“Want to do a ride-along with some of the cast members of this series?” It was an innocuous idea pitched to me by my L.A. Weekly editor, Zach, while I was interning there last summer. The series seemed fun enough – a reality series about graduated high school students enjoying their last summer – and it was a good opportunity for my first big feature.
Season: Power Rangers Turbo
Episode: “Cassie’s Best Friend” (Episode 38)
If Power Rangers Zeo failed at keeping my attention because it was too stagnant, Power Rangers Turbo had the exact opposite problem: it was too different. The entire team changed. There was a preteen boy as the Blue Ranger. Zordon was replaced by a highly inquisitive new female mentor. The Rangers’ Zords were cars instead of animals. Lots of change, all very quickly.
While I’m not against some change (I’m a fan of the Thunder Megazord, after all), these changes really upset the balance of things when I was younger – especially Blue Ranger Justin (Blake Foster), a prepubescent charged with saving the world. He was all kinds of irritating. The rest of the new cast, who took over for the old crew midway through the season, were better, but it was tough to hold on without any sense of familiarity. Yet four of these five cast members would go on to become part of the single best Ranger team in any of the early seasons – something I’ll get to in more detail tomorrow.
For now, let’s examine – or at least, try to examine – my favorite of the new cast, Pink Ranger Cassie (Patricia Ja Lee), in her focus episode, “Cassie’s Best Friend.”
Cassie is hanging out with the other Rangers, though blatantly disregarding them for her dog, Jetson. The other Rangers are clearly so jealous of Jetson – Justin would love to catch a Frisbee in his teeth! – but no, Cassie only has eyes for Jetson.
This is Divatox (Hilary Shepard Turner)! Divatox wants to sabatoge the Rangers’ day of fun (also probably wants to steal Jetson, because who wouldn’t, he’s the best), so she sends a monster. I know you’re shocked that a Power Rangers villain would ever send a monster.
This particular monster is called Mr. Goo. He uses his, erm, white goo to transform people into animals. Note that he does this by, uh, covering their faces in said white goo. It’s as suggestive as it sounds.
Anyway, Jetson helps fight the monster when he attacks Cassie alone (because Jetson is still the best). This results in both monster and dog rolling down a hill. Mr. Goo slips away. Jetson is nowhere to be found. Cassie panics, because if Jetson’s not around, she’ll have to play with Justin! And that’s the worst thing that can happen.
On Jetson’s leash, however, is this man, going by “Jethro.” Jethro is, of course, Jetson, turned human. I love the casting here: this guy pulls off dog behaviors really well. For some reason, Jethro doesn’t just tell Cassie he’s Jetson – instead, he takes Cassie and the other Rangers on a wild goose (er, I mean dog) chase around Angel Grove. During the search, Cassie and Jetson bond.
Jetson starts slowly turning back into a dog, so he has to bail. Cassie is distraught by this. Literally, she’s known this guy for a couple hours, and she’s calling him one of her best friends. Super strange. Anyway, no time to think about that, because the Rangers have to go beat Mr. Goo once and for all. And you know what that means! It’s Morphi–er, it’s time to, uh, shift into turbo? (God, that’s terrible.)
Note that Justin has to grow into his powers. Can’t mismatch that Sentai footage, after all! (I should probably introduce the other Rangers, too. Red is TJ, Selwyn Ward; Green is Carlos, Roger Velasco; Yellow is Ashley, Tracy Lynn Cruz. Like I said, I like them all a lot better next season.)
The Rangers force Divatox to grow the monster (which she does by firing torpedoes at it), and the Rangers call the Rescue Megazord. Unfortunately, Divatox’s henchman, Elgar, is also operating his own Zord, so they need help from the Blue Senturion, who acts as an extra Ranger this season. Blue Senturion is basically RoboCop. Seriously, look:
His Zord is almost more ridiculous:
They beat the monster by using GIANT CANNONS:
The monster is destroyed and Jetson returns! All is well. Hilariously, Cassie never actually figures what happened out, because… I’m not sure. The end of the episode is really weird. Oh well.
