a bunch of shows under our belts, so we just improved so much,” Hodgson said. But, he added, “there’s so much in there”—including the 1969 “moon Western” that will play side-by-side with the chat window where Emily Marsh, Conor McGiffin, and Nate Begle will resume their roles as Emily Crenshaw, Tom Servo, and Crow T. Robot, respectively, along with Yvonne Freese in a dual performance as Mega-Synthia and GPC.
The Riff-Along will also be carried via the MST3K channels on Pluto TV, Stirr, Xumo, Redbox, and Vizio. Hodgson himself will be on-hand to field questions and comments submitted to YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook—the last of which will provide peeks behind the scenes during commercial breaks.
“We’ll be prepping—it’ll be our downtime,” Hodgson said. “People can watch us as we make it.”
And who better than the MST3K crew to act as role models for maintaining sanity and some semblance of normalcy during quarantine? Isolated from civilization with only advanced technology to keep them company, communications with the outside world restricted to the four (or six) sides of a viewscreen, whiling away the hours in front of filmed entertainments selected by malevolent overlords: These are the tragic lemons that a succession of test subjects have made into comedic lemonade for the past 30 years—and they did it all in clothes that were functional, yet comfortable, to boot.
“This was the simulation we were trying to pretend was real when we were on the road,” Marsh said of producing new MST3K while practicing social distancing. “I do feel like I’m on a spaceship apart from everyone.”