When I was a kid, the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers were all the rage. Five teenagers with attitude, who put on colored uniforms and fought evil with karate and giant robots? And the robots were dinobots? And they all come together to make an even bigger robot? It was like crack for 90s kids. We couldn’t get enough. I knew all of the rangers’ names and respective colors, their weapons, what their robots were…which is kind of funny, because I only actually remember ever watching one episode of the show (although wiki diving tells me I must have seen at least two, since what I remember combines this guy’s appearance with this guy’s powers ). I saw it over March break when I was home alone, and I remember the monster scared me so badly that after the episode was over, I ran up out of my basement rec room and didn’t go back down for the rest of the day. That I was still so into it despite never actually watching it kind of says something about the power of branded merchandise, I suppose.
For those who were too old, too young, or living under a rock in the early 90s, Power Rangers was a kid’s action show by Saban Entertainment, made by splicing together dubbed-over footage from Japanese Tokusatsu series Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger with new footage of English-speaking actors. The premise: When human astronauts unwittingly release the evil space witch Rita Repulsa from her prison on the moon, her ancient foe Zordon selects five teenagers with attitude to take up the fight against her. When Rita sends down monsters to attack the Earth, these five heroes transform into the Power Rangers to defeat them.
When I decided randomly to start watching the show on Netflix, I did so with an open mind. Sure, the premise is goofy, and I expected the special effects to be terrible, but even if the overall product was lame in general, there might be something interesting there. After all, a lot of shows I loved as a kid (like Space Cases and the 90s X-Men animated series) hold up surprisingly well on re-watch. Maybe this would be one of those.
I have never in my life been so happy to be wrong. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, at least in the first few episodes, is terrible and I kind of love it for it. It’s not simply bad; its disregard for basic storytelling, continuity, and common sense is so baffling that it borders on accidental Dadaism. I’ll give it one thing, though: it’s never boring. Good or bad, it’s a wild ride through sheer insanity.
Episode 01: Day of the Dumpster
We start with this shot of…the moon?
That doesn’t actually look anything at all like the moon. Probably because it’s not the moon! This is footage from Zyuranger, and in Zyuranger the villains don’t live on the moon; they live on Planet Nemesis.
A spaceship settles down on Planet Totally-The-Moon, and immediately I know that I’m going to have a problem:
Of course, there’s the trivial matter of the sky being blue and there being a whole extra planet in the shot, but the real thing here that gets my goat is that that is plainly a space shuttle in the background, and as we all know space shuttles are low-Earth orbit vehicles. They can’t go anywhere close to the moon.
My fixation on the minutiae of space travel aside, these astronauts spot something sticking out of the sand, and they run over and immediately start opening it up. “It looks like a giant dumpster,” they say, even though
- It doesn’t look anything like a dumpster
- If it was a dumpster, it would actually be quite small.
They pull off the lid, there’s a burst of computer effects, and then suddenly four villains in suits appear!
From left to right, that’s Goldar, Rita’s second in command and the only one of these clowns who actually fights, Finster, the guy who makes all of Rita’s monsters, and then the last two are Squatt and Baboo, who are a pair of cowardly buffoons so unremarkable that I had to look up their names before I could write this. They all spook the astronauts, and then out from the dumpsters comes Rita Repulsa herself, in her most iconic pose:
After ten thousand years, she’s free! It’s time to conquer Earth!
As Baboo helps her out of the capsule, she complains that he made her step in a puddle. In the middle of the desert. On the moon. That’s about the level of consistency and quality we’re dealing with here, people. Although actually, given that most of Rita’s personality consists of reaming out her subordinates over nonsensical and imagined failures, maybe it was intentional on the writer’s part.
She declares that to celebrate her new-found freedom after 10000 years of imprisonment, she’s going to destroy the nearest planet…and then the camera pans up to point to Earth.
We then cut to:
The Angel Grove Youth Center’s Gym and Juice Bar. Don’t you wish your town’s youth center had a gym and juice bar?
All five of Our Heroes are working out in the gym, and a brief montage introduces us to each of them. This sequence is actually pretty competently made. Jason and Zack (Red and Black Rangers, respectively) spar together, and although it doesn’t look like a real fight by any means, it’s reasonably well choreographed, and mostly just one take, which is kind of impressive.
Kimberly (Pink Ranger) is doing gymnastics, while Trini (Yellow Ranger) is doing…Tai Chi? I guess?
It’s a little vague. And then, in walks Billy (Blue Ranger).
Billy is a problem, and not just because he looks twice the age of everybody else in the room. Which is weird, since David Yost is only about a year older than Walter Jones, who plays Zack. All of the main cast are playing characters younger than they are, but all the others look plausibly teenaged; it’s only really obvious with Billy. Maybe it’s something to do with how the show keeps dressing him up in what look like oversized children’s clothes.
Within seconds of seeing Billy’s face, you know exactly who he is: he’s the Nerd. He’s the Nerd who is there to be the butt of jokes. And boy howdy is he ever. I’ve never seen a Nerd character get it as hard and as immediately as Billy does. He walks in, ready for his first karate lesson. He’s the only (named) person in the room in a gi, which fits him about as well as that terrible headband does. The worst part, though, is his belt, which he appears to have done up with a double-knot. He looks like the world’s most unfortunate Ryu cosplayer. The other characters don’t even need to make fun of him; he makes fun of himself simply by standing there.
And then in walks the antagonistic comic relief. Bulk and Skull.
I love these guys. In these first few episodes, at least, they’re genuinely funny, and they have good delivery – especially the sycophantic Skull, who more or less just follows the larger, tougher Bulk around and parrots what he says, but still manages to be the funnier of the two.
Unfortunately, the writers seem to be going for a Biff Tannen vibe for them, as they immediately start trying to pressure Kimberly and Trini into a double-date. They back down slightly when Zack interjects himself and tells them to back off, but then Bulk lets out one of the most inexplicable comebacks ever:
Zack: You heard what they said.
Bulk: Well, what do you know. The dancer wants to be a fighter.
Huh? This line makes absolutely no sense. The only character we’ve seen doing anything remotely like dancing is Kimberly, but Bulk isn’t talking to her. In fact, she hasn’t said a thing during this entire interaction; Trini’s been doing all of the talking. Now, with knowledge from THE FUTURE, I know that Zack is a breakdancer, and that’s what Bulk is referring to. But since the show hasn’t shown that yet, the line doesn’t work at all.
Anyway, they charge in like a couple dumbasses, Kimberly and Trini judo-flip them onto some conveniently placed padding, and they lay there, defeated and confused. So, uh, good for the show for letting the girls deal with that themselves, I guess?
After a brief interlude on the moon to remind us that Rita’s still up there, we then move on to Jason’s karate class, where Billy manages to flub every single motion demonstrated to him. I know it’s his first day, but yeesh. The show’s really laying it on thick. Jason goes to give him an inspirational pep-talk, but before he can get much of anywhere with it, guess who show up again
Look at these utter tools. I love them.
I’ve watched this scene multiple times and I still couldn’t tell you whether they actually want to learn karate (and are just tools) or if they just want to take the piss out of Jason et al.
Bulk: Teach us how to beat people up.
Jason: Martial arts was not developed to hurt others.
Uh, excuse me, Jason? What exactly do you think martial means? They were explicitly developed for the purpose of hurting others. There’s spiritual and fitness elements to them as well, but, I mean, come on. It’s literally right there on the label.
Bulk undergoes more ritual humiliation, and then the gang retires to the juice bar to talk about how shit Billy is at karate and to drink spinach juice (seriously, in one of the episode’s more understated jokes, Ernie, the juice bar proprietor, walks up and asks who ordered the spinach juice, and all five raise their hands). But before anyone can actually get refreshed, the ground starts shaking like crazy. It’s an earthquake! It’s the big one! People start running around in a panic, and in the ensuing melee Bulk gets a plate of drinks to the face.
Panic in the streets! “Something tells me this is no eathquake,” Billy says…and as it so happens, he’s right. The shaking of the ground is actually Rita attacking the planet! Cut to the Control Room, and the final two members of the cast: Alpha 5 and Zordon.
