Home > Reviews > In Memoriam: The Power Rangers: Part 2

In Memoriam: The Power Rangers: Part 2

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.

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  1. Adam
    January 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    So, I looked up RPM and am watching the first few episodes. If the PR universe exists as a single continuum, does that mean the RPM stories take place in the same distant future as the MMPR world? In other words, MMPR “100 years later” is the RPM universe? If so, that’s… really cool.

    • January 12, 2010 at 3:17 pm

      RPM doesn’t see to be anywhere near that far in the future, since they’re driving pretty much modern cars and listening to modern music. It seems to be a nebulous sort of near-future setting. However, there are a couple of Power Rangers seasons that show the more distant future. SPD was set 20 years in the future, and while Time Force was mostly set in the present, most of its main characters came from 1000 years in the future. How to reconcile SPD’s future with RPM’s is up to the viewer, apparently.

  2. Dan
    June 4, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Excellent article. I have thought the Power Rangers special-FX: bad-awful and costumes: at best adequate… But the storylines / plots have occasionally been very good.

    I agree with your choices of PRiS and RPM as the two best Power Rangers seasons. It isn’t so obvious to me that RPM is the best season, but to each his own.

    I never quite bought into the whole Tenaya-15 reincarnation. As Tenaya-7 was portrayed by Kane as demanding, belligerent, angry; Tenaya-15 simply seemed to be an empty shell of her former self. Whether this was the result of directing or acting / attitude by Kane I don’t know; but the result was a more shallow character in my opinion.

    In contrast, I thought the cyborg version of Astronema was spot-on; a truly evil and sympathetic character.
    Just my personal opinion; marginally more sympathetic than another evil cyborg-type character explored by George Lucas a few years later.

    Power Rangers: the special FX were often just simply bad and the costumes adequate; but the storylines have kept my casual interest over the years. It will be missed.

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