Riff pacing

On another fansite, we’re having a discussion about seasons 11 & 12. They packed a lot more riffs in per episode (compared to the 90s seasons, Rifftrax, etc.).

Most of us have gotten used to faster-paced content in the 21st century. Some might even expect wall-to-wall riffing.

On the one hand, that density of jokes keeps things flowing throughout the episode. And if you don’t like the riff you just heard, maybe one of the next three will hit your funny bone.

On the other hand, it can be jarring to just have one riff after another back-to-back, each about a different thing. You’ve just processed Jonah’s riff and then Crow comes in immediately after and it feels like he should be responding to what Jonah just said but instead he’s making a completely different joke about the same thing but from a totally different perspective and then Tom jumps in and he’s got a solid riff about something else entirely… It can be a bit much.

Personally, it took me a while to get used to it, but I’ve enjoyed the faster pace. Others have complained, and I get why.

What’s your take?


For me this is one of the things that makes the show rewatchable. I mentioned elsewhere that I totally missed a Dead Alewives joke in Reptilicus on previous viewings. Add to that the riffs that require me to look up things to get the background knowledge that makes it funny the next time I see it.


I haven’t had any issue with the amount of riffs per episode. Especially considering how padded some of these films are. Either volume of Wizards for example.

If I have any beef, it’s wanting more Midwest jokes, like in days of yore. [shrug] But nothing stays the same forever, right? (And I think we did get “PACKERSSS!” at least once, so that’s something.)


Reptilicus is where I noticed it the most - not my first choice to fall asleep too for example - I feel the later episodes and especially season 12 get a much better flow. They’re still dense but don’t feel like they need to be a proof of concept to new Netflix viewers


This is why I would love to be able to watch the live show No Retreat No Surrender again in some format. I loved the back to back riffing, but I missed a bunch as well. Our row in the venue had a couple who came in late and was trying to be seated but someone was in their seat and we were caught in the middle still trying to watch the show. I was trying to be a kind and compassionate human being, but the way the usher was handling it was interrupting and invasive and I was internally screaming “I’M MISSING RIFFS OVA HERE!!!”


Oh, okay. I think the dawn is breaking for me here. (Not in a Twilight way, either.) A lot of fans like to nod off to the show. But I don’t. (In fact, I get intensely annoyed with myself if I doze off for any show or movie, no matter how deserving it is.)

No wonder I’m not as bothered by the current riff density as a lot of other people are.


Ideally, the riffing shouldn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the movie.


The problem most of these movies have is that they’re low-budget, severely padded, clunky or just plain amateurish. The dialog tends to be both over-emphasized—like the filmmakers are thinking “Oh, us explaining all this will knock their socks off”—and unimportant—because the audience is either thinking “Yeah, we figured it out in the first five minutes” or “Huh?”

But the movie should be the thing the riffs are hanging off of, so if the riffs run over the movie too much, it detracts.

I guess these aren’t really pacing observations per se, except that a faster pace is in greater danger of trampling the film.


I felt that I was struggling to keep up during the first couple experiments in The Return. But, soon enough, I wasn’t, so either they slowed the pace or I adapted (or a bit of both).

I don’t mind if it’s not a stream of unending riffs. I actually like a bit of space at times and prefer it to something being forced.


The pace in season 12/13 felt off compared to previous seasons mainly because the riffers had to say their lines superhumanly fast to hit their marks. (This makes a bit more sense whenever you hear head writer Elliot Kalan speak, as he’s one of those New Yorkers who talks a mile a minute, way faster than most normal humans, and especially anybody from the Midwest.) The Joel and Mike eras were more laid back and conversational… it felt like sitting on the couch watching cheesy movies with some incredibly chill and funny friends, rather than actors giving a performance.

They got slightly better at this during The Gauntlet, but it really varied from episode to episode. In terms of riff pacing and line delivery, I’d say Carnival Magic, Avalanche, and to a lesser extent, The Beast of Hollow Mountain are the three that stand out as feeling the most natural and like they “found their groove” to me. Maybe not coincidentally these are also my favorite episodes and pretty leisurely paced movies to begin with, which probably helped.


Totally my opinion, but there’s an intangible line where it feels less like trying to make the friends you’re watching a clunker with laugh and more like waiting for them to finish so you can wedge your next joke in there. I think seasons 11 & 12 felt (to me, YMMV) like they were on the other side of that line at times.

I’m probably wrong. I still love it either way.

EDIT: Simultaneous posting saying some of the same things, except that @DeepHurting said them better.


Yeah, I’ve been watching Bridget and MJs releases, and it’s a lot more causal, like your watching the movie or short with 2 friends. They are not just packing it in, joke, joke, joke, but allowing some breathing room, and a natural rapport to build between riffers (and the audience).

I prefer that style, and I think, at times, nu-MST loses that - by packing in the jokes they lose the personality of the thing.


I agree on both counts. The Bridget and MJ releases are wonderful, and nu-MST riffing frequency gets a bit too machine-gun-like for me sometimes, though I think they eased up a bit in season 12. I don’t like to tell pros how to do their job, but giving a joke time to land can be very valuable.


I like the new seasons a lot but I wish the pacing gave us more breathing room. I’m not sure that will be easier in the new seasons where, rightfully so, the new season will require more remote work, but I’m hoping they can figure it out. I did notice a flow improvement in season 12, in my opinion.

1 Like

I felt the same way at first, but I’ve just been re-watching season 11 and it doesn’t bother me as much. Maybe I’m getting used to it.


I also like the pace of jokes in 11 & 12. There have been so many old eps that I haven’t made it through because of the laboriously paced movie and slow riffs. I think not being able to catch them all the first or second (or tenth) time has made these new seasons more rewatchable for me.

Thanks, technology. I now have the attention span of a squirrel.


I’m kind of old-fashioned and I don’t like to have constant stimulation. As others have said, there needs to be some breathing room for the jokes. There are some amazing riffs in season 11, but they’re said so quickly that there’s really no time to enjoy them because in those few seconds, there were ten other riffs, some of which were also great. I just want to tug on the reins a bit and slow them down.

As Joel and the bots sang once upon a time (but slightly modified):

“Slow the riffs down, laddie
Slow the riffs down
Way, hey, slow the riffs down
We’ll scuttle the story and run 'er aground.
We’ll try so hard to slow the riffs down.”

But I’ll admit that I’m just not the kind of person who wants to have it come at me constantly. Heck, I got my first cell phone only ten years ago and it took me another ten years to replace it with a smartphone because I didn’t want one. So my opinion probably doesn’t jive with most people in the modern age. I hate having a smartphone. I don’t want it most of the time, but I have it because that’s about the only option anymore.

The nice thing about MST3K is that I can always go back to the original run and enjoy it if the new stuff doesn’t entertain me. :slight_smile: