After the demise of VR Troopers and Masked Rider, Saban decided to take a different approach with their next series. With the positive reaction from Season 2 of Power Rangers “Rangers Back In Time” and the Rangers being turned into kids from the “Alien Rangers” mini series, Big Bad Beetleborgs was centered around a trio of kid super heroes.
Story: Drew, Roland, and Jo are big fans of Charterville’s biggest comic, the Beetleborgs! At the local comic shop, which Roland’s dad and grandmother run, the trio are dared by rich kids Trip and Van to check out Hillhurst, the most haunted place in town. They accept and while in Hillhurst they meet a magical phasm named Flabber who grants them one wish for freeing him from his piano prison. They wish to be the Beetleborgs. Unbeknownst to them this also releases the evil forces from the comic, the Magnavores. Each week our heroes have to send each of the Magnavor monsters back into the comics, all the while trying to avoid being eaten by the monsters of Hillhurst.
In its second season the kids defeat the Magnavores but lose their powers to a new enemy, Nuxus and his Crustaceans. With new powers, they become the Beetleborgs Metallix!
Surprisingly, the thing that works best about the show is not the titular characters. It’s the house monsters that would chase after them every week in Scooby-Doo style. Very early on the show realized the actors portraying the monsters, Count Fangula, Frankenbeans, Wolfgang, Mumms, and Flabber all had a ton of charisma and presented the writers with more varied plots than what the kids could offer.
By the end of the first season most of the episodes, while still involving the kids, would be heavily focused on the House Monsters’ problems. Everything from fearing the house would be torn down to Frankenbeans getting a new brain to make him smarter. It was a lot of wacky humor, but unlike Masked Rider it felt more natural from the get go. The show became, “Universal Movie Monsters as Frat Boys.”
The kids did get some moments to shine though. The show featured three arcs of stories that heavily featured the kids, the Shadowborg arc, the introduction of the Metallix Powers, and the Astral Borgs saga. Each of them took place over several episodes and unlike the usual “stories of the day” had some real weight. The Astral Borgs saga especially pitted the group against a whole team of evil borgs, The Mantrons, which required a whole new team to aid them, the Astral Borgs.
Although when you think about it, all of the problems Charterville faced over the course of the show were thanks to these three brats wishing to be superheroes. That is going to be a serious therapy bill in the future.
What Didn’t Work
The show had no idea what it wanted to be. Even with the increased focus on the House Monsters, the show, particularly in its first season, bounced around way too much. We’d see the kids at the comic shop, school, a pizza place, Hillhurst, and as the Beetleborgs. Throw that in with nuisances Trip and Van, Drew’s love interest Heather, a rapping Grandma, and the bumbling enemies. I’m still not quite sure what the show was going for.
As much as the House Monsters were the best part, the show was titled Beetleborgs and we saw very little of them. Episodes would feature fights that would last maybe a minute or two and seemed more tacked on than organic to the plot. The three previously mentioned arcs were the closest the show came to feeling like a Tokusatsu series and giving the kids anything to do.
Let’s put it this way. In one video of kids visiting the set, they could have cared less about meeting the Beetleborgs, they wanted to take a picture with Wolfgang. When even kids don’t care about your main characters? That’s a problem.
Why It Didn’t Catch On
Actually, it did! Beetleborgs was trashing Power Rangers in the ratings during Zeo and Turbo and they were all ready for a third season. Then the Japanese company, Toei, threw a wrench into their plans.
The two series Beetleborgs adapted footage from were B-Fighter and B-Fighter Kabuto, two series that while for children could still be utilized for dynamic action scenes. What came after was the exact opposite. Kabutack seemed more geared to pre schoolers, with cutesy robots that just wouldn’t work for Beetleborgs. Without any footage to adapt, Beetleborgs was forced to unceremoniously end without any kind of conclusion.
Is It Worth Watching?
I can not recommend the first season unless you REALLY like the House Monsters. Season 1 suffers from all the problems above and it’s just… It’s tedious to go through. Besides the Shadowborg arc, which is one of the best arcs of the entire run, it just meanders from one plot of the week to the next. As much as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was formulaic in its first season, we still had some forward progression in the overall story. We got to know the characters. Since the main heroes in Beetleborgs were were kids, nothing interesting was ever given them. It’s just more of the same every episode.
However, I can say that if you want to check out some Beetleborgs and not be bored out of your skull check out season 2, Beetleborgs Metallix. The heavier focus on the House Monsters benefits the series and stories were tighter. Even the kids got something vaguely interesting to do with the Astral Borgs arc and by the end we even get some giant mech action! It’s still nothing to write home about, but it’s leaps and bounds ahead of season 1.
– The series was going to have a comic done by none other than Image Comics’ own Rob Liefeld. It thankfully never happened. What are proportions?!
– In what I consider the best episode of the whole series, the comic book loving kids actually travel to San Diego Comic Con. Oh yes, this was in the years before it became the media circus it is today. They shot at night and populated the floor with as many Fox Kids heroes as they could. We get appearances from The Tick, Samurai Pizza Cats, and even Spider-Man. Who Drew raves, “I loved your latest movie!” Guess the Spider-Man film franchise got a jumpstart in the Beetleborgs universe!
– Eagle eyed viewers should pay attention to Zoom Comics every time the kids hang out there. You may notice a few non Beetleborgs comics around but damn near every comic in that store is Beetleborgs. It’s fascinating to watch just how obsessed with Beetleborgs the town is. Almost everyone reads it and it’s a mad rush to get the newest issue, to the point Trip and Van were going to scalp the newest issue for twice the price in one episode.
– Halfway through Season 1 the actress playing Joe wanted to leave the series and unlike how Power Rangers handled the situation, they did something that would be worthy of a soap opera. At the beginning of an episode a spell is cast on Joe that changes her appearance (to the new actress) and she’s worried people won’t recognize her. Flabber casts a spell so no one but the Beetleborgs will see her new face and it serves as a fun little plot for the episode. It’s never mentioned again, but I can’t help but wonder what that’s like. To have to go through life knowing everyone sees you differently than what you actually look like. Where is my Beetleborgs psychological drama?
– For a show that was adapting two Japanese series, Beetleborgs hardly used any footage for its fight scenes. Most of the time it was confined to vehicle fights and when they did use the ground fight footage it would often be heavily edited into “comic book style” with all kinds of effects flying across the screen ala Adam West’s Batman. “Zap!” “POW!” and such. A lot of this was to cover any of the more extreme violence from B-Fighter but also to cover the guns that were used in that series. They were silver and black and I’m sure they were worried parents groups would complain they looked like real weapons. So they would re shoot anything that had the guns and colored them purple. Fear the deadly purple gun!
– One of the Astral Borgs introduced later in Season 2, Lady Borg, was voiced by none other than Barbara Goodson, most famous for the voice of Rita Repulsa but also Marie Crystal and Sera in Robotech.
– David Fletcher, who portrayed Frankenbeans, wrote several episodes of the series that all happened to feature his character prominently. I can only wonder why.
– For fans of PR, also take note that Christopher Cho who played Nuxus in Metallix also played Dark Spector in Power Rangers in Space. Evil runs in his Ameri-Toku career!