Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Season 1 Overview

The past two weeks I wanted to look at this totally bonkers T.V. show on an episode by episode basis. It let me look at what made the show fun to watch and what made it a complete chore. This week I'm going to look at Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on a more macro level. I want to pick out the bits and pieces of why this show functions when it does, and what makes the show suffer when it doesn't.

I blab a lot about what I love in the Japanese Sentai footage, but during this post I will only discuss Sentai stuff in how it relates to Power Rangers. In spite of how much they share they're two different shows after all. So take a look with me and see if you agree. 

What Worked

Makes sense to start at the beginning with the pilot and how well it laid the groundwork for Power Rangers. Though I was remiss about including Day of the Dumpster on the top 10 best episodes list, I can't deny how good it was at telling you as an audience member the kind of wild ride you're in for.

The Ranger Teens act as audience surrogates who get a big exposition dump from Zordon about how an evil space witch is sending clay monsters to their planet. The only way to stop her is to use toy shaped dinosaur robots to kill anything she brings at them. All of this is told to our heroes without skipping a beat. Get onboard everyone, because this show is going to get bugnuts and we're not held responsible if you fall off  the crazy train.

Everything was there in the pilot. A bunch of karate mumbo jumbo, Rita's Moon Crew and their varying abilities, each of the Rangers stock personality traits, the Putties being fought both in and out of Ranger suits, the Zords combining to fight Goldar, and even Bulk and Skull.

Now Bulk and Skull? Holy moly that's a topic in of itself. You want something that worked? These two clowns. Week after week they managed to somehow be the most endearing goddamned thing in this show.

How in the hell are two accident prone bullies so entertaining to watch? After all these years I'm still not sure what the answer is. Maybe it's just the fact that Power Rangers is a universe where assholes are routinely punished via karmic cake splatterings, but also the way they play each humiliating situation they get caught up in like they never saw it coming. As though everything in their lives up until now has been incredible, but this one embarrassment they just endured ruined their whole existence.

Man maybe sometimes you just need to see a guy get a pie in the face. No shame in that.

While I'd be hard pressed to say any of the Ranger Teens characters deserve praise, I can't ignore the fact that Billy had an everloving character arc. It fizzles out around the 2/3rds mark of the series because the writers were ostensibly wrapping the series up. However, the idea that any of these cardboard cutouts changed at all throughout this show seems inconceivable.

Billy's actually given room to improve. He's not a star karate champ who does science on the side. He's a big dweeb who doesn't know his ass from a kickflip and wants to learn how to be better at karate. It coincides with him being a Power Ranger so we can watch his growth as a hero outside of the suit. It's not Billy trying to live up to being a Ranger, but him genuinely wanting to better himself and be the type of person he looks up to. I actually quite enjoy that Billy doesn't go out of his way to compare himself to the Blue Ranger, he just wants to be cool as who he is. Even if he's some tone deaf dweeb in overalls.

Apropos of tone deaf dweebs, I fucking love the music in this show so much. Some people in this world swear by KISS, Guns and Roses, The Beatles. Friends, my musical muse is Ron Wasserman. It's the 90'sist rock music that ever came out of the H.W. Bush primordial ooze, but it fucking speaks to me. It puts me in a cheery mood and shuts down the outside world. I dream of the day the evil Rita Repulsa is finally defeated. Then my family tells me they're worried about me and I shoot at them with my Blade Blaster and tell them to go tell Goldar I'm not falling for his tricks. 

Let's be realistic here. If you've heard the theme song to Power Rangers, you've gotten it stuck in your head. It's fucking catchy, how can that even be denied? Wasserman managed to make a theme that resonated with every human being in possession of eardrums, and he did it with a song that only used 6 different words. That man produced some goofy ass 90's rock and to this day it's some of my favorite music to cure the blues.  Suck a dick Beethoven, you can't play Moonlight Sonata over Pudgy Pig getting Power Blasted.

Finally I want to commend the editors on how they utilized the Sentai footage. For the most part. 

Zyuranger had kids involved in almost every week's plot. A lot of those kids ended up in scenes with the Rangers themselves, rendering select scenes unusable for MMPR. Somehow the show was able to still create interesting and engaging battle scenes after cutting out moments with Japanese actors which could otherwise have looked second-rate and half-assed. By no means was this approach always done flawlessly

but they still did their damndest to make it work. I actually enjoy the moments with Japanese extras obviously in the scenes. You can feel the editors gritting their teeth hoping the audience won't notice as they take a deep breath and submit the footage. You don't even want to mock the show for it, you just want to pat the editors on the back and tell them they did their best.

But honestly, the editors at Power Rangers made some smart decisions. Mostly what I mean is the sorts of things they were smart enough to exclude. One of the goofiest things in Zyuranger (a goofy ass show as it is), was that the Putties would sometimes emerge as terrible looking hand puppets. In a show that's riddled with cheap effects and costumes, these things take the cake and I can't say how glad I am they were excised.

Another set of silly scenes erased from Zyuranger were moments that Rita would lead her cronies in singing a jaunty song with her before they would plan out a scheme. I'd love to say how dumb and awful these moments are, but if you can watch this video without at least being interested in what the fuck is going on, Tokusatsu might not be for you. Also, please enjoy the end of the song where everyone is very clearly just mouthing their lines and it becomes a glorious mess.

Oh who am I kidding? This scene is incredible! How could they have cut it?! Okay I apologize guys, maybe there are a few things Power Ranger goofed up after all.

What Didn't Work

Since we were just talking about Rita, let's play a quick little game. Tell me one thing Rita Repulsa did after Doomsday Part 2. Something that didn't involve barking orders at her minions or appearing in stock footage to make the monster grow giant. Give up? Might be because Rita became completely superfluous near the end of the season.

You've built Rita Repulsa up to be the main antagonist of your series, you've had her summoning giant demon beasts and mutant heads that yawn at people. Then once all the footage from Zyuranger runs out all she does is ask Goldar to tell the kids at home about her monster this week. I understand all they could really do with Rita at that point was nothing but recycled footage of her on the Moon Palace laughing or getting pissy, but that still doesn't change the fact the show's main antagonist becomes a complete non-entity near the end of the season. 

As soon as we got into Zyu2 material, there was little left for Rita to do. Everything interesting she used to do was given to one of her minions, likely because it cut down on the difficulties of dubbing over her Japanese actress's dialogue. Matching up mouth-flaps for a human being is significantly more difficult than matching the mouth-flaps of a blue hobgoblin whose mouth barely moves as it is.

On the subject of Squatt and his buddy Baboo, sweet Jesus what a pair of worthless characters. All they do is sputter out some shitty one-liners before completely vanishing from the episode. They don't give exposition like Goldar, they don't make the monsters like Finster, so we're just stuck with two bumbling half-wits the writers had no use for. In the first episode review I posted, I wondered if I would enjoy these two more now than I had before. Well gee golly willikers I sure don't. I enjoy them even less than I did as a kid. Kick rocks you fucking goobers.

At least Scorpina had the decency to just vanish when there was no use for her in an episode. Squatt and Baboo were in so many background shots of Rita's palace the writers were nearly obligated to use them in some way. Unfortunately all they were good for was shoehorning in cornball jokes. I appreciated the fact that two episodes actually tried to do something with these clowns, Reign of the Jellyfish and Enter the Lizzinator. It was by no means entertaining, but at least they were given some reason to actually exist in two episodes out of the back 20 of the season. Come to think of it, that's a better track record than Trini got.

To be fair, it's easy to say how one dimensional each of the Ranger Teens are but holy shit it needs to be addressed. I dish on Trini a lot not because of the character, or the acting, but the writers steadfast refusal to do a goddamn thing with her. She's just symptomatic of the show's issues with character development. Billy gets something to do while everyone else is just generically good and friendly. Those are awesome things you can show kids to give them positive role models to look up to, but you're doing so at the expense of depriving them of humanity.

Bits and pieces of soul would shine through these chunks of unvarnished wood, but so often it's things that you would want to see followed up on but get no payoff. Things like telling me Zack loves to go surfing. When you tell me that, I need a scene of that motherfucking hanging ten, and you fail to give it to me.

Introducing developments like Kim's parents being divorced and having her discuss how that makes her feel is organic, it's welcome, and it works. It's expanding the show's universe with knowledge that the audience doesn't necessarily need, but makes the characters feel more real. It'd be like if Trini were adopted or Jason's granddad was a fighter pilot in WW2. Things we don't particularly need fleshed out or referred to, but something to make them seem like actual characters.

It makes sense in some way that the characters aren't given a lot of room to grow, because the show has to portray them as Japanese superheroes as well as your standard high school teenagers. Half of each episode is going to be unable to develop them as anything but run of the mill paragons of justice who act practically indistinguishable from one another. If they weren't wearing different colors you wouldn't have a goddamned clue who was who.

The morphed footage takes up roughly half of the episode and gives you next to no opportunity to develop characters. So when the first half of your episode has to also tangentially relate to whatever monster attack is happening in the second half, you're left with very little time to actually give your character something unique to do. So I can at least meet the show halfway in why it let the characters remain so stock. Otherwise it may not be able to blend in with the morphed footage.

What I will take objection with is when you give the Ranger Teens hobbies we'll never see them doing. It's just ignoring the fact you have purported human beings in front of the camera and dive out of the way of letting them change or be different at all. How will Tommy change by playing football? Why would he want to play football? What effect will it have on him? I unno, but he wants to play football so that's what the episodes about.

Earlier I brought up Billy changing as good characterization, and I can stand by that. Those who have been reading these summaries up until now might recall that Kimberly and Zack were both involved in semi romantic relationships over the course of the first season. So how can I say they didn't develop in some way? Well Kimberly and Tommy were a fine couple, they both...had emotions for each other I guess? Unfortunately the relationship with Zack and Angela runs straight back into the character problem again.

Zack's crush on Angela makes her look less like a character and more like a satellite that orbits around Zack. Angela cannot possibly exist unless Zack is also there. She will only ever interact with him or possibly Bulk and Skull. You aren't going to see Trini or Angela talk to each other because they aren't characters and would have nothing to talk about. It just showcases how flat this amazing magical world can be when the writers want to keep things so binary. 0=Talk to Zack. 1=Bulk and Skull aren't worth fucking.

All I want to say is that there's nothing wrong with simple storytelling. Easy to follow, keeps you engaged, and can still be a lot of fun. The only problem is when your show runs for 60 episodes and stays that simple. You start to yearn for more than that and it's frustrating to watch how little change really occurs.

Now Tommy, for better or worse, changes the scope of this show. I'm not going to say he's a negative in of himself, but it's hard not to notice Power Rangers shifting gears with his presence. Just about every episode after Green With Evil required a scene of Tommy being interrupted or given reason to be away from the action so he could show up later in the footage. The problem with this is that no other character got that level of focus. Everything become heavily weighted towards Tommy which only further shoved the other Ranger Teens off to the side.

Of course the Green Ranger is cool. We all understand that. But the show slowly started becoming Tommy Oliver and his Five Friends and this was an issue that would remain for an unfortunate amount of time.

So that's way too many words about what I thought about this kid's show from 20 years ago. If any of you find a time machine please inform Saban Brands so they can fix all these problems. Otherwise their multi jillion dollar franchise might not be able to live up to its full potential! Leave a comment below and lemme know what you think the show's strengths and weaknesses were. I feel like I'm missing quite a bit so I want to hear what you good people think too! Also feel free to disagree. Sometimes when I get this analytical I tend to ramble and babble. Hopefully this post is at least 80% content and 20% rambling. If not? Oh well. See you fuckers next week!

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