Analysis: Honestly, this whole episode is bizarre. I chose it because I like Cassie, but it doesn’t really tell you anything about her, other than that she makes friends way too easily and loves her dog. Fairly basic. Tomorrow’s episode also features Cassie, and is a much better showcase for why she’s great.
Instead, let me just briefly go over why Turbo as a season doesn’t quite work. Though there’s good moments, on the whole, it suffers from its source material, Gekisou Sentai Carranger, actually being a parody of Sentai. Trying to reconcile goofy footage with a serious plot didn’t quite work. That’s why the season’s best episodes embrace the camp – though this one was kinda campy and still didn’t work. So maybe it’s more accurate to say this season was just a bit of a wash.
Still, much like Zeo before it, it was a necessary transition. The switch got a lot of fan favorite characters (Cassie and TJ especially) introduced before the In Space season, which remains an absolutely beloved season. I certainly love it, and I’m excited to look at one of its best episodes tomorrow.
Season: Power Rangers Zeo
Episode: “Another Song and Dance” (Episode 45)
Ladies and gentlemen, Rangers and villains, we have now exited the Mighty Morphin seasons and are firmly into the one-season series. Near the end of the third Mighty Morphin season, a subplot was introduced involving the Zeo Crystal, a power source that the Rangers needed for new powers – and, for the first time in the franchise, new suits. After retrieving the scattered portions of the Crystal (and Yellow Ranger Aisha, Karan Ashley, swapping places with new Yellow Ranger Tanya, Nakia Burisse), the Rangers were given their new powers and Zords.
The Zeo powers were fine – a little vague and undefined, but still nice – and the male Rangers got new colors: Rocky (Steven Cardenas) went from Red to Blue, Adam (Johnny Young Bosch) went from Black to Green, and Tommy (Jason David Frank) went from White to Red. The team was rounded out by Tanya and my least favorite Pink Ranger, Katherine (Catherine Sutherland).
Zordon still advised the team, along with former Blue Ranger Billy (David Yost), who left midway through this season. At the time, it was assumed to be a financial dispute, but years later, Yost would attribute it to being bullied on set because of his sexuality. Before Yost left, Billy was a candidate for the sixth set of Zeo Ranger powers – the Gold Ranger – but instead, another Mighty Morphin alum was brought back: Jason (Austin St. John), the original Red Ranger.
Whew! I think we’re all caught up. Now let’s get to the fun stuff.
Tommy has to sing for his music class, and thus is practicing by shredding some mad air guitar and lip-synching alone. Tanya walks in on him and makes this face:
Tanya tells Tommy that “there’s more to singing than looking good,” and also judges him for being so white. (Unintentional point to make: around this time, the series played up Tommy’s Native American heritage so hard, then immediately made him the Red Ranger. Well done, Power Rangers.)
Tommy asks Tanya for voice lessons after she’s done judging him, and she agrees. This gives villainess and ruler of the Machine Empire Queen Machina an idea for a plan.
Machina is pinch-hitting while her husband, main villain King Mondo, is, erm, destroyed. Because the villains are machines, they can rebuild themselves, which allowed for a nice mid-season arc where the vacuum of power allowed for other villains to try to fill in. One such villain was Machina’s older son, Prince Gasket, and his wife, Archerina.
I liked Archerina and Gasket a lot. They were much sleeker villains than Mondo (who always looked a little doddering to me), and Gasket actually had some innovative ideas.
Anyway, Machina casts a spell and forces Tommy and Tanya to sing every single one of their lines. This is just as hilarious as it sounds. It’s helped by the fact that Tommy is a TERRIBLE singer. Plus, they have to sing things in rhyme, so Tommy asking “Are you all right?” is responded to by Tanya belting “Do not make light / I’ve had a fright!” It is wonderful.
