Friday, September 9, 2016

MMPR Season 3 Episode 1: A Friend in Need Part 1



Robotic Paternity Called Into Question
Spandex-Clad Bug Fights Slavery















That's right, we're back early to discuss the big event everyone was waiting for: The Masked Rider/Power Rangers crossover!

Why? Were you expecting something else? Well that's on you really.

Okay fine, I was being a bit sneaky. Though I do have good reason for including this trilogy in with Season 2. It really doesn't have the vibe of Season 3, and carries over quite a bit of the Season 2 iconography. A lot of things will change from Season 2 to Season 3, and quite a lot of them are still present in "A Friend in Need." In my mind, these episodes are truly nothing but an extension of Season 2, and I'm going to treat them as such.

Not to mention it would totally fucking suck to come back from a break and have to go through this nonsense.

Okay, let me be fair here. This trilogy could be good. I'm sure I sound like my Sabanholmes Syndrome is acting up again, but I genuinely don't remember these episodes. I'm willing to bet I've never watched this trilogy all the way through before. Why's that? Possibly because I don't give a rat's ass about Masked Rider, or his DOA sitcom bullshit. Maybe because the episodes following this trilogy have so much going on and I'd rather watch those. Maybe because I don't like looking at orange filters. All I know is that I'm going into this with little knowledge of what's going to happen. Who knows what'll happen?

Before I begin with the review proper, I want to note something weird about my DVD's. Of all the episodes that I've watched for this blog, "A Friend in Need Part 1" is the first on the DVD set to display a TV-Y7 rating. Like the only copy of this episode the DVD's could get was one that was recorded off of Fox Kids back when it initially aired. It's a weird little thing that caught my attention because these DVD's are usually pretty solid. Did someone lose the masters of this trilogy and have to default to some lousy VHS rip?

SHIT! I can't watch this for another two years.

Our real story begins on the misty planet of Edenoi, where a group of vaguely alien creatures are digging holes in the surface of the planet. They're overseen by a creature known as the Plague Sentry, who cackles at their suffering. These aliens are apparently being subjected to slave labor under the orders of someone known as Count Dregon, and the more that they dig into the planet, the more toxic its atmosphere becomes.

I mean, I'm sort of interested in this. Don't get me wrong. But this seems like an odd thing to open with. If you're going to introduce a new race, a new planet, a new villain, and an evil scheme, then you might want to spoonfeed some of that to your audience of 5 year olds. I would advise against jamming it all into the first 30 seconds of an episode. But you know what? I spent six months watching episodes get stretched out until their premise was bone dry. I can live with a slightly sped-up plot this week. 

Back on Earth, Alpha 5 fusses to and fro about his miserable existence. Zordon pleads with his robotic slave to talk about what's bothering him. Which is exactly what I tuned in to see this week: Alpha's therapy session. Zordon demands that this homunculus of recycled parts spit out his sorrows or else he's going to be sitting on the curb next Thursday morning. Alpha announces that he received a distress signal from his home planet of Edenoi, and now he's worried that his people are getting genocided.

So for all the jabs I gave this show about Zordon building a fully functional automaton to do his dishes, now we know the much more logical truth. Alpha 5 is actually an alien robot built by some guy from the distant cosmos. Then Zordon picked him up at a shifty auction that proves once and for all that there actually is a slave trade in the Power Rangers universe.

What a bombshell! The overlord of Edenoi, King Lexian, is Alpha's creator and father. Father? Yeah, that's what Alpha 5 calls him. So if Alpha is this Lexian guy's son, then why is the king of an entire planet letting his robotic son act as a maid to a Halloweentown Kalabar-lookin ass head-ass bitch ? Did Zordon hornswoggle Lexian by claiming this would be a great internship for Alpha? Does Lexian purposefully produce progeny that act as servants to higher powers than he? I really want a scene where King Lexian calls Zordon and asks what his son has been up to for the last 300 years, and Zordon has to quickly lie about all the wonderful things he's teaching Alpha 5. All while Alpha is draining his tube full of head goo.

