Catching Up With @SummerBreak Before Season 2

“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.

The feature came and went. But my obsession with the show lasted all the way to the finale. That’s the addictive power of @SummerBreak.

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In Praise of Greek’s Katherine Parker

Katherine Parker doesn’t arrive until the 47th episode of Greek, but she makes up for it quickly. She glides into her Panhellenic Council meeting, instantly causing everyone to sit down and pay attention. She wastes no time on roll call or pleasantries, getting right down to business.

“I as president note that everyone is here, could you please note that in the book? Moving on.” As Katherine, Nora Kirkpatrick isn’t wasting anyone’s time. She’s got a sing-song quality to her voice that never feels girlish or weak, but simply a pleasant couch on which her sometimes harsh words sit.

“Tara! It’s your birthday!” Katherine says to one delegate. Before series protagonist and Panhellenic newbie Casey Cartwright (Spencer Grammer) can barely get a “happy birthday” out, Katherine sours. “And where was the reminder email? Maybe next year. Moving on.”

Katherine Parker is always moving on, and she has no time for bullshit. She’s a strong contrast to the other characters in Greek – available and highly recommended for binge-watch on Netflix; I just finished watching for the first time and loved it. The other Greeks are either always going in circles (Casey, ex-boyfriend Evan), or don’t know where they’re going at all (Cappie, Calvin, Rusty). Katherine has always known where she was going – which makes her character all the more fascinating when she finally gets there.

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The Power Rangers Project – Power Rangers Ninja Storm

SeasonPower Rangers Ninja Storm
Episode: “I Love Lothor” (Episode 20)

Up until now, all the Power Rangers seasons we’ve examined in the rewatch have been serious. That sounds absolutely ridiculous when you consider that these are color-coordinated superheroes in spandex fighting villains like Lord Zedd and Divatox, but on the whole, they have taken themselves very seriously. Even fun episodes, like the Zeo musical, have had definite stakes.

Ninja Storm may have stakes, but they’re pretty limited. And that’s all that keeps it from becoming a pure dose of camp parody.

In other words, it’s completely different from what’s come before. Not worse – not in the slightest, actually – but “better” is a touchy subject. Some love the funnier take, but some thought it was a season with wasted potential. I fall firmly into the pro-Ninja Storm camp, though I didn’t like some things about it. It was the first season shot in New Zealand, which led to the irritating “cast New Zealanders and make them fight their accents constantly” trend that ultimately led me to give up the series. Additionally, the acting isn’t as sharp as in seasons like Time Force (but holy hell is it better than Wild Force). But when it was fun, it was fun. And this episode is pretty damn fun.

Marah and Kapri, Lothor's nieces. Also, totally ridiculous.

Marah and Kapri, Lothor’s nieces. Also, totally ridiculous.

Marah and Kapri are the henchwomen of the season. They’re watching TV, of course, when big bad Lothor (Grant McFarland) catches them and lectures them about how stupid television is. They tell him that, bummer, he’s actually not testing well in their focus groups. The idea of testing a villain in focus groups is one of those things that tells you early if you’ll like this season or not. I think it’s hilarious, anyway.

Who wouldn't like this mug?

Who wouldn’t like this mug?

Because Lothor wants to be well-liked (or something; this is handwaved later as trying to get humans to do his bidding), he hired his monster, Mr. Ratwell, to direct him in a TV show called I Love Lothor, which they will broadcast over the airwaves and use subliminal messaging to brainwash the masses.

Meet Tori, the Blue Ranger. That's right, a female Blue Ranger. #equality

Meet Tori, the Blue Ranger. That’s right, a female Blue Ranger. #equality

One thing I like about Ninja Storm a lot is that it very rarely sticks to just one plotline. In this case, Marah and Kapri go to the cooking class Blue Ranger Tori (Sally Martin) and Green Ranger Cam (Jason Chan) are taking. The other Rangers also join, because they’re all dudes, and who doesn’t like a class full of women, am I right fellas? *high five to no one*

Yeah, I should break down the team for a second. Tori was part of an original trio with Red Ranger Shane (Pua Magasiva) and Yellow Ranger Dustin (Glenn McMillan), using the ninja power of wind. Originally, the Crimson and Navy Rangers (Hunter and Blake, Adam Tuominen and Jorgito Vargas Jr.), harnessing the power of thunder, fought against the first three, but then they joined up, followed by Cam, who had previously been a technical advisor but earned his own powers of the samurai. So it’s five boys, one girl this year. Got it? Cool.

Coming to NBC this fall!

Coming to NBC this fall!

Lothor is unsure of Mr. Ratwell’s plan, and how makeup will lead to world domination. Kapri’s response? “Well, it worked for Britney and Christina.” Ha! That line slayed me as a kid, and I still get a chuckle out of it now.

"Coooooooome what mayyyyyy-" Stop, Blake, you're not in Wild Force.

“Coooooooome what mayyyyyy-” Stop, Blake, you’re not in Wild Force.

Back on earth, Marah and Kapri use a love potion on Cam and Blake, who both fall for Tori. Blake had been falling for Tori already, but this was just a funny exaggeration. It led to some good lines:

"Why are you grinning at me like a lovesick baboon?" – Tori, to Blake "Because he is one. Why don't you go swing from a tree and let the humans have a conversation?" – Cam

“Why are you grinning at me like a lovesick baboon?” – Tori, to Blake
“Because he is one. Why don’t you go swing from a tree and let the humans have a conversation?” – Cam

Chose that photo mostly for Hunter’s face in the background.

There always seems to be a lot of hugging in duels.

There always seems to be a lot of hugging in duels.

Cam and Blake challenge each other to a duel on the beach. It’s as silly as it sounds. Meanwhile, Tori spots this season’s foot soldiers, Kelzacks, going into the TV studio. Because she is the only competent Ranger this season. Seriously, it’s true; proven time and time again in multiple episodes.

Unfortunately, competent doesn’t mean invincible, and Lothor’s general, Zurgane, spots her. (He greets her with the line “This is a closed set!” Which, maybe I’m four years old, but I love.) Meanwhile, the women of… whatever city we’re in at this point, all fall for Lothor and storm the studio. Shane, Dustin and Hunter manage to piss the women off and they come after them. Shane, Dustin and Hunter are numbskulls.

"I think this show is gonna get cancelled." – Tori

“I think this show is gonna get cancelled.” – Tori

Tori unties herself (being competent, naturally), and tells the mentor for the season, Sensei, that Lothor is trying to brainwash the world through TV. She makes the face above when she says it, and I fall a little bit more in love with her.

The Power of Love/Blue

The Power of Love/Blue

Blake absorbs an insane amount of attacks, making Cam “give up” on Tori and allowing Blake to defeat the monster. Cam and Blake’s spells break when he’s destroyed, just as the other Rangers show up in time to be of absolutely no help.

The Samurai Thunder Megazord's gonna get scoliosis hauling around those giant cannons.

The Samurai Thunder Megazord’s gonna get scoliosis hauling around those giant cannons.

Cam, Blake and Hunter summon the Samurai Thunder Megazord and defeat the monster once and for all. Blake almost has to admit his love for Tori back at the base, but hey, there are a bunch of episodes left in this season! Might as well drag things out for a while longer.

Analysis: I like Ninja Storm! I think it has a lot going for it, both humor-wise and action-wise. Sure, it’s got its failings, but no more than any other season of Power Rangers.

Still, this is definitely the beginning of bad things for the franchise. The New Zealand setting has hurt it immeasurably, and were it not for a couple of really charming Rangers holding the team up (specifically, Tori and Cam), this crew wouldn’t quite work. I also don’t love the double-color conceit (two Red Rangers and two Blue Rangers, even if they technically have different names for their colors), nor do I love the Zords this season.

Really, what I like about this season is Lothor and the villains. Part of what made Lord Zedd so great was his sense of humor. Yes, he was menacing and proposed a real threat, but what I personally remember about him wasn’t his success on the battlefield, but his one-liners. They stuck with me beyond my love for the show’s expiration date. Same thing with this episode. I was shocked by how many of Lothor’s jokes I remembered. He sticks out as a really vivid villain in my mind – he may not have been as evil as Lightspeed Rescue‘s crew, or as varied as Zeo‘s, but he made me laugh.

It’s true that you can look at this whole season as a sitcom aberration from the rest of the series, but I think what Ninja Storm did was just as important as what In Space and Time Force did – it proved funny can work in this franchise. Not every dramatic season is as good as the aforementioned two were, and looking at a season like Turbo, it would have arguably been better had the creators embraced the funny and stop trying to make an apple taste like an orange.

One last note about this episode: it had some of the most flawless integration of the Super Sentai footage I’ve seen throughout this rewatch. Seriously, if I didn’t know to look for the tinted coloring that usually indicates stock footage, I would never have known what was original and what came from Ninja Sentai Hurricaneger. So bravo to the production team – I can tell it’s not always easy, but they made it look effortless.

Speaking of “not always easy,” what do you do when your stock footage only has four Rangers, with a fifth who’s evil until the very end? We’ll take a look at that, as well as the return of a fan favorite Ranger, next time with Power Rangers Dino Thunder.

UP NEXTPower Rangers Dino Thunder: “Drawn Into Danger” (Episode 34)

The Power Rangers Project – Power Rangers Wild Force

SeasonPower Rangers Wild Force
Episode: “Three’s a Crowd” (Episode 20)

Three eras down, three(ish) to go! While the Lost GalaxyTime Force era is quite beloved by Power Rangers fans, I was turned off by every season but the last. This era, however, is much more my speed – the next two seasons are among my favorites (and, funny enough, when I stopped watching the show for good). However, this season is one I can barely stand. Intentionally or no, I picked an episode that showcases Power Rangers Wild Force‘s pros and cons in equal measure. So let’s take a look!

Among other differences, this was the first season without a cold open. Instead, the action jumped right to the intro, so let’s follow suit:

Not bad, right? Well, strap in, because they knew to start with the best this season…

The blushing bride (killer).

The blushing bride (killer).

The monsters this season are Orgs, and much like Lord Zedd’s monsters back in the Mighty Morphin days, these guys were based on objects. This week’s monster is Wedding Dress Org (awfully descriptive name, in every sense of the word “awful”), and Wedding Dress Org’s role as a monster is to destroy weddings. Wedding Dress Org is basically Taylor Swift in “Speak Now.”

"Love is a many splendored thing! Love lifts us up where we belong! All you need is love!" – Danny "Please, don't start that again." – Me

“Love is a many splendored thing! Love lifts us up where we belong! All you need is love!” – Danny
“Please, don’t start that again.” – Me

The Rangers have been making a giant mess of things (much like Taylor Swift in “Speak Now”), but the one taking it hardest is Black Ranger Danny (Jack Guzman). I’m not going to bother identifying the other Rangers, because they don’t really factor in to the episode, and they’d probably prefer their work on the show to be forgotten by history.

You see, there’s a major issue with Wild Force. The acting is terrible. Like, ter-ri-ble. There’s nothing even slightly redeemable about it. There is no QUEEN Amy Jo Johnson to keep things together. There is no gradually growing skill like in Zeo or In Space. This is just bad, all the way through. In the first two minutes of this episode, Guzman blatantly steps on a co-star’s line. And it made it into the episode. Imagine what the other takes were like.

Anyway, Danny loves love, which means Wedding Dress Org must be stopped! (The Rangers are the horrified looks from everyone in the room while the metaphorical Taylor Swift is interrupting the wedding in “Speak Now.” I’m committed to this bit, no matter how irritating it is.)

"That is a very different tuxedo you are wearing, sir." – Kendall

“That is a very different tuxedo you are wearing, sir.” – Kendall

"LOVE MAKES US ACT LIKE WE ARE FOOOOLS–wait, sorry, that's Nicole's part." – Danny

“LOVE MAKES US ACT LIKE WE ARE FOOOOLS–wait, sorry, that’s Nicole’s part.” – Danny

The Rangers chase the Wedding Dress Org into a church, where Danny runs into Kendall, his true love or crush or something, in the bride’s room. Of course, he’s morphed, so he can’t give away that he knows her. She is not concerned with the fact that he is, you know, a Power Ranger, instead asking him if he’s looking for the groom. Because, you know, reasons.

I should explain the horns. The Wild Force Rangers are based on animals, and each have living Wild Zords that correspond to their powers. Danny here is based on the bison. This is really funny considering something we see later.

"MY flowers are prettier." – Boyfriend "WE COULD BE HEEEEROES" – Danny

“MY flowers are prettier.” – Boyfriend
“WE COULD BE HEEEEROES” – Danny

Turns out, Wedding Dress Org turns brides into mannequins! Kinky. Anyway, that’s Bride #5 the Rangers failed to save. Way to go, gang. Danny has a one-track mind and decides to go warn Kendall. He instead winds up in the wedding set-up equivalent of a penis-measuring contest with Kendall’s Boyfriend. Note that Boyfriend gets no name in the episode. Kendall also never gets a last name, but that’s slightly more forgivable.

Wedding Dress Org attacks, so Kendall and Boyfriend try to slip away while Danny stays behind to fight. But Danny, thinking they’re already gone, morphs in front of them! They’re both shocked. (It shouldn’t have. See if you can find why in the next photo.)

"Ho-how won-*sob*-derful, *sniff* life i-is..." – Danny

“Ho-how won-*sob*-derful, *sniff* life i-is…” – Danny

Danny leaves the Rangers again to go check on Kendall in the hospital, but Boyfriend calls him out on being a Ranger. Boyfriend actually very astutely points out that Danny can’t balance caring for Kendall while saving the world. Which, yeah. In fact, ALL the evidence in this episode indeed supports his claim. Unfortunately, that rather fascinating plot thread gets quickly tossed away for Boyfriend’s wealth-flaunting. Boring. (And poorly acted, but hey, that’s par for the course at this point.)

Look at Danny’s patch, though: Iron Bison. A black jacket. That he always wears. With the words “Iron Bison.” And these guys keep secret identities how?

Kendall is underwhelmed by Boyfriend’s gift to her: a diamond necklace. However, she loves Danny’s gift: a handmade bracelet. Kendall is not thinking straight. Must be the near-fatal head injury. In fact, she’s so screwed up she leaves the hospital. On crutches!

Quick note: There’s a great line here. When Boyfriend is listing off his accomplishments (and Kendall is getting away), he ends with, “Plus, I was smart enough to get out of the dot-com market before it crashed.” Give it up to Power Rangers: even in their worst seasons, they have some funny lines out of nowhere.

"ROOOOOOXAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANEEEEEEEEEEEEE" – Danny

“ROOOOOOXAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANEEEEEEEE” – Danny

Danny is barely putting up a fight, he’s so lovesick, and Wedding Dress Org just beats the crap out of him. Luckily, Kendall comes out on crutches for him, giving him the strength to fight back! Meanwhile, Merrick, the Silver Ranger, heads to find the brides.

"My gift is my sooooonnnng." – Wild Force Megazord Sword and Shield Mode (What? Zeo taught us Megazords are very musical.)

“My gift is my sooooonnnng.” – Wild Force Megazord Sword and Shield Mode (What? Zeo taught us Megazords are very musical.)

The Rangers fight and defeat a grown Wedding Dress Org with the Wild Force Megazord Sword and Shield Mode. One thing that did not suck about this season in the slightest was the number of Zords. There were so many! They were all so cool and customizable! I had so many of these toys back in the day.

"Well, I'm not the kind of Ranger who'd usually barge in on a white veil occasion..." – Merrick

“Well, I’m not the kind of Ranger who’d usually barge in on a white veil occasion…” – Merrick

Hilariously, when Merrick saves the brides, they maul him with love. It’s one of the funnier things I’ve seen. Something about the expressionless Ranger helmet and the uncertainty of how to move his hands. It just really tickles me.

Back in the Moulin Rouge of Danny’s mind, Kendall breaks up with him to get him to focus on saving the Earth. Which, of course, she’s completely right about. But hey, she’s still wearing his bracelet! So that’s nice.

Analysis: Hoo boy. Wild Force sucks, let’s say that right out of the gate. There are charming things about episodes like these, but you can’t really get over the horrendous acting.

I’ll give the cast this: given better direction, they might have been fine. Showrunner Jonathan Tzachor was a huge fan of the Super Sentai series, and based almost all the season’s plots on its Japanese counterpart, Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger. He even had Sentai directors come over to direct episodes – including directors who couldn’t speak English!

It’s a shame, because in its best moments, Wild Force has something going for it. The Zords are just awesome, the plot introducing the Silver Ranger was one of the best Ranger introductions since Tommy’s in Mighty Morphin, and the cast (save Red Ranger Cole, Ricardo Medina Jr., who just really sucked) were pretty likable. Unfortunately, the creative issues – and reported behind-the-scenes tensions – kept Wild Force pretty limited.

Luckily, I loved our next series. The first to be shot after moving production to New Zealand (cost-cutting measure, naturally), it signaled some not great things for the franchise as a whole, but the season is funny and really well done. So I’m excited to take on Power Rangers Ninja Storm next week!

UP NEXTPower Rangers Ninja Storm: “I Love Lothor” (Episode 20)

Small Power Rangers Project update: We’ve now reached the halfway point, and we’re rapidly approaching the point where I haven’t seen any of the upcoming seasons. (Past Dino Thunder, I’m clueless, though I’ve read some about Jungle Fury and RPM.) So I’m planning on doing Ninja Storm and Dino Thunder next week, then one a week past that point. I’m determined to get through Megaforce by the end of the fall, but I’ve heard some of these upcoming seasons are fatal. We’ll find out together, I guess?