When Mystery Science Theater 3000 returned for its 11th season last year, it came with a new wrinkle in the format: celebrity cameos. Performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Neil Patrick Harris and Mark Hamill all made special visits for a host segment to sing a song or engage in some banter. Former MST3K castmembers Mary Jo Pehl, Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy and Paul Chaplin also reprised their roles as Pearl Forrester, Brain Guy, Professor Bobo and an Observer. There was some criticism on the reliance of the celebrity guest appearances after the season debuted, but the 12th season’s surprise cameo will no doubt leave fans stunned and charmed.
After a 29 year absence from the show, J. Elvis Weinstein returned as Dr. Laurence Erhardt, one of the original Mad scientists who shot Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) into space all those years ago in the early days of MST3K. As he joked on Twitter, “I’d like to point out that despite the 29 years between my appearances as Dr. Erhardt, I’m still younger than Patton Oswalt.”
Weinstein was a friends of Hodgson’s from the Twin Cities comedy circuit. At age 17, he already had a rep and Hodgson invited him to help develop the puppet characters for his new show on local station KTMA. The initial robot, Beeper, did little more than beep, but he was soon retooled into “Servo,” which Weinstein quickly refined into “Tom Servo,” giving the character his trademark baritone voice and an overinflated ego. The performer was also instrumental in developing movie riffing as defined by MST3K.
After several episodes on KTMA, the show added interactions with Joel’s tormentors, and Weinstein became Dr. Laurence Erhardt, a name he recently revealed was inspired by EST founder Werner Erhard. He continued to play Tom and Erhardt during the program’s first year on the Comedy Channel, but left thereafter to chart his own path. Murphy replaced him as Tom and Frank Conniff became “TV’s Frank,” a new assistant for remaining Mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu). In Frank’s debut episode, Experiment 201: Rocketship X-M, Frank said Dr. Erhardt was “missing.” In Experiment 313: Earth vs. The Spider, a character who happened to look like Erhardt gets snared by the giant spider, leading Joel to quip, “Dr. Erhardt! So that’s what happened to him!”
But Season 12 reveals he was alive and well all these years, waiting for the right moment to smuggle the ashes of Forrester and Frank out of Gizmonics Institute.
When Comicon spoke with Hodgson about the new season, he mentioned Weinstein’s appearance rose from an obligation he feels to feature the show’s former cast whenever their willing and available. “It was really wild and it was funny because Josh is like so important to the MST story,” he added. “I mean he really created the character of Tom Servo, he really figured it out and really Tom Servo is him, you know? And so he’s always been really supportive of the new series and just been a really good guy the whole time and I just felt obliged to bring him back because he’s so important to the whole.”
Hodgson and Weinstein toured with Pehl, Beaulieu and Conniff as Cinematic Titantic for many years, where Weinstein got back into movie-riffing for a time, but his brief return to MST3K is a special moment for the series and aptly timed during its thirtieth anniversary. Further commenting on his appearance, Weinstein said the beard both he and Erhardt sport now would “have been impossible back then,” but Erhardt’s 1988 hairdo would be “impossible now.”
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Gauntlet is available now on Netflix.