Alpha has good reason to be concerned though, because there's something foul going on at Edenoi. The wicked Count Dregon, a villain who is absolutely nothing like Lord Zedd, is planning on destroying the entire planet!

Count Dregon Masked Rider
Sorry pal, we've already got one gold-plated jabroni on this show

Dregon's minions inform him of the progress of Edenoi's destruction, and I fail to get a grasp on what their shtick is. Possibly because I had to Google their stupid names to know anything about them.

There's one who looks like a frog who speaks entirely in rhyme, and he can fuck RIGHT off because he's biting Pumpkin Rapper's style. His name is Gork I guess? Then some other guy in a duster who grunts whenever someone asks him something named Cyclopter. Dregon's primary general appears to be some weirdo with a face inside of his mask named Double Face. Then some woman we can't show facing the camera because she's obviously an unmasked Japanese actress. So fuck her she's not a character.

Wow, with an exciting rogues gallery like this, this Masked Rider show is guaranteed to be a hit!

Back on Earth, Aisha gives Kimberly a call and asks her how she's holding up. Poor Ms. Hart has been struck with a flu, so she can't join in any of the Ranger Teens' reindeer games. Aisha asks Kim what her worst pain is, and she responds that "What hurts worst is reaching out to the man I love and getting a crude Emoji-based response of a man chopping a cement brick." Aisha quietly chuckles as she politely distances herself from the complete train wreck that is Kim and Tommy's love life.

Better rest up soon Kim. That Thunder Megazord won't have a skirt without you.

Adam asks how Kim is doing, and Aisha says she "thinks she'll live." Unless of course she's become sick from the side-effects of travelling through time and getting infected with tuberculosis after being stranded in the Wild West. In which case they're going to need to spend Season 3 looking for another Pink Ranger.

The other 3 Ranger Teens drop by and Billy stops all friendly banter by blathering about some new fancy piece of junk he installed in their Communicators. Billy mentions that he was recently in contact with Alpha 5, and he seemed to be sad about something. He immediately undercuts his own observation when he notes how odd it is that Alpha would be sad, considering he's a Godless robot with no emotions. The fuck are you on about Billy? Alpha can't go 3 seconds without panicking about whatever two-headed kangaroo Zedd has sent to Earth. That hunk of junk has more personality in his left ass-cheek than Rocky has in his entire body.

Tommy decides that they should try and cheer Alpha up by paying him a visit. I bet that'll do him some good. Remind him of how isolated his miserable existence is by forcing him to interact with five of the only six people he's allowed to know. Alpha 5's entire planet is about to be demolished and now he has to listen to Tommy talk about how karate gives you all sorts of neat-looking belts.

Can we also cherish how narcissistic Tommy is? Alpha 5's down in the dumps huh? I know what'll cheer him right up: Me!

Count Dregon's forces fire on Edenoi, and it's here that we get a look at his spaceship. It's pretty cool all things considered, so by the process of elimination, that makes it the best thing that's come out of Masked Rider.

That Spiderbase could use some more legs.

Lord Zedd uses his Zedd-Vision to observe Count Dregon's assault, and he becomes utterly incensed. Of all the gin joints in all the galaxies of all the universe he walks into Zedd's turf. Rita asks what's got her hubby's assless-chapped ass chapped. He retorts that that piece of shit Count Dregon has shown his ugly face in the Andromeda Sector, and is blasting a planet to pieces out there. When Rita asks why any of this should matter, Zedd responds that he hates Count Dregon even more than he hates the Power Rangers.

You see, ever since the two went to Evil College together, Count Dregon has constantly been trying to one-up Zedd. Zedd makes a monster out of a goat, Count Dregon makes a monster out of a goat that turns people into pigs. Zedd makes a monster out of a bat, Count Dregon makes a monster out of a bat that steals gold using bananas. Rita brushes this off as no big deal, but Zedd shuffles his feet and stares at the floor, because he'll never forget the night she used Dregon's name in bed. She could throw her wand all she wanted, but after that there was no way she would make his monster grow.

Rita assures her fiendishly flaccid husband that Finster is working on a monster that will blow his mind. Zedd mutters that's the only blowing that's happened in this palace in months, but Rita shrugs off his passive aggressive insults as she exits his chamber. Most likely so that she can call her brother and talk to him about how much she wishes she had married Count Dregon instead.

In all seriousness, there's a pretty awesome moment from Zedd when Rita is singing this monsters' praises. She mentions that this creature will unquestionably be able to defeat the Power Rangers, and they'll have no chance of escape. Zedd slumps over in his throne before mumbling, "Déjà vu..." The self-aware dialogue that the villains have had recently has been resonating with me in a big way. It seems like the writers realized how fruitless it was to give the Ranger Teens any depth, so they went out of their way to give more character to the villain side of the spectrum. I'm all for it honestly, because Lord Zedd's transition into a henpecked husband has been beautiful to watch.

Back at the Command Center, Billy double checks Alpha's data and confirms that Edenoi is going through some trouble. Probably something that will kill all innocent life on the planet, and tear asunder every piece of civilization that Edenoi has ever known. Ah well, that planet's way out in the boonies. The Power Rangers don't have time to deal with all that. Alpha tries to take the imminent genocide of his homeworld in stride, but for some reason he still seems rather concerned about it. Shit happens Alpha, why don't you accept the death of all you know and love and grow up?

The Rangers ask if they could possibly make it to Edenoi, but Zordon tells them it's much too far away to even think about reaching. Even though the peace-loving Edenoites are completely innocent and are an excellent source of indentured servants, we're going to have to let them die out in the recesses of space. Sorry! Zordon's booming voice echoes to each of his servants, "RANGERS, WE GOT WHAT WE NEEDED FROM THEM. LET GOD SORT THEM OUT NOW!"

The Ranger Teens figure this plot isn't going to solve itself, so they ask Zordon to send them already so they can get it over with. He offers concern that being so far away from Earth would limit the Rangers' access to their arsenal. Oh no! What if the Rangers weren't able to use the powers beholden to them like the Power Weapons, Tor the Shuttlezord, the Power Cannon, or the Gung-Ho Guns they used one time for like two minutes. They'd be completely powerless against the forces of evil!

Zordon tells the Rangers to go to Edenoi if they're really going to make such a big to-do about the whole thing, but he'll be able to keep in touch with them through their Communicators due to the chip Billy installed in them. Great. We can't get away from Zordon's bickering even when we're 600 million miles away from the Earth. Alpha contacts Kimberly to inform her that the other Rangers are off to help settle an intergalactic civil war, so if she stops vomiting at some point today, she can go murder some alien civilians if she's up for it.

The Pink-less Rangers morph and land in a valley somewhere. Once they land, they contact Zordon to teleport them to Edenoi. After some utterly needless scenes of calculating the coordinates of Edenoi, Zordon teleports the Power Rangers to the most dangerous location on the planet. R.I.P. Power Rangers. Shot to death in the slums of Edenoi by Edenoite drug cartels.

Lord Zedd notes that he can no longer sense the presence of the Power Rangers, barring Kimberly, and can't figure out where they've gone. Goldar says this is the perfect opportunity to strike, and Rita makes fun of him for such a ridiculous idea. Yeah Goldar, why would we attack Earth when the only Ranger occupying it is currently unable to digest solid foods. What a ridiculous idea to attack when our enemies are at the weakest they've ever been, and score a nearly guaranteed victory against them. You really know how to come up with some dumbshit plans don't you Goldar?

Rita ditches Goldar and Zedd so that she can ask Finster what stupid thing he's cooking in his monster oven this week. He claims that it's still cooking and will take about another episode's length of time to be ready. Rita tells him that it better be done soon, because the Earth is currently defenseless and needs a monster to blast it to pieces. Oh hey, you mean that idea Goldar suggested that you relentlessly mocked a couple of seconds ago? Now I remember why he was so happy to shove you into that dumpster you ungrateful bitch.

The Power Rangers land on Edenoi and are immediately caught in a series of explosions from Count Dregon's Spiderbase. It becomes apparent in a matter of seconds that the show only has one snippet of footage where the Spiderbase is firing lasers, because the same clip is reused over and over again to show energy blasts hitting Edenoi. You would think Saban and company would have learned by now that they should buy the props when they're licensing a Japanese show, but I'm sure the runaway success of Masked Rider will clam me right up.

Please watch this .gif twelve times to replicate the effect of watching this episode.

You'll also notice from that .gif that Edenoi is covered in a dingy-looking orange filter. The kind of shit that gives you a headache if you look at it for too long. It's obnoxious, because I know the only reason it's even here is to convince the audience they're not looking at yet another scene filmed in some Californian wasteland. The problem is how lousy it makes the footage look. It makes everything look so washed out and ugly, and that becomes an even bigger problem when we cut to Kamen Rider footage from 1988. That stuff already looks grainy and weird, so why not make it even worse looking by slapping a big ugly orange filter on it. Christ.

Dregon's ship runs out of stock footage lasers to shoot, so the Rangers hightail it away from the Spiderbase and its onslaught. Once the Rangers find cover, Aisha spots some of the Edenoites and ponders why they're digging up their own planet. Because those Zords they made you run on oil Aisha, and if they don't find more then Zordo-I mean Count Dregon is going to blow their planet to smithereens.

Billy explains that the Edenoites are digging up pockets of poison gas, but the other Rangers ponder why people would be destroying their own planet that way. A line which is going to hit a lot closer to home by the time our planet becomes uninhabitable and all that remains of our civilization is my complaints about a children's karate program.

A group of four cloaked Edenoites sneaks up on the Power Rangers and demands to know what they're doing. Tommy promises that the Rangers seek to do no harm to this peaceful race of alien freaks, and only seeks to spread the healing message of karate throughout the cosmos. The Edenoites tell these costumed clowns to shove it up their collective spandex-holes, because they obviously work for Count Dregon. As evidenced by their garish costumes, lack of personality, and overall empty experience. Yep, fit's the Count's M.O. alright.

One of the Edenoites, Prince Dex, calls upon the magic of truth, justice, and the Edonian way to show that the Power Rangers aren't the only heroes on the block.

And a franchise wasn't born

That's right, this is the mighty Masked Rider! An Edenoite warrior who partakes in adventures similar to the Power Rangers, but with even more boring and shitty slapstick thrown in. No, you didn't misread that sentence. I said more.

Masked Rider commands his Edenoite pals to battle the Power Rangers alongside him, and informs us all that he's fighting for Edenoi roughly 400 times. The Rangers immediately take the defensive, and I realize what would have made this fight a whole lot more interesting. Why not keep it ambiguous whose side Masked Rider and the Edenoites are on? That way we can have an actual battle between the Rangers and the Rider Crew, and not bog it down in all that peaceful malarkey. You can still have the mistaken identity angle when the Rangers realize these guys aren't their enemies, but I think it would be a lot more interesting to build up the Masked Rider as some sort of mystery character. Get kids more engaged in him before you unveil him (and his toys.)

Or just give him an annoying little pet that runs around and babbles incoherently. That might work even better.

Back on the Moon, Finster approaches Zedd and Rita with the announcement that his newest monster has been completed. Where is it? Oh jeez, would you look at that. We left him all the way over in Part 2! Sorry kids, guess you'll need to tune in next week to see what we've got in store for 'ya. By the way, do you good readers like big goofy tongues and the color green? Why am I asking? Uh…no reason.

The Edenoites continue to manhandle the Rangers while our heroes desperately try to convince the aliens they're here to help. They also have to battle against an evil man who's also some vaguely-defined form of royalty back on Earth. The Edenoites refuse to believe their disgusting spandexy lies, and continue to knock them around. The only moment that the battle ceases is when Aisha mentions Alpha's name, and the female Edenoite stops in her tracks. Once Billy mentions that they know the planet's becoming unstable, another one of the Edenoites stops and asks how he knows that. Yeah that's what would prove his innocence. He knows what Count Dregon's forces are up to. Clearly paints him as someone outside of the good Count's group doesn't it?

While the cloaked three Edenoites begin to back down from their "No Immigrants" policy, Masked Rider is having none of that shit. Dex battles against the Red and White Rangers, in a moment that was clearly what this entire trilogy hinged on. "Well we need to sell our new show, so why don't we have him fight against those other popular toys we sell? We'll make even more millions!"

The battle between Rider and Ranger should be a lot more entertaining, but Dex's delivery of his ridiculous and hammy dialogue is just dreadful. I've grown to accept the Rangers' goofy delivery of their lines, but this Dex kid just can't sell me on this corny material. The Power Rangers aren't constantly belching out lines regarding being Earth's defenders, nor do they shove it in your face how they never surrender. Dex spends all of his time preaching the glories of Edenoi, and when the Rangers ask him to trust them, he exclaims, "I TRUST NO ONE!" Jesus Christ. That line in particular is a real stinkeroo. Do you actually want me to watch this show Saban? What a joke.

Anyway, join me next week for episode 114.

Count Dregon inquires who these rainbow-costumed dweebs are that are messing with the Masked Rider. Double Face informs him that there's no data in his computer banks about them, and they could be some magical ghosts or something. Double Face comes to the conclusion that these creatures are also trying to steal the Masked Rider's powers, just as Dregon's forces are attempting to. Gork steps in to say "LET THE RANGERS KILL THE BOY, THEN SABAN SELLS MANY TOYS. ONCE HE IS FINISHED WE'LL BEGIN OUR HUNT. I CAN'T STOP RHYMING LIKE A TOTAL CUNT."

While Masked Rider continues his fruitless battle against the Rangers, Count Dregon's Spiderbase fires a mass of energy beams at the planet.

Oh, sorry, let me provide a visual.



The Spiderbase's blasts knock Red, White, and Dex off-balance. When Dex realizes that Dregon is firing on everyone, he realizes that the Power Rangers must not be lying to him. Dex proclaims that "even Dregon isn't low enough to fire on his own soldiers!" Good point Dex. He would enslave an entire planet's population to poison their own world, but firing on one of his military pawns? No dice.

Masked Rider asks the Rangers how they found this planet, and Tommy informs him of Alpha 5's distress signal. Upon hearing of Alpha 5, Dex promises that any friend of Alpha is a friend of theirs. He welcomes the humans to his horrifying planet that's coated in noxious fumes, constantly under fire from a giant mollusk spaceship, and has half of its civilians trapped in slave labor. I gotta tell ya, if I was an Edenoite I might just shove my face into one of those poison pockets and take a nice deep breath.

Dregon's ship fires another volley of energy blasts at the two hero groups, and Masked Rider leads the Rangers to a nearby cave. Count Dregon furiously berates his minions and demands that they release the devious Plague Patrol. Soon the Power Rangers know his wrath.

Because he sure isn't getting his ass off that ship.




TO BE CONTINUED



Your Weekly 90's Nostalgia: Cruelly Deceiving Your Audience




Personal Thoughts:


I'm pretty surprised how decent this one was. It's probably no surprise that I, like every other human being with eyeballs and ears, was not a fan of the Masked Rider TV show. That being said, Dex is a far more interesting character in this glorified pilot than he was in any of his cornball show. The fight between the Rangers and Masked Rider's crew isn't amazing, but it's kept pretty short and to the point. They even managed to interest me in Count Dregon's gang. Let me tell you right now, that is not something I'm proud to admit, because those four jokers end up having the screen presence of wt dog food.

So overall, this one's pretty good for what it is. What is it? Well it's a glowing neon sign that says "WATCH MASKED RIDER: COMING THIS FALL!" But this isn't something as simple as "The Flintstones Meet the Jetsons." This is a calculated attempt to sell a product to kids, and it's being used in a show that's already a calculated attempt to sell a product to kids. It's almost genius in how ruthless it is. "Hey kids, Tommy and the gang are cool, but what if there was a guy as strong as his whole team?!"

Now let me be fair. That's totally my cynicism coming through and judging this episode. It doesn't feel utterly transparent about the Masked Rider shilling. It's pretty respectable about it. Lord Zedd doesn't become a completely impotent loser to build up how amazing and impressive Count Dregon is. Zordon doesn't declare Dex to be an unstoppable beast who can defeat all the Rangers with his eyes closed. Power Rangers takes time to try and build these characters into their world, and act like they're simply part of the universe at large. It's not perfect, but I'd say it works rather well.

I should probably briefly explain what the deal with Masked Rider is, since lord knows I don't want to watch that shit again. Masked Rider, much like VR Troopers and Big Bad Beetleborgs, was an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Power Rangers by making other action-oriented children's T.V. shows that use Japanese fighting footage. While Power Rangers was made from a series known as Super Sentai, Masked Rider used footage from an even longer-running program called Kamen Rider, specifically 1988's Kamen Rider Black RX. While I'm a pretty big fan of Kamen Rider, I can't in good faith recommend anybody watch that one. Yikes.

While Troopers and Beetleborgs may have had their fans, Masked Rider remains significantly more divisive. Probably because it's infinitely worse than even Power Rangers most ridiculous entries, but that's only my interpretation. I think a more damning piece of evidence is the fact that Shout Factory hasn't released any DVD's of Masked Rider, and I don't believe it's on Netflix either. While this might be my ardent cynicism talking, I get the feeling that speaks to how poorly Masked Rider performed as a series. But then again, this is all second-hand. I could be totally wrong about this show. Who's going to know? Is there actually someone out there who would want to correct me? And out themselves as a Masked Rider expert? More power to 'ya.





6 comments:

  1. Maybe Masked Rider would have taken off had they gotten a lead actor who's voiceover work didn't make your ears bleed (not that the dialogue helped, to be fair). While I recall seeing VR Troopers and Beetleborgs on tv I never did see Masked Rider anywhere (but I did have Farmervision in rural Canada at the time it would've come out).

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    1. I actually liked T.J. Roberts for playing a different kind of Rider than you'd expect, but it did get weird how as Dex he'd sound so stilted taking simple phrases too literally, yet then in battle he'd be quipping like Spider-Man. I think the real problem was forcing a cheesy situation comedy when Saban didn't have anyone who knew how to write or direct live-action comedy well, and Power Rangers was probably only saved by the strength of Bulk and Skull's actors.

      I tried to catch Masked Rider plenty during the first half of its run, and I was at least aware of Beetleborgs even though I never really understood it, but I may have never seen VR Troopers because it was syndicated and so not guaranteed to be on Fox Kids. If Masked Rider's last season switched to syndication, then that might be the reason I didn't see more!

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  2. The slave trade jokes never get old.

    I liked these episodes as a kid, but then again I also watched Masked Rider (God knows why, even back then I zoned out during the non-action scenes and now I can't get through 5 minutes of it). And from what I've heard on the interwebs, there's no DVDs of Masked Rider because nobody knows who owns the rights to the show anymore for some reason to do with the use of the Japanese footage, and nobody wants to claim the rights and be associated with that garbage.

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  3. I only watched the german dub of Masked Rider, and you would be surprised how much it helps when you have the proper voice for your main hero.
    The german guy who dubbed Dex actually made him sound cool.

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  4. Have you ever thought that Rita was being sarcastic with Goldar? "The power rangers are gone, this is the perfect time to attack." "Oh really?! I'd have never thought of that! Get your stupid 'point out the obvious' ass back in the chamber pots and start scrubbing. Zedd, can you believe this moron?"

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  5. Meanwhile, I did a short comparison of this crossover with 2009's Decade vs. Shinkenger crossover:

    MMPR's "Friend in Need" Compared to the Shinkenger Arc of Kamen Rider Decade

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