And these two…sigh. Okay so here’s the thing with Zordon. He’s basically Abin Sur in a tube, right? Check out this totally-not-an-edit-at-all comic page which proves it!
And if you check out his biography, you’ll find that he’s some sort of cosmic badass who waged war against Rita and the forces of evil for thousands of years, only to be banished into a time vortex at the hour of his victory. He sounds like a pretty cool guy, right? You would expect the show to at least try to present him with a little gravitas.
Well, you would be wrong. Check out the first lines of dialogue we ever hear from Zordon and Alpha:
Alpha: Danger! Danger! It’s the big one, I know it! We’ll all be destroyed!
Zordon: Calm down, Alpha. It’s Rita. She’s escaped, and she’s attacking the planet.
Alpha: Aiyiyi! What do we do?
Zordon: Teleport to us five overbearing and overemotional humans.
Alpha: No! Not that! Not teenagers!
Zordon: That’s correct, Alpha.
Alpha: I was afraid of that.
Wow. They introduce Zordon on an even lamer joke version of the ‘Teenagers with Attitude!’ line from the opening. Amazing. Also, ‘calm down, we’re only being attacked by an evil space witch’ is probably not as comforting as Zordon intended.
There’s also something a bit weird about David Fielding’s performance. It’s probably something to do with all the filters his voice is put through, plus the fact that all of Zordon’s lines, especially in this episode, have to be spit out at a breakneck pace to avoid going overtime, but whatever he’s going for, he’s not hitting it.
As for Alpha…what can you say about Alpha? He only exists so that Zordon will have someone to talk to while the Power Rangers are away. And to shout AIYIYI a lot. He’s pretty obnoxious.
So Alpha teleports five teenagers with attitude to the Control Room in what can only be described as a burst of 90s computer graphics, and Zordon explains that Rita Repulsa is an evil space witch who’s trying to conquer Earth, and that they’ve been chosen to defend against her.
Each of you will be give access to extraordinary powers drawn from the ancient beings you call dinosaurs…as Power Rangers, you will have access to a universe of power, and command a fleet of fighting machines called Zords. Jason, bold and powerful, you shall command the Tyrannosaurus Dinozord. Zachary, you are clever and brave. You will command the Mastodon Dinozord. Kimberly, graceful and smart, the Pterodactyl Dinozord shall be yours. Billy, patient and wise, you shall command the powerful Triceratops Dinozord. Trini, fearless and agile, the Sabre-Toothed Tiger Dinozord will be under your command.
Did you notice anything about these five ‘dinosaurs’? Only two of them are actually dinosaurs at all! Mastodons and Sabre-Toothed Tigers are fucking mammals!
Jason seems intrigued, but the rest of the teenagers think the whole thing sounds weird and stupid, so they all leave. Apparently the control room is located in a big building outside of town, and it’s going to be a long walk back. Rita sees them leave and decides to fuck with them by blasting nearby rocks from outer space and siccing a group of Putty Patrollers on them.
One of the show’s premises is that the monsters are all sculpted as clay dolls by Finster, and then stuck into a fancy oven that turns them into human-sized living things. The putties are the mass-produced version of this, made with a simple mold. They’re not very strong, but Finster can produce them endlessly. I kind of like their design, especially the creepy-ass faces.
Our heroes fight back, but are overwhelmed by their numbers and get tossed one by one into a pile. They then decide to use the Power Morphers Zordon gave them earlier, and we get our first glimpses of the Power Rangers proper.
Alright, let’s just get it out of the way now. It is kind of awkward that the only black character in the squad got the black outfit, and the only Asian character in the squad got the yellow outfit. The show’s not as racist as it could be, but it’s not great.
Also, notice anything weird about the Yellow Ranger?
Like, maybe that that’s clearly a dude in that suit? Yeah, the Yellow ranger in Zyuranger was a male character. Saban probably figured nobody would notice and on the whole they were right, but once you know about it it’s kind of hard not to see.
