I sometimes forget to review things and it doesn’t turn up until I go to link to those things later on. In this case, I was looking for this “Summer Shorts Beach Party” when doing the write-up for “The Five Doctors”, and realized I hadn’t done a write-up. This is typically just forgetfulness, although rarely because I want to mull things over. (This year, I’ve been so far behind with my reviews, the challenge is remembering the actual films and our reactions to them.)
I don’t think there was more to this than forgetfulness, but I’ll be honest: I’m increasingly uncomfortable going to see Frank Conniff in a show because he’s so political. And by “political” I mean, virulently partisan. I cannot follow him on Twitter, and I was very worried about last year’s Rifftrax Presents: The Mystery Science Theater 300 Reunion because I worried his stuff would be mostly references to politics. (It wasn’t much, as a I recall. Just a little.)
It’s a shame because I think he’s a sweetheart of a fella outside of politics. (Remember kids, politics makes a man mean and stupid.) His MST3K colleagues seem to universally love him, and he seems to have a generous soul.
His political invective is so awful, however, I would not go see him and Trace do “The Mads Are Back”—their own light-weight Rifftrax/MST3K show—for fear of having to listen to him rant. This is maybe unfair. He and Trace do a movie podcast which doesn’t seem to have much politics in it, for example, but that’s free and I could turn it off. Paying $20 for a ticket to sit down to someone who might decide he’s got a two hour platform for gems like “A crazed sociopath just seized a podium at the U.N. and threatened to assasinate[sic] the world” is more than I’m willing to risk.
And, while the political invective was mild here, it also wasn’t very funny. This, as I say, is a tragedy because Trace (and Frank!) can be very funny.
This stuff, for me, is about escapism in its purist sense. I got to be very good, during the W years, about avoiding movies that set off my “Oh, man, there’s a 20 minute rant about Bush in this movie, isn’t there?” alarm. Even then, I saw way too much of it. The occasions where classic MST3K got political tended to be rare and very broad, and the new season carries that on, as does Rifftrax, generally.
A classic case can be seen in one of the funniest riffs ever, Rifftrax’s “Birdemic”. Insofar as I can follow the plot Birdemic is about global warming causing rampant spruce bark beetle proliferation which in turn, naturally, leads to killer, exploding birds attacking humans. It’s common sense really. But more importantly, the riff pretty much works because it’s not commenting on global warming one way or the other, only on the producer’s sincerely inept attempt to make an enviro-horror movie.
This is a lot of upfront to give one segment of a 6 or 7-segment show which featured seven pretty mild political jokes. I reviewed it just now, to see how bad it really was, and counted: A Huckabee joke, three pay for women and one glass ceiling joke, mansplaining, O’Reilly and one I forget. They’re all pretty forgettable and on reflection, I think I’m disappointed just because these guys are so talented, and these are pretty lazy jokes.
Of course, you gotta do, as an artist, whatcha gotta do. I’ve seen Frank’s (and other MSTers) retort to those who object to the politicization, and they’re not kind, so I wouldn’t expect my measly little opinion to have an influence on anyone. But I stopped watching TV in the W decade, and while I’m unlikely to give up movies, I can give a wide berth to anything even remotely smelling of politics. I’m pretty good at sussing out which ones are political from the critic reviews, too. I will opt-out, and I will do so aggressively. And seeing the general ratings of channels and shows that have done that, I’m not the only one. (And this week, the football thing. Oy. Mainstream entertainment is committing culture right alongside the mainstream media: At a time when they are at their weakest.)
Trace did most of the lines in the “Reunion” show (which doesn’t mean he wrote them all) but they were among the best in the show. This time the delivery is more 50-50 and just not as good. Paul F. Tompkins, one of my favorites going back over a decade, fills in for the Jonah/Joel MST3K team (they were understandably not represented this year), is good, wears a jaunty hat, and is hard to pick out from the regular boys sometimes. Bridget and Mary Jo, on the other hand, were better than last year. They’re both more polished and they have funnier quips. The group finale wasn’t as good either, though it was seriously buoyed by the surrealism of the short being riffed. (A weird ’70s acid trip called “The Baggs”.)
Mike, Bill and Kevin were great. It felt a lot more like they were carrying the show this time, though.
I don’t know: It might simply have been a nostalgia/optimism factor, or it may just have been luck-of-the-draw, but overall, we didn’t find this one as hilarious as last year’s. Keep in mind, though: It was still pretty damned funny. The shorts are priceless. Some of the riffs are breath-taking (as in, you can’t breathe afterwards). And even if the Trace/Frank segment had a lot of misses, it had a lot of hits, too.
We’ll see how I feel about going next year if they do one. I have this live show on video, so I may watch it again to see what I think.