The Rangers inform the others of what’s happened to them, leading to Rocky and Adam making these faces:
Additionally, according to Zordon, Tommy won’t be able to pilot his personal zord, the Red Battlezord, because his singing is ruining his telepathic connection with it. To which Rocky says, rolling his eyes: “The last thing we need is to be down a Zord.” Rocky is such a bitch in this season, and I love it.
Anyway, Angel Grove is under attack, so it’s that time again:
(I so wish the morph from this episode was online – Tommy and Tanya still sing when they morph, and it’s a great little continuity nod.)
Gasket and Archerina launch a full-scale attack with a caterpillar monster, while Machina uses her son’s plans to hit a bigger target – the Zord docking bay. In the Super Zeo Megazord and Red Battlezord (reconfigured so Adam can use it), the Rangers fight the caterpillar in the single most ridiculous looking fight:
Jason goes to the Zord bay and fights the foot soldiers, this season called Cogs, to drive them out. Meanwhile, the caterpillar monster divides, and the Rangers start to lose. Somewhere in here, Archerina, watching the battle, simply asks, “Is that singing?” It’s wonderfully underplayed and so, so funny.
Adam loses his connection to the Red Battlezord. “Reestablish the link / Or we’ll all sink!” Tommy sings. I laugh. This is followed up with both Megazords losing control and being forced to dance. Said dance includes shaking their asses.
The Zords go down, and it really looks like Gasket is going to win. They fight the Rangers on the ground, with Archerina kicking Tommy’s ass (“I’d stop that singing,” she advises. Tommy’s response: “I WISH I COULD!”) and the other Rangers getting knocked around by Gasket. During this scene, the show retains the continuity by having Tommy and Tanya sing their grunts. It is wonderful.
Jason saves the day with his carrier Zord, Pyramidas, and Tommy gets an A on his singing project. Rocky throws some shade on Tommy’s singing voice (alternate character interpretation: Rocky was the first gay Power Ranger), but Kat says she likes it, because Kat is clearly deaf. (She was also with Tommy romantically at this point – Kimberly sent a Dear John letter off-camera because the writers wanted to pair Tommy and Kat and also because life is terrible.)
At the end of the episode, we see King Mondo has revived himself! His return sets up the arc for the short remainder of the season – and a return to boredom.
Analysis: Power Rangers Zeo as a season is boring. It bored me as a kid and it bores me now. The heavy reliance on the Choriki Sentai Ohranger stock footage for battles (if not plot) and possibly my least favorite combination of Rangers in the seasons I’ve seen added up to a snooze.
That said, “Another Song and Dance” is one of the most enjoyable episodes of the series ever, and quite enjoyable on its own merits beyond being an episode of Power Rangers. It’s really good, embracing the campy sensibilities of the show in ways that a typical episode would never be able to reach.
Not only is it campy – “Another Song and Dance” is hardly a trifle of an episode. King Mondo’s return at the end was big news for the rest of the season, and seeing Gasket and Archerina get so close to success shows that innovative thinking on villains’ part achieves results. The Rangers are lucky most villains stick to the same tired methods.
Still, one episode does not a season make. While Jason’s return as the Gold Ranger was exciting, and this season did a good job of flushing out Adam, Rocky and Kat’s personalities, it was still a rough season.
In many ways, Zeo was a necessary season. There was no way to sustain continuing to use the Mighty Morphin suits, and the show’s tendency to cut-and-paste footage together (one Season 3 episode had footage from five different sources cut together) was untenable. This was a big ol’ reset button, and set the standard for the rest of the series. However, swapping to the Zeo powers marked a return to the status quo of season 1, and no one on set seemed to be having much fun. That is, no one besides Cardenas as Rocky.
I pointed out Rocky’s bitchy quips above, and they’re really indicative of how much more significant his personality shift was than either Adam’s or Kat’s. Sure, those characters got some new details added to their personas, but Rocky almost became a whole new character – hugely believable for a guy who was forced to take a demotion from Red Ranger to Blue Ranger with the seasonal changeover. In a lot of ways, he brought the fun even amidst the monotony, and the Zeo incarnation of Rocky has a special place in my heart.
