Is Power Rangers Still Worth Watching?
After nearly a decade of mediocrity, we consider if Power Rangers is still worth its audience's time.
With the finale of Dino Super Charge behind us, I can confidently say Power Rangers has run out of excuses. For the better part of ten years, fans have repeated these four excuses over and over in an attempt to rationalize why the show wasn’t reaching its full potential.
1. Rushed production.
2. The Sentai.
3. Bad leadership.
4. It’s a kid’s show.
These excuses carried fans through four years of Bruce Kalish run Power Rangers. Every year we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. Even Jungle Fury, whose sole selling point was a stoner mentor and it “not being as bad as the last three” still had those excuses thrown at it by fans. Everything seemed to turn a corner, however, with the post-apocalyptic Power Rangers RPM.
The excuses disappeared. Power Rangers was good again! The only problem? A season like RPM can never happen again. Produced under a corporate regime that couldn’t have cared less about the franchise, RPM was left to its own devices. It had all the creative freedom in the world… and its executive producer got fired halfway through production. RPM is an outlier that we can’t realistically hope for, especially with the show now under the tight control of Saban Brands.
So fans suffered through another four years of lackluster Power Rangers, those same excuses coming right back to the forefront. All hope really did seem lost. Then the sky opened up and the franchise’s messiah returned.
Chip Lynn, one of Power Rangers most celebrated writers and producers! With him in charge, we thought everything would be fine. We wouldn’t need the excuses any more. We’d be lead back to the Promised Land.
We were wrong.
Those excuses? They came back. They came back in full force.
The excuse that became synonymous with Samurai. When Dino Charge started to slowly slip in quality, