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In Memoriam: The Power Rangers: Part 3

December 26, 2009 2 comments

I’m continuing my Power Rangers tribute (Part 1; Part 2) with some lists of favorite characters.

Top Ten Female Rangers

Roughly in order of preference:

  • Amy Jo Johnson (Kimberly Hart, MMPR Pink): Need I say more? Sheer pink perfection.
  • Rose McIver (Summer Landsdowne, RPM Yellow): Softly beautiful, not as stunning as some, but a strong, warm, enthralling presence with a throaty voice like velvet and hot chocolate and cozy backrubs all rolled together.  Summer was the heart and wisdom of the RPM team, and McIver was ideally cast.
  • Emma Lahana (Kira Ford, DT Yellow): Almost as gorgeous and charismatic as Amy Jo, likeable, a good actress and capable singer.
  • Erin Cahill (Jen Scott, TF Pink): Strong, beautiful, stalwart, a convincing leader.  An effective actress who had a good rapport with her love interest and the rest of her team.
  • Thuy Trang (Trini Kwan, MMPR Yellow): A gentle, serene, exotically beautiful presence.  Trini was the second-smartest member of the team, but able to translate team genius Billy’s technobabble into comprehensible terms.  So she was an accessible brainiac, a nice role model.   Sadly Thuy Trang was killed in traffic in 2001.
  • Anna Hutchison (Lily Chilman, JF Yellow): Similar to Rose McIver, a warm, kind, soothing beauty — though hotter and sexier.  Were this by looks alone, she’d be third.  Maybe second.
  • Deborah Estelle Phillips (Katie Walker, TF Yellow): The only one here who wouldn’t be on a top ten list by looks alone.  Not unpleasant to look at, but nowhere near in the league of the others.  I just found her to be a really engaging and talented actress.
  • Catherine Sutherland (Kat Hilliard, MMPR Pink #2/Zeo Pink/Turbo Pink): Amy Jo’s replacement, and thus sure to suffer by comparison, but still one of the loveliest lady Rangers and one of the more talented.  Plus: Australian accent!
  • Tracy Lynn Cruz (Ashley Hammond, Turbo/Space Yellow): It took me a while to catch on, but she was really sexy.  She’s the actress who made me understand the phrase “You’re beautiful when you’re angry.”  On those few occasions where she got to play the bad girl or show intense emotion, her smoldering allure became evident.  Totally wasted as a clean-cut, wholesome Power Ranger.
  • Melody Perkins (Karone, Space Pink #2): The shortest-lived Pink Ranger, filling in for about a dozen episodes when her predecessor had to leave the show.  She got three great episodes in a row dealing with how the former queen of evil adjusted to being a Ranger, but then was unfortunately marginalized for the rest of the season.  She’s here for those three episodes, for being really hot as a blonde in black leather, and for recognition of what might have been.
  • Honorable mention: Karan Ashley, Nakia Burrise, Patricia Ja Lee, Jessica Rey, Melanie Vallejo, Caitlin Murphy, Rhoda Montemayor: Mostly here for their beauty.  Vallejo would be higher if she’d had more to do.  And Ja Lee would be lower if she weren’t just so damn good-looking.  She’s probably the weakest actress ever to play a Ranger; she never seemed able to convey any emotion beyond the struggle to remember her next line.

Top Four Female Allies

Roughly in order of preference:

  • Dr. K (Olivia Tennet, RPM): The adolescent genius who invented the RPM tech and gives the best technobabble explanations in the history of the series.  Aloof, cold, mechanical, but with a truly moving, tragic backstory to explain it.  Over the series, she gradually regains her humanity, but remains perhaps the most poignant PR character ever.
  • Michelle Langstone (Kat Manx, SPD): A hot alien cat-woman who was the team’s tech whiz.  She got to be a Power Ranger for one episode, making her the only appealing female Ranger that season.
  • Monica Louwerens (Angela Fairweather, LR):  The originator of the “female inventor of Ranger tech” archetype, and a strikingly beautiful woman.
  • Udonna (Peta Rutter, MF): Technically a Ranger herself, but out of action for most of the series.  The Mystic Rangers’ wise mentor, ultimately revealed as Nick’s mother.  Not a hottie, but an effective presence.

Top Eight(-ish) Female Villains

Roughly in order of preference:

  • Hilary Shepard Turner (Divatox, Turbo): Viva la Diva! No villain has ever enjoyed being bad quite so much.  Not the sexiest villainess, but the template for sexy PR villainesses to follow (though most were henchwomen rather than archnemeses), and certainly the most fun as a performer.  Turner brought great comic flair to the role.
  • Melody Perkins (Astronema, PRiS): Yes, Perkins gets to be on the list twice.  Astronema is essentially the same character as Karone, except in her Borg-reprogrammed phase, but she deserves to be in this list for her importance to PR history.  Never the most convincingly menacing villainess, given her dainty face and voice and her garish outfits, but still an effective bad girl, and the incongruity was a hint of the hidden truth.  Perkins was sexier as Karone, though; Astronema’s look was too fake.
  • Adelaide Kane (Tenaya-7, RPM): Aside from being an Astronema rerun, an effective and very sexy villainess in her own right.  Snide, snarky, and confidently bitchy, and she looked great in that sleek catsuit (the camera loved shooting her from behind).  Were this by sex appeal alone, Tenaya would top the list.  If Astronema had been this hot as a bad girl, I wouldn’t have wanted her to be saved.
  • Holly Shanahan (Camille, JF): A chameleon monster with a striking human form, she loved her master Dai Shi and that love eventually redeemed them both.  An effective character played with strength and humanity despite being a monster.  Shanahan previously played Leelee in Mystic Force, another bad-girl-gone-good, but Camille was the more attractive of her two characters.
  • Carla Perez and Barbara Goodson (Rita Repulsa, MMPR): Certainly not on this list for sex appeal, Rita still deserves inclusion for her historic significance and her comedic value in the second and third seasons.  I haven’t counted Soga Machiko (Rita/Bandora in the Zyuranger stock footage in the first season) because it was the later version of Rita that I liked.  Goodson deserves inclusion for her memorable, beautifully shrill and grating voice characterization.
  • Kate Sheldon (Nadira, TF): A fun and attractive villainess, not so much evil as vain and materialistic, a shopping junkie who couldn’t be bothered to pay.
  • Jennifer L. Yen (Vypra, LR):  Only on this list by virtue of serious hotness.  The worst actress ever to speak a line in the PR franchise.  I imagine she was cast for her resemblance to the Japanese actress in the Sentai footage.
  • Archerina (Zeo): Okay, weird to include a robot on a list of sexy villainesses, but she was kind of fine in her way.

Top Ten Male Rangers

Looks aren’t going to be a factor in my deliberations here.  These are just in chronological order.

  • Austin St. John (Jason Lee Scott, MMPR Red/Zeo Gold): As I said before, not the greatest actor, but an effective “male action hero” presence, a good leader to start the series.
  • Walter Emanuel Jones (Zack Taylor, MMPR Black): Charming, talented, and an astonishingly good martial artist with (at least on the show) a trademark capoeira-like style called “hip-hopkido.”
  • Jason David Frank (Tommy Oliver, MMPR Green/White, Zeo/Turbo Red, DT Black): Not the most impressive actor in the original cast, but likeable enough, and his longevity earns him a place on the list for nostalgia value alone.
  • Sean Cw Johnson (Carter Grayson, LR Red): One of my favorite Red Rangers, a commanding lead for the Lightspeed team and an engaging actor.
  • Daniel Southworth (Eric Myers, TF Quantum): The most interesting sixth Ranger, Eric was a troubled and nuanced character with his own agendas, and Southworth made him intriguing to watch.
  • Firass Dirani (Nick Russell, MF Red): An effective, solid lead who did a good job with his character’s dramatic arcs.
  • Jason Smith (Casey Rhodes, JF Red): Pretty much ditto.  Likeable and capable.
  • David de Lautour (RJ James, JF Violet Wolf): Offbeat and freaky, a hippie-ish but wise mentor, effectively played as a comic-relief hero.
  • Eka Darville (Scott Truman, RPM Red): Tough but sensitive, a strong actor for a strong character.  A good leader with interesting issues.
  • Milo Cawthorne (Ziggy Grover, RPM Green): The funniest Power Ranger ever, fast-talking, bumbling, yet soulful and vulnerable.  A standout of the RPM cast.

Top Six Male Allies

In chronological order.

  • Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy (Bulk and Skull, MMPR through LG): The most memorable comic-relief characters, as I discussed in previous posts.
  • Ron Rogge (Capt. William Mitchell, LR): Founder of the Lightspeed organization, father of two of the Rangers.  Made a wrenching decision to give up his son to demons to save the boy’s life, and is haunted by it when his son returns as the Titanium Ranger.  The actor wasn’t spectacular, but he did well with some excellent material.
  • Edward Laurence Albert, (Mr. Collins, TF): Red Ranger Wes’s industrialist father, initially aloof and cold.  Discovering his son is a Ranger is the beginning of a long process of bonding.  The first time anything interesting was done with secret identities on PR.
  • Kelson Henderson (Boom, SPD; Phineas, MF; Norg, OO; voice of Flit, JF): A perennial player in the NZ era, becoming increasingly less visible (the four characters listed are respectively a human, a troll-like humanoid, a Yeti, and a small fly-robot puppet).  Phineas was his most effective and well-acted character; Henderson brought an excellent comic timing and vocal delivery to the role.
  • James Gaylyn (Col. Mason Truman, RPM): Father of Red Ranger Scott and military leader of Corinth, the last human refuge (so why he’s just a colonel instead of a general is a mystery).  Gaylyn was effective as an authority figure and as a father who was too distant from his surviving son, perhaps because of his pain at the loss of his elder son.  He had some good subtle scenes that were quite well-played.

Top Four Male Villains

Not counting sixth Rangers who started out as villains.  In chronological order.

  • Lord Zedd (MMPR/Zeo):  The first original American-created PR villain.  A creepy, freaky character design looking like a humanoid who’d suffered some horrible skin-flaying accident and needed a metal exoskeleton to hold his exposed muscles and brain together.  Of course, it looked nowhere near as gruesome as that description suggests, but that was what the design suggested to me.  I always imagined he must be in horrible pain.  Given an effectively grating voice by Robert Axelrod, he was an impressive villain for a goofy era of the series and turned out to be an enjoyable comedic character, especially once first-season villainess Rita tricked him into marrying her and the villains became one big dysfunctional family.
  • Ecliptor (PRiS): A villain with a heart.  Unremittingly evil, but he loved Astronema like a daughter, which made him intriguing.  Had an effective ongoing conflict with the malevolent Darkonda.
  • Ransik (Vernon Wells, TF): The first PR villain with a legitimate grudge.  A mutant ostracized by the perfected society of the 30th century, he turned to crime and conquest.  When he saw his crimes had almost cost him his daughter’s life, he turned himself in and eventually redeemed himself in a TF/WF crossover (though in an unfortunate triumph of conformist thinking on the part of the writers, he had to lose his mutant qualities and become fully human to do so).
  • Dai Shi/Jarrod (Bede Skinner, JF): An ambitious human possessed by an ancient evil, choosing the alliance willingly.  He literally goes back in time and erases his every benevolent act to make himself more purely evil.   Still, the love of his henchwoman Camille and the refusal of his archenemy Casey to give up on him end up redeeming Jarrod and he defeats Dai Shi.
Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

In Memoriam: The Power Rangers: Part 2

December 26, 2009 3 comments

Continuing my Power Rangers retrospective (begun in Part 1) with the final seven series.  After Disney bought out Saban Enterprises and absorbed the Rangers within its corporate empire, it moved production to New Zealand to save money.  This meant that PR fans got to see faces familiar from NZ productions like Hercules, Xena, and even The Matrix and Lord of the Rings.  Conversely, the current Legend of the Seeker series has featured a number of former or current Power Rangers and supporting players in its cast.  The Disney buyout also meant that the show moved from FOX to Disney-owned channels, with some seasons debuting on ABC Family and being rerun on ABC, with the final season aired solely on ABC.

The NZ seasons went through several producers and were highly variable in quality.  We begin with:

Power Rangers Ninja Storm

Though this season has its supporters, I found it a disastrous step down from the heights of the series.  It went for a comedic, self-mocking tone that didn’t work for me.  The Rangers’ characterization consisted mainly of incessant use of what the writers imagined to be hip teen slang.  The villains were irritatingly broad, an unpleasant sitcom family.  The Rangers’ mentor was a sensei who’d been magically turned into a hamster.  And past continuity seemed to have been abandoned; in the premiere, the Rangers-to-be treated Power Rangers as something fictional, something they knew from pop culture but didn’t consider real.  I lost interest, so I didn’t watch most of this season.  But from what I did see, I consider it the low point of the franchise.  At least the first season of Mighty Morphin’, as dreadfully written as it was, had a likeable cast.  NS’s cast was just bland.

Although it does deserve credit for adding to the ethnic diversity of the franchise.  In the US-made seasons, there was always one black Ranger, one Asian Ranger, usually a Hispanic Ranger, and one or two Rangers (overall, not per season) with Native American ancestry (at least fictionally).  With the move to NZ, we saw fewer black Rangers, but new ethnicities were added.  NS’s Red Ranger was the first Samoan Power Ranger.

This was also notable as the first PR series to start out with a 3-member Ranger team instead of 5.  The team compositions in the final 7 seasons got increasingly elaborate.

Power Rangers Dino Thunder

This was a return to form for the franchise, and a return to classic continuity.  It featured the return of Jason Frank as Tommy Oliver, the most experienced Power Ranger of all.  He was the first “sixth Ranger,” the MMPR Green Ranger.  After that he became the leader of the Rangers as the MMPR White Ranger and then the Red Zeo and Turbo Rangers, making him a regular for four and a half seasons.  Now he came back as Dr. Tommy Oliver, paleontologist (building on the dinosaur/extinct animal theme of the original Rangers), mentor to the new Power Rangers team consisting of three high school students.  An early episode had the new Rangers reviewing the entire history of the franchise, reaffirming that it was all one continuity (however sloppy).

DT was a good season that took itself far more seriously than NS.  It still had a sense of fun, but wasn’t as irritatingly farcical.  It had a good cast and decent storytelling, and probably the best PR theme song ever.  And Emma Lahana, the team’s sole female member, was the most gorgeous lady Ranger since Amy Jo Johnson.

Power Rangers SPD

This was another season that didn’t quite work for me, though it was better than NS.  Set 20 years in the future, with the Rangers as members of a global/interstellar police force, it was the first PR season produced by Bruce Kalish, a veteran producer whose credits included The Fall Guy and The Famous Jett Jackson.  The premise was fine, but I didn’t much care for the cast or the characters.  The SPD Rangers certainly had more personality, more quirks, and more conflict than the perfect, whitebread teams of the early seasons, so I can’t fault the show for that, but I just didn’t like them.

SPD had some interesting angles, though.  Its main characters weren’t the primary Power Rangers, but a “B Team” taking over for the missing A squad — who ultimately turned out to be evil.  The show began the pattern of having the mentor and helper characters tend to become Rangers later on themselves, at least temporarily.  I think that overall SPD thus had more Ranger characters than any single season.

Power Rangers Mystic Force

Despite being a blatant Harry Potter knockoff, MF was one of the best seasons of the NZ era.  The cast and characters were likeable and there was some good drama and complexity to the storytelling, a saga where the Red Ranger was an orphan who eventually discovered that he was the long-lost son of the Rangers’ mentor, and that his archenemy was her long-lost, ensorcelled husband.  Most of the characters were well-served, except for the Liv Tyleresque Blue Ranger Madison.  MF is also a milestone in that its Red Ranger, Firass Dirani, was the first and only Arab Power Ranger.  In a time when it’s still hard to find an onscreen Arab who isn’t a terrorist, it was refreshing to see an Arab actor cast as the leader of a team of heroes.

Power Rangers Operation Overdrive

A clever conceit: instead of battling one villainous force, the Rangers are one of multiple factions competing in a globetrotting quest for a set of powerful artifacts, and the other factions (all evil, natch) clash with one another as much as the Rangers.  Also noteworthy for having the strangest Red Ranger arc of all time: the Red Ranger discovers midway through the season that he’s an android created by the man he thought was his father.  Overall, though, it was a mediocre, forgettable season, and it featured the worst “sixth Ranger” ever — the actor was wimpy and the costume was a crime against fashion even by the Rangers’ garish standards.

Notable for introducing the concept of the “universal morphing grid,” an energy source that all past and future Rangers, both magical and technological, have tapped into as the source of their power.  It went a long way toward explaining how so many independent factions have created such similar Ranger teams.   Naturally, this was introduced in a 15th-anniversary story that brought back several past Rangers in a new team while the main team was out of commission.  Unfortunately, they only brought back one cast member from the Saban era, Johnny Yong Bosch (who’s now well-known as an anime-dub voice actor).

Power Rangers Jungle Fury

In keeping with past precedent, Bruce Kalish’s last PR season was his best.  Another 3-person team that eventually grew to include their mentor and others.  Notable for featuring prominent New Zealand actor Nathaniel Lees (known from literally all the NZ productions I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post) as the original mentor of the three martial-arts students who became Rangers; he was “killed” in the premiere and lived on Obi-Wan-style as a spiritual advisor.  The series was largely about the Rangers training and learning, gaining life lessons along with their martial-arts lessons.  It culminated in one of the finest and most unconventional season finales in the franchise’s history: at the end, the Rangers didn’t need their Ranger powers to defeat the ultimate foe, since they’d advanced so far that they were able to ascend to the next level and just draw on the pure spiritual power within them.  Oh, and they redeemed the main villains, an antagonistic former student who’d been possessed by the main evil force and the monster-babe sidekick who loved him and was humanized by it.  After all, with very few exceptions, human-looking villains had to be redeemed, not destroyed.

And finally we come to…

Power Rangers RPM

The final and best season of the Power Rangers franchise.  Originally produced by Eddie Guzelian, a veteran of Disney shows including the delightful Fillmore, a smart and hilarious spoof of ’70s cop shows set in a middle school.  The Super Sentai show Guzelian had to work with, Engine Sentai Go-onger, was one of the silliest incarnations of that series, with the giant robots being talking vehicle-animals inspired by Pixar’s Cars.  But Guzelian chose to go in a very different direction.  RPM was a whole new slant on Power Rangers, practically a Ron Moore-style gritty reboot.  The world had been conquered by an evil computer virus, reduced to a wasteland, and the last survivors were holed up in a domed city, fighting for survival.  Characters died onscreen.  There were bad guys who were actual criminals and evil humans, rather than just fanciful monsters and decent people under evil spells.

It was dark, but it was also funny, with great witty dialogue (Guzelian has a knack for it) and hilarious, biting deconstructions of longstanding Power Rangers tropes.  Yet even as the show made fun of PR conventions, it simultaneously managed to concoct almost plausible-sounding scientific explanations for them — reconstructing even as it deconstructed.

RPM was also the most character-driven PR series of all time.  A whole block of six episodes early in the season was devoted to exploring the backstories of all the Rangers (except Black Ranger Dillon, who had no memory of his past) in flashbacks.  No team of Rangers had ever been explored in such depth.  And the season featured the finest cast since the original MMPR — indeed, even better in terms of their consistency as actors.  There wasn’t a dud in the bunch.

Unfortunately, Guzelian was let go a little over halfway through the season due to cost overruns, or so I understand it.  On the plus side, his replacement was Judd Lynn, the man responsible for the finest seasons of the Saban era.  Lynn mostly kept Guzelian’s focus on character, though the show suffered from the loss of Guzelian’s distinctive, witty voice as a writer.  But Lynn’s tenure proved disappointing in one key respect.  It had been hinted pretty blatantly from the start that the villains’ humanoid henchwoman Tenaya-7 was actually Dillon’s long-lost sister — dangerously close to the Andros-Astronema arc from Power Rangers in Space.  It could still have gone in a different direction with a little creativity.  But instead, Lynn turned it into a note-for-note replay of Astronema/Karone’s liberation/reprogramming arc (though fortunately her role in the finale was different from Astronema’s).  The return of PR’s most respected creator raised high hopes, but he only recycled his finest hour rather than adding something new.

Overall, the series still had a satisfying and reasonably character-driven conclusion.  It was a good ending for RPM, though as an ending for Power Rangers‘ 17-season run, it would’ve been nice to have something more.  Still, overall, RPM was the best final season the franchise could’ve hoped for.  It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see more Guzelian-produced seasons, more years of this sophisticated, smart approach.

_______

And now I think I want to make some lists, but those can go in another post.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

In Memoriam: The Power Rangers

December 26, 2009 2 comments

In 1975, Japan’s Toei Studios produced Himitsu Sentai Goranger, a live-action tokusatsu (special-effects) series featuring a team of heroes in multicolored armor battling evil.  In 1978, they produced a Japanese version of Spider-Man in which the hero battled giant monsters with a transforming ship/giant robot.  In 1979, they combined these two formulae and the Super Sentai franchise was born.  It became a big hit in Japan, each year featuring a different title, storyline, characters, costumes, monsters, robots, and the like (so that co-producer Bandai could sell a new line of toys every year).  In 1987, six episodes of the Dynaman season were aired on the USA Network with a comedy dub, but otherwise the Super Sentai franchise was unknown in America (although Toei’s animated version of the premise had become familiar in the states under the name Voltron).

Then, in 1993, Saban Entertainment, a company that had brought many dubbed anime shows to US television, had an idea: produce a cheap live-action series by taking the action and effects footage from a Sentai series and combining it with newly filmed scenes of unknown American martial artist/actors playing high school students.  Since the Sentai costumes completely hid the wearers’ faces, they could be passed off as the same people.  They called it Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and they probably expected it to be just another cheap, disposable import.  Instead, somehow, it became an enormous hit and spawned a franchise that ran for 17 seasons.

Today, on December 26, 2009, the final two original episodes of Power Rangers RPM, and of the franchise as a whole, were broadcast.  Starting next week, the original MMPR series will be rerun in the PR timeslot.

And yes, I am unabashedly a fan of the Power Rangers.  Even though I was at least twice the age of their target demographic when it debuted, I still became a loyal viewer for most of the series’ existence.  Yes, it was silly.  Yes, it was repetitive.  Sometimes it was achingly stupid.  But it was still fun.  (Was it violent, as hysterical parents insisted in its early years?  Hell, no.  The “violence” was completely stylized and fanciful.  It was interpretive dance with fireworks.)  And over time, it got a lot better, though it’s had its ups and downs.  It’s been a long, rich 17 seasons, and now that it’s over, I figured a retrospective was called for.

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

The series that started it all.  Season 1 was by far the worst the entire franchise had to offer.  The writing was horrible and deeply stupid.  The characters were ciphers.  Despite the main titles’ assertion that the Rangers were chosen on the basis of being “teenagers with attitude,” they were all uniformly the blandest, nicest, most clean-cut bunch of kids you’d ever meet outside of a ’50s sitcom.  And it was bizarre that the only people who knew their secret identities were their worst enemies, and that those enemies never just blew up their houses while they slept.

But man, were they ever charismatic.  Of all the PR casts, the original bunch was the best ever assembled.  Of course, the main and overriding reason why I watched could be summed up in three words: AmyJoJohnson.  Absolutely the most gorgeous and amazing female Power Ranger who ever lived.  Staggeringly beautiful and sexy, heartbreakingly charming and bright, a highly gifted gymnast, a lovely singer, and definitely the best actor in the bunch.  I daresay she, more than any other factor, was responsible for giving the PR franchise a sizeable teen and adult male fanbase.  But she wasn’t alone.  The other cast members weren’t necessarily all that talented as actors, but they were all good athletes and acrobats (and it was impressive to see them do their own stunts, something done less in later seasons) and most were appealing, charismatic people.  Some stood out.  Austin St. John, an excellent martial artist, started out as a mediocre actor, but got better, and was very effective at conveying a strong action-hero presence.  Walter Jones was an amazingly athletic martial artist and a likeable, charming presence.  The late Thuy Trang was lovely and warm and serene like a female Buddha.

The recycled Japanese footage had its own charm as well.  It was repetitive as hell, and the sequence of the giant “Megazord” being assembled from its component parts was ridiculous — the extinct-animal robots would emerge from the jungle, the forest, the tundra, an erupting volcano, etc., and the giant rampaging monster would apparently just sit around twiddling its thumbs for the six hours it must’ve taken for them all to converge on the city.  But the art design was imaginative and interesting, and the stunt footage was fun to watch.  I don’t much care for violence in fiction, but I like watching martial arts and stunt performances, because it’s an opportunity to watch talented, athletic people demonstrating their skills.

Once the show became successful, it began to evolve.  In the second season, rather than following the Sentai lead of changing the cast, costumes, and storyline every year, they kept the cast and most of the costumes, which required using much less Sentai footage and more original content.  (Which was a shame, since the costumes for the Dairanger season were striking.)  The writing got smarter, to an extent, though the characters were still essentially ciphers.  But it became less inane and more fun.

This was particularly true of the comic-relief sidekicks, Bulk (Paul Schrier) and Skull (Jason Narvy), who were basically the Skipper and Gilligan as teenage punks.  In the first season, they were nothing but annoying bullies who came in, tried to make trouble, and always had it backfire in some way that got them covered in food or goop or something.   They contributed nothing.  But in the second season, they gained a mission: find out who the Power Rangers are and get rich revealing the knowledge.  They were still bumblers, but they weren’t bullies anymore, and they had an actual purpose as characters.  Eventually the Power Rangers’ goodness must’ve rubbed off, because in the third season they became junior police officers under Lt. Stone, the Sgt. Carter to their Gomers Pyle.  By this point, they’d matured into an excellent comedy duo with a lot of charm and rapport.  I always wanted to see Schrier and Narvy get their own show as a Laurel-and-Hardyesque duo, or star in a Gilligan’s Island remake.

However, midway through the second season, three of the original cast — St. John, Trang, and Jones — left abruptly in a salary dispute.  It was so sudden that for ten episodes, the show had to fake their continued presence (keeping them mostly in Ranger costume and otherwise relying on stock footage and stand-ins) while introducing three new characters who gradually earned the right to become new Rangers.  This was the beginning of the series of cast changes that came to define the franchise — and kept it cheap to produce.  (Actors get raises for each year they stay on a show.)  Unfortunately, the replacement actors weren’t as talented or charming as the original bunch.  But the better writing helped compensate.  We actually started to get some characterization and emotion, though only to a small degree.

MMPR: The Movie

This film, produced during the second season (resulting in several episodes of the show filmed in Australia where the cast was making the movie, and relying heavily on monster and stunt-double footage while the actors were busy on the film), is out of continuity, insofar as PR has a continuity.  It’s basically an alternate version of the same storyline that opened the third season of the show.  A revisionist version with modified, uglier Ranger costumes and computer-animated Megazords that were so shiny and reflective that it was hard to distinguish them from their surroundings.  A curiosity, mainly just a reminder of how big the Power Rangers were for a few years.

Mighty Morphin’ Alien Rangers

This title was used for the last ten episodes of the third season.   For some reason, the story had the Rangers turned into children, too young to use their powers.  So the Alien Rangers from the planet Aquitar were called in as pinch-hitters.  These Rangers actually used costumes and footage from the corresponding Sentai season, Kakuranger; perhaps it was done to avoid the expense of relying on new footage of the third-season Rangers still in their first-season costumes.  The Aquitian Rangers were the first Ranger team with a female leader, something that was also nominally true in Kakuranger even though the male Red Ranger remained the star and the leader in battle.  Anyway, the child Rangers were sent on missions into their ancestral pasts to recover the fragments of the Zeo Crystal to reverse the de-aging spell.  There was some good storytelling here as the characters explored their heritage.  But the whole thing led into:

Power Rangers Zeo

With the fourth season, PR began adopting the Sentai pattern of changing the title and costumes as well as the bad guys each season, though they kept most of the previous cast, giving them a new power source, the Zeo Crystal.  (“Season” is actually a simplification; starting here and for several years after, each differently-named PR “season” actually constituted the last half of one broadcast season and the first half of the next.  But I’m using the standard practice of calling them separate seasons.  This is why PR is said to have 17 seasons even though it ran for only — only! — 16 ½ years.)

Mostly, it was more of the same comfortable formula as the third season.  It featured one of the best Power Rangers theme songs, though.  It culminated with the MMPR villains, Lord Zedd and Rita, who’d been driving around the Moon all season in an RV (yes, the Moon in the PR universe has a breathable atmosphere), overthrowing the PRZ villains, the Machine Empire, and declaring triumphantly that they were back.  But then…

Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie

Though the second feature film is in continuity with the series, it still has continuity glitches.  Zedd and Rita had inexplicably retired right after their triumph, but this paved the way for the franchise’s first sexy villainess, Divatox, played with great over-the-top brio by Hilary Shepard Turner.  On the downside, the movie featured the departure of one of the Rangers and his replacement with an irritating 12-year-old who became adult-sized as a Ranger.  (Super Sentai had used this gimmick back in Dairanger, which is why White Ranger Tommy in MMPR season 2 acted so hyper and childish in the recycled Japanese footage.)  The movie was a pilot for:

Power Rangers Turbo

This is the season where PR began to mature, as Judd Lynn came in as producer.  He began making the show more like Super Sentai, with more sophisticated, arc-driven storytelling.  He began moving toward the pattern of regular cast changes as well, with all four adult Rangers being replaced at once in the second half of the season and — mercifully — the kid being dropped at the end.  On the villains’ side, Divatox was played by Carol Hoyt for a time, but then Turner returned and made her really fun again.  (“Viva la Diva!”)  Lynn gave us some attempted story arcs that fizzled, for instance, setting up that that the Rangers’ new mentor Demetria (Hoyt) was Divatox’s sister but then never paying off the hints (perhaps because of Diva’s recast).

At the end of the season, the Rangers’ original mentor, the big giant floating bald head named Zordon, was captured by the malevolent Dark Specter, overlord of all evil, and Divatox was summoned to his court.  The adult Rangers blasted off into space, into a cliffhanger, and into:

Power Rangers in Space

The culmination of the “Angel Grove era” of the series, the last and the best.  The cast was one of the weakest, but the storyline and characters were rich; even the villains had distinctive personalities, conflicting agendas, and occasional ambiguity.  The new Red Ranger, an “alien” named Andros, was searching for his lost sister Karone while battling the queen of evil, Astronema.  Eventually we learned that Astronema was Karone, taken as a toddler and raised to be evil (by Ekliptor, a character who truly cared for her as a daughter — a very Japanese type of nuanced villain). Andros finally won her back, only to have her taken and reprogrammed for evil again.  Ultimately, all the villains from the entire six seasons united to conquer Earth.  Bringing the planet to its knees, they demanded the Power Rangers show themselves.  Bulk and Skull, sadly marginalized this season, had their finest hour, leading an “I am Spartacus” moment to protect the Rangers.  But then the Rangers revealed themselves to the world and began the final battle.

Andros had a final confrontation with his sister, and her final attack backfired and struck her down.  At Zordon’s bidding, the mournful Andros destroyed the tube that kept Zordon alive, releasing his energy to spread across the universe and destroy all the evil monsters (and redeem the human-looking ones, since you couldn’t kill anyone who looked human on a US kids’ show).  Zordon’s energy and/or Andros’s love brought Karone back to life.  It was a hell of an ending, still the franchise’s finest hour in many regards.

Power Rangers Lost Galaxy

For the first time, a PR show had a fresh start with nearly an all-new cast, though several supporting characters from PRiS carried over.  Bulk was included but cut off from Skull, which was kind of pointless, and his role diminished to virtually nothing before long.  Set a few years into the future, the show involved a colony ship heading for a new planet, cleverly designed with a city dome and environment domes so that Earth-based Sentai footage could be incorporated.  Judd Lynn continued to follow Sentai precedents in the storytelling, adapting the Gingaman main character’s story arc pretty closely.  A good season, but perhaps notable mainly for what two of its Rangers did afterward: Archie Kao became a regular on CSI, and Cerina Vincent gained minor infamy for her nude scenes in various movies (notably as the constantly nude exchange student in Not Another Teen Movie).  But it also deserves credit for the cool original FX work, particularly the Terra Venture space colony.

Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue

The first complete break from what came before, though there was a crossover episode eventually.  This was the first PR season where the Rangers weren’t magically empowered by alien forces but were employees of a government(-ish) organization which had invented Ranger technology on its own.  Here, the Rangers were rescue workers with publicly known identities, though they battled demons more than fires and disasters.  This was also the first PR season where the “sixth Ranger” (extra character added midway through the season, often starting as a villain or renegade) was entirely original to the American production, and his origin story as the son that the Rangers’ boss had presumed dead produced one of the most poignant PR episodes ever, though unfortunately there was little followthrough.

Power Rangers Time Force

The finest season of the Judd Lynn era and one of the two finest overall.  This was when Saban’s PR reached its peak of sophistication.  A terrific cast, smart characterization and storytelling, ambiguous villains, and effective drama.   Notable for featuring prominent actor Edward Laurence Albert (Eddie Albert’s son) as the father of the Red Ranger, leading to some effective drama when he discovered his son’s identity as a Ranger.  Also featured the most complex sixth Ranger, who never truly embraced the role of hero but was a difficult character with his own agendas throughout.  TF also gave us one of the sweetest PR romances between Red Ranger Wes and Pink Ranger Jen, who was technically the leader of the team.  Unfortunately, thanks to network censorship, they never got to kiss or admit their love (and no, I have no idea why the FOX network would think that showing two people express love for each other would damage children in any way).

Power Rangers Wild Force

At this point, Saban was beginning to be absorbed into Disney, and this season was a co-production.  Judd Lynn was no longer involved.  A fairly mediocre season, its storyline was almost a note-for-note remake of the corresponding Sentai season, Gaoranger.  The only changes were to the Red Ranger and the main villain, and to the sex (but not the personality) of the Yellow Ranger.  For the first time, even a lot of the Japanese names for monsters, places, etc. were used unchanged.  Its main point of interest was that it was the first PR season to depict human death.  The Red Ranger’s parents died in flashback, killed by the main villain, a human who made himself leader of the monstrous Orgs.  In the end, he was changed into a full monster himself and killed by the Rangers.  The Red Ranger’s final confrontation with the villain is pretty intense stuff, as I recall.

WF is remembered mainly for its “Forever Red” 10th-anniversary episode reuniting almost all the past Red Rangers (except for Rocky, who never had a distinct Red Ranger outfit of his own).  This is not remembered fondly in PR fandom due to the way it brought back an unbeatable monster ship from the early seasons and reduced it to a patsy easily destroyed by a single Ranger on a flying motorcycle.  As for myself, I thought it was okay, but was disappointed that we didn’t get a “Forever Pink” reunion of female Rangers.  After all, the progression of attractive Pink, Yellow, and White Rangers has always been one of my main reasons for watching the show.

I think this is a good point to break.  In part 2, I’ll cover the Disney/New Zealand era and some overview discussion.

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