Unfortunately, like QUEEN Amy Jo Johnson before him, Cardenas left the series before the rest of his team did the same. Cardenas sustained an injury while shooting Zeo that forced him to leave before the next season, Power Rangers Turbo. To say the solution producers came up with for filling his spot was “disappointing” is an understatement. Still, Turbo wasn’t all bad, and we’ll take a look at possibly its best character next time.
Season: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, season 3
Episode: “Another Brick in the Wall” (Episode 26)
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was, for quite some time, the only series within the greater Rangers series that had more than one season. Perhaps as a direct result of viewer fatigue, season three was the last of the original Mighty Morphin era, and the team would gain new powers and, for the first time, new suits in Power Rangers Zeo. Because of this, a lot of this season serves as set-up for the change-over. One of the biggest examples of that is the introduction of Katherine Hillard (Catherine Sutherland) as the second Pink Ranger.
I mentioned in the season 2 write-up that I think Katherine can’t hold a candle to Kimberly (QUEEN Amy Jo Johnson). So let’s confront my Kat issues head-on with an episode that features her and Blue Ranger/last original team member Billy (David Yost) heavily. Good thing I like Billy!
First, some background: Kat was an accomplice of Rita’s when she was first introduced, but, like White Ranger Tommy (Jason David Frank, still rocking that middle name), was merely brainwashed and brought over to the good side. It was just in time, too, as QUEEN Amy Jo Johnson had asked to depart the series and was in need of a replacement Ranger. Fortunately, because she gave notice, she was given a nice, long sendoff arc. Unfortunately, we got Kat in exchange. Of course, because she is QUEEN, Johnson still got a spot in the opening credits after her departure:
Kat is doing some work in underserved neighborhoods, and wants to recruit the guys to help. The guys, who know a pretty girl when they see one, jump at the chance. Rita, who’s married to Zedd now (and subsequently, being played by an American actress), is disgusted with her goody-goody tendencies.
Rita teams up with her brother, Rito Revolto, to ruin Kat’s plans. Rito was an addition to the stable of villains who initially proved useful by destroying the Thunder Zords, then almost immediately became a giant joke when the Rangers got their new Ninja Ranger powers. He proves himself no more useful in this episode than in the past.
Kat is apparently the kind of asshole who wears a “TEAM LEADER” shirt and pink helmet:
Anyway, she and her team clean up a construction lot (the single cheesiest musical montage ever), but what’s really important in this scene is the moment we all realized exactly how hot Billy got all of a sudden.
The others leave after a job well done, but Kat gets attacked by Rito and the foot soldiers for the season, the Tengas. She morphs into her ninja form, a new power this season that acts as a middle ground between unmorphed and morphed battles. It’s worth wondering exactly how ninja-esque a big pink suit really is, though.
She calls for backup, but during the scuffle, an attempt by Rita to repossess Kat misfires and creates a monster from a segment of the brick wall she hits. Said monster traps the other Rangers besides Kat and Billy in colored bricks. There’s a hilarious moment where Kat has a Debbie Downer moment and says it’s all her fault. Zordon basically tells her to stop bitching and come up with a solution. It’s refreshing for reasons we’ll get into in the analysis.
Luckily, Billy comes up with a solution: eroding the bricks away! Kat stays behind to help create a pollution machine to break the bricks while Billy goes to fight the wall monster solo.
This season is unique among the Mighty Morphin seasons in that the Rangers each get two Zords: the initial Ninjazords, and the human-shaped Shogunzords. Billy uses his Shogunzord to destroy the monster in big form, too, effectively scoring two solo wins in one episode.
Billy teleports back to the Command Center, where the pollution machine works and the Rangers are saved. Zordon immediately congratulates Katherine, which
is complete and utter bullshit seems a little unfair, considering Billy just destroyed a monster alone. To her credit, Kat shares the love with Billy – something no one else does.
Back at the construction site, everyone can’t help but tell Kat how amazing the work she did is with the construction lot. She’s even getting an award from the mayor, which seems more than slightly ridiculous. But hey, everyone loves Kat, right? Of course you do.
Analysis: So have you caught onto the issue with Kat yet? Everything she does is wonderful and marvelous and oh thank Zordon that we have such a beauteous creature in our presence. Even in an episode where Billy destroys a tough monster alone – and comes up with the solution to reversing the Rangers’ predicament – everyone can’t shut up about how much they love Kat.
This is frustrating for so many reasons, not the least of which is that Kat was just turned from the dark side a few episodes prior. Not only that, but she doesn’t show a whole lot of qualities, even when not brainwashed, that indicate she’d be a great Ranger. There’s something to this episode’s plot that could have worked – she’s rehabilitating her image – but even from the get-go, there’s no indication that anyone even questions how wonderful and amazing Kat is. It’s all a bit nauseating.
Besides Kat’s introduction, however, season 3 has some major good points. The whole season is much more arc-focused, with a record-low 13 of 33 episodes not being part of a multi-part episode. Even some of the standalones served the greater arc. Unfortunately, the arc obsession resulted in the single least memorable “season,” Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers.
As I mentioned in the intro post, I’m not bothering with Alien Rangers, because it was only 10 episodes long and served as part of this season. However, it saw the Rangers aged down to their younger selves and put the focus on a cast of Rangers from another planet. While this gave the creators the chance to use suits and more footage from this season’s source Sentai, Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, it weighed down the series considerably, and pulls what could have been the best Mighty Morphin season down into a firm third place of three.
Speaking of weighing down the series, the next season, while a change of pace in many ways, took out a lot of the camp qualities in the original Mighty Morphin seasons, but not for the better. Luckily, the episode I’m examining, a musical episode, has camp in droves. Come back tomorrow to read all about Power Rangers Zeo.
Season: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, season 2
Episode: “Forever Friends” (Episode 37)
Though I watched – and loved – the first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers back in the day, season 2 is where my love for the series really lies, and on a pure nostalgia level is my favorite season I’ve watched in the franchise. How fitting, then, that my favorite LadyRanger, Kimberly (QUEEN Amy Jo Johnson), is a focal point in the example episode from my favorite season!
The story this week revolves around Kimberly competing at a gymnastics competition against a former friend of new Yellow Ranger Aisha (Karan Ashley). When Aisha transferred to Angel Grove High from rival city Stone Canyon to become a Power Ranger, she left behind best friend Shawna, who is, like Kimberly, a gymnast. Unlike Kimberly, she’s basically a raging bitch.
Raging Bitch Shawna is all “you left me behind, you ho.” Aisha’s like, “This is my new best friend Kimberly.” Kimberly is like “you suck, Shawna,” because QUEEN Amy Jo Johnson speaks for us all.
Anyway, Aisha drags Raging Bitch Shawna to lunch with her and Kim, where Shawna gets super passive-aggressive, but can’t get too many bitchy quips in before they’re attacked by Goldar, a former minion of Rita’s who now serves Lord Zedd. As I mentioned in the last post, Season 2 brought a lot of changes for the Rangers, including new members of their team and, more importantly, new villains. I’ll get into this more in the analysis, but suffice it to say, Zedd was so much more menacing than Rita. I mean, look at him:
Anyway, Goldar kidnaps Kimberly and Shawna, and Aisha basically has a panic attack. She goes to find the boys, who are embracing their butchness:
As you can see, Tommy (Jason David Frank, having found his middle name) and Billy (David Yost) have new friends, too! In a previous episode, the former Red, Black and Yellow Rangers (Austin St. John as Jason, Walter Jones as Zack, Thuy Trang as Trini) went to an international peace conference and were replaced by these guys. Along with Aisha, we have Black Ranger Adam (Johnny Young Bosch) and Red Ranger Rocky (Steven Cardenas). All the characters’ colors were mixed up so things would be a little less racist than before, and Rocky was the series’ first Hispanic member of the team. The real reason for the switch is another thing I’ll get into in the analysis.
So Aisha storms into the woodshop class and has this beautiful line of dialogue:
Played totally straight, of course. Power Rangers never met an earnest line of dialogue it didn’t love. Things Power Rangers also loved: filler morphing sequences, updated for the new cast!
The Rangers split up, with Tommy going to save the girls and the rest of the team off to fight a new monster, made from the saw in the woodshop into this:
Zedd’s monster creation strategy was different from Rita’s – instead of Finster creating beasts from clay, Zedd zapped real-life objects with his staff. Much more resourceful and environmentally-friendly, Zedd!
There’s a quirkiness to this battle: the Rangers never fight the monster! Instead, they just fight Putties (the foot soldiers, redesigned for Zedd’s reign). The real-life reason for this was because at this point, Power Rangers was using stock footage from multiple different Super Sentai series, and the costumes weren’t always available to be used in American footage. More for the analysis section.
Zedd makes the monster grow (by throwing a bomb at it) and it fights the Rangers’ season 2 megazord, the Thunder Megazord. I loved the Thunder Megazord. I like a good dinosaur, no doubt, but these were based on mythical beasts like the Eastern dragon and the griffin. Much more interesting to young Kevin.
Meanwhile, Tommy saves the girls because Kim can’t morph – the Rangers all have secret identities, and cannot reveal them to non-Rangers. Note that Tommy is the White Ranger this season. He switched colors after his Green Ranger powers ran out. So he looks like this now:
Tommy is kind of the Patron Saint of Power Rangers – to date, he’s had five different sets of powers over six seasons, easily topping any other Ranger.
Raging Bitch Shawna grows some respect for Kimberly (even she knows to bow down to the QUEEN), and they get back to the gymnastics competition in time for the two girls to tie. Everyone wins!
Analysis: So much to unpack on this one! This is, like “The Yolk’s on You!” a very basic episode, though not necessarily indicative of the season on the whole. Season 2 was way more arc-based, including Tommy’s departure mid-season after his powers ran out, his return a few episodes later, the change-over from the original Red, Black and Yellow to the newbies, etc. This trend would continue into the next season, which was almost nothing but arcs, but I’ll get into that next time.
As I mentioned repeatedly, season 2 featured a ton of changes, and subsequently a lot of issues. The introduction of Rocky, Adam and Aisha was necessary when, after demanding more money, St. John, Jones and Trang walked off set. There’s a whole set of episodes in the middle of the season where the original trio are still present in stock footage and in their suits, but not unmorphed, because the actors were already gone! Super awkward.
Also awkward was keeping the original Ranger suits from the Zyuranger Sentai series, but using the Zords and monsters from the follow-up series, Gosei Sentai Dairanger! There were literally so many issues with this – too many to touch here – but suffice it to say that most of the second season was pure copy-and-paste.
Finally, while Lord Zedd was a great addition to the series (and a totally American creation!), he was deemed too scary by parents, and was toned down somewhat. Rita was also brought back later in the season, and the two were married, making Zedd much goofier (though actually much more successful against the Rangers).
Despite all those issues, season 2 of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers works. In fact, it works really well. It was the season that embraced the camp factor the most, including pretty funny wordplay by the monsters and generally a goofier vibe. “Forever Friends” isn’t the strongest episode of the season, but it’s a solid one.
It is, however, a nice showcase for Kim – appropriately enough, since this was the season that was so dominated by QUEEN Amy Jo Johnson.
Johnson was invaluable to Power Rangers. She was clearly the best actress on the show, but didn’t shy away from embracing the camp. Kimberly was likable, a strong female role model who showed boys that girls can kick ass, and along with Tommy (her romantic counterpart) and Billy (the only other original kept around), she kept the series afloat despite all the tumult.
Unfortunately, this is the last time in this project we’ll be seeing QUEEN Amy Jo Johnson. I’ll talk about her departure from the series – and her clearly inferior replacement, Katherine – next time, when we look back on the last season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.