From this point forward, the episode dissolves into almost seven minutes of stock footage and absurdity. The transformed Power Rangers don’t actually fight the putties at all; instead, Zordon teleports them back to Angel Grove City, where Rita has apparently sent down Goldar along with a bunch of putties. Our heroes are transported from Nondescript Quarry to Nondescript Rooftop, and start having it out with Goldar’s escort. The sound work here is really weird, incidentally; every time anyone hits a Putty, it makes a sound like two metal pipes clanging together. Also, please enjoy about six minutes of the Power Rangers theme song on loop, because that’s the only music that plays for this entire sequence!
Even though Goldar hasn’t actually fought anybody yet, Rita decides to take it up a notch by tossing her wand to earth and using it to make Goldar grow. This is Rita’s favorite trick, and this bit of stock footage gets used pretty much every episode. It’s really hysterically over the top. When the wand hits the ground, the ground fucking explodes in what’s probably stock footage of a mine blasting. And this happens every episode. In response, the Power Rangers start up their own stock footage reel by summoning their Dinozords.
You would think that the show would actually try to make use of the individual Zords, right? Wrong, apparently. We don’t have time for that shit, go straight into a second piece of stock footage of them combining into a tank-mode Megazord!
That knocks Goldar on his ass, but apparently we haven’t used enough stock footage yet, because they then immediately transform again into battle-mode Megazord, and Goldar and the Megazord duke it out for a minute or so.
I’m going to be honest here. The Goldar suit’s a little too busy, but it doesn’t look bad in motion. The Megazord, though, looks fucking terrible in a fist fight. It looks like a dude wearing painted cardboard boxes. There’s no weight to any of its movements at all.
They knock Goldar on his ass again, but he gets right back up and delivers a flying drop kick to the chest – no seriously – and for all of five seconds has the upper hand. You know what might solve this? More stock footage, you say? How right you are! With no prompting whatsoever, Jason throws one hand to the sky and called out: Power Sword! And sure enough, out of nowhere a sword comes flying down into the Megazord’s hand.
Goldar has a sword as well, so you would be forgiven for assuming that this marks the beginning of a climactic sword fight between the two. But actually, no, because in the most baffling thing I’ve ever seen, the instant the Power Sword comes out, Goldar backs down super hard. “This isn’t over!” he protests as he teleports away without letting the heroes swing the damn thing even once. What the hell just happened?
I can’t overstate how repetitive six minutes of the Power Rangers theme song gets. It’s not a song with a lot of tonal variation to it, so the whole fight feels incredibly samey. It actually completely destroys any sense of pacing.
And that, barring one final scene in the control room, is pretty much it for the first episode! Our Heroes agree to be the Power Rangers and Zordon gives them three rules to follow. Rules One and Three are pretty standard ‘don’t use your power for personal gain, keep your identity a secret’ stuff, but rule two is kind of interesting; they have to agree to not escalate a fight unless Rita forces them to. So they have to try to solve the problem as regular people, then as Power Rangers, then in their robots, and then finally as the Megazord, stopping at the level of force necessary to deal with the threat. The show actually bothers to explain why they don’t just get in the Megazord and step on the enemies every time! Not a bad touch.
Billy’s Worst Line: “Wow! A fully sentient multi-functional automaton! I’ve never seen anything like it!” Billy doesn’t speak like a human being. Every single line of his feels like it’s been run through the worst thesaurus of all time. While this particular episode isn’t bad, since he barely says anything in it, there’ll be some real stinkers in the future.
Bulk Food-Based Humiliation Count: 1
Episode 02: High Five
This episode opens on Jason climbing a rope up to the gym roof. Trini, who apparently isn’t good with heights, ditches, apparently unable to even watch. Billy walks in and starts saying some dumb bullshit, but before he can start getting into it, Jason lands on his shoulders and starts swinging him around:
I mentioned that Billy gets it even worse than most Designated Nerd characters, right?
Bulk and Skull walk in talking shit, and Jason challenges Bulk to climb the rope up to the ceiling. He tries, and eats shit pretty much immediately.
And then the ceiling caves in on him.
None of this has anything to do with anything else in the episode, mind you. But Bulk and Skull have always got to make asses of themselves in the first act. It’s a rule.
Meanwhile, on the moon: Rita has a plan to deal with the Power Rangers. She’ll just trap them in a time warp like she did Zordon! Easy!
Billy brings the other Rangers back to his locker, where he reveals his latest invention: a communication device built into a watch, so that they can always stay in contact with each other and with Zordon.
Kimberly declares them ‘morphenomenal’.
No, I didn’t make that up. That’s actually a word they invented for this show. And they pushed it pretty hard, too.
I hate every single syllable of it.
When they actually try to use the communicators, though, they get teleported to the control room. Apparently Billy accidentally tapped into the teleporter systems somehow. There are a few kinks to work out, but nothing compared with the kinks that apparently need to get worked out in Alpha’s systems:
Welcome homeboys, homegirls. What brings you to the hood?
Apparently this qualified as humor in the 90s.
For some reason trying to reprogram one of Billy’s watches sends Alpha running around in circles shouting. It’s not clear why this happens. It’s just kind of wedged in there because apparently if we get fewer than one piece of slapstick per thirty seconds, Haim Saban’s head will explode.
Meanwhile, on the moon, Baboo is putting the finishing touches on a time device which will generate the time warp Rita hopes to shove all of the Power Rangers into. For some reason, it looks like a tiny space shuttle.
The fuck is this show’s deal with space shuttles?
Anyway, the plan is that this tiny shuttle will fly down to the planet, and generate a hole in time where it lands. Then, the monster Finster’s making will shove the Power Rangers through the hole, and they’ll be gone forever! The monster in question for this episode is a custom job Finster put together named Bones. He’s amazing.
Look at that fucking Matador Skeleton! What an incredible design. I couldn’t get a good screenshot of it, but he actually pops his own head off in order to do a genteel little bow to Rita after he’s created. It’s so good.
So they launch the tiny space shuttle, and it flies down to Earth, and what follows is a really confusing sequence in which a tiny space shuttle, about the size of an R/C car, flying around city streets…and everyone losing their shit about it. People are running away, screaming, it’s on television…
I mean, when it lands it shoots out a rainbow beam, but up until that point people seem to be freaking out for no reason.
In addition to the time warp, Rita apparently sent a bunch of putties to the hinterlands to do…something. Zordon sends the kids over to investigate while he analyzes the time hole. They try to sneak around, but they get busted pretty much immediately.
Solid Snake, these guys ain’t.
The ensuing fight scene is kind of awkwardly filmed. Lots of short takes, with shots that feel a little too tight for the action. I think the directors were trying to suggest that the kids were fighting a much larger group of Putties than their budget actually allowed them to field, but if that’s what they were going for it failed entirely. The weird foley work continues, with each blow struck against the putties making a distinctive metal-on-metal sound.
After a few minutes of fighting, Jason tells Billy and Trini to go run up the hill to draw some of the putties away and thin out their numbers. Granted, this also thins out their numbers, but since Billy is completely useless he’s probably actually more productive running like a huge baby, and Trini can help keep him from getting wrecked instantly, so it does make a certain amount of sense. They get like three Putties following them, and when they split up two follow Trini and one keeps after Billy.
Trini loses her pursuers by hiding under and overhang like Frodo from the fucking Ringwraiths, but Billy just keeps running further and further up the mountain until he manages to get his stupid ass cornered. He tries to transform, but he fumbles his fucking Power Morpher and drops it down the side of the mountain like a complete chump.
Trini has to conquer her fear of heights and climb up to save his worthless ass. And how does he thank her for saving his life?
That was truly morphitudinous, Trini.
I’m sorry, can you repeat that?
Say that one more time you son of a bitch.
No. No. Fuck right off. Morphenomenal was bad enough, but at least it was something resembling wordplay. This? Doesn’t even make sense. What fucking word is ‘morphitudinous’ supposed to be a play on?
This guy. What a tool.
So, now that we’ve firmly established that Billy is the worst ranger, they look down and see that the Putties have the upper hand, and are trapping their friends in with some sort of weird group hug. They run down to break it up, and Jason yells for the others to, quote, “form a human chain”. This is apparently what they meant by that:
Zack jumps on Jason’s shoulders, Kimberly grabs Zack’s feet, and Jason spins around and uses his friends as a club. They hit all the putties and knock them into cactuses and send them running away crying with cactuses stuck to their asses.
I don’t even know what to say to this.
Rita seems happy that her putties were defeated, for some reason, and she sends Bones down to the amusement park where the time device was set off. He actually appears as a random pile of parts, and reassembles himself like Dark Souls skellyman. This is the best monster ever.
Zordon contacts the Power Rangers and tells them they have to go fight Bones now, and I absolutely love this next bit because it so clearly illustrates the bizarre disconnect between the writing staff and the production team:
Rita has sent a creature named Bones down to the amusement park. He can fire energy bolts out of his eyes, jump long distances, and even make himself disappear.
They even include footage of Bones doing all of these things. But in the ensuing fight, do you know what Bones never even once does? He never uses his energy bolts or his jumping powers, and he only turns himself invisible once. So why bother telling us all that?
Incidentally, Billy never actually recovered his Morpher after he dropped it down the side of a mountain like an idiot, but I guess that doesn’t matter because he has no problem transforming into the Blue Ranger anyway. They teleport to the amusement park, where Bones pulls off his head, sends it spinning into the air, and by so doing sends all of the Power Rangers into the time warp. Which is basically a black-walled soundstage with a tree and a smoke machine in the middle.
While the Power Rangers throw down with Bones and his skeletal henchmen, Squatt and Baboo run around in the background planting a bomb. The Rangers blast Bones to pieces, but like a proper skeleton warrior he just reassembles himself. They realize they need to destroy his head, so Billy grabs it out of the air, wraps it up in his own cloak, and then tosses it to Trini, who mows down a whole line of skeleton henchmen before tossing Bones’ head down into a fiery ravine, destroying him for good.
Rita’s not done yet, though. She sends another monster, a giant knight, down to attack them as well. Meanwhile Squatt and Baboo’s bomb goes off…catapulting all of the Rangers out of the time warp? That seems counterproductive, but whatever.
So here’s a good demonstration for the show’s total lack of continuity. When they confronted Bones, they were at the amusement park:
Then when the giant appears, it’s in the middle of the city:
And then after they get sent out of the time warp, they’re back in Nondescript Quarry.
Anyway, Jason summons his Zord, and fights the giant in it. The Tyrannosaurus Zord suit actually looks a lot better in motion than the Megazord one, and despite a few baffling cuts, the ensuing fight scene works pretty well. It’s not totally clear what the Tyrannosaurus Zord does at the end to actually defeat it – some sort of sonic-based attack with its roar, maybe? – but it looks pretty good (you know, considering). They do whip out the theme song again for background music here, but since they only use it for about thirty seconds over the climax of the fight instead of looped endlessly for the entire final sequence, it’s actually kind of awesome.
Zack does use the word ‘morphenomenal’ to describe the fight, though, thus massively decreasing my respect for him.
Rita’s so pissed off by losing that she kicks a big globe across the room, knocking Squatt and Baboo in their asses, and then retires, complaining of a headache. In the epilogue sequence, Kimberly says morphenomenal again, and Zack sneaks up behind Trini wearing a skeleton mask, spooking her so bad that she climbs straight up the rope all the way to the ceiling to escape. Fear of heights: conquered, apparently. Please pay no attention to the fact that Bulk pulled this rope out of the ceiling at the beginning of the episode.
Billy’s Worst Line: “They respond to tactile pressure followed by auditory stimulus.” You push the button then talk, Billy. Just say that you push the button then talk like a regular human being would. Christ almighty, I need a drink.
Morphenomenal Count: 3
Morphitudinous Count: 1
And that’s it for the week! I’m going to try to post about 2-3 episodes per week until I get through the entire series, or I burn out completely on the show. Most of these entries will be shorter than this one, because I felt I had to cover the first episode in extra detail because it was establishing characters and introducing all the stock footage the show will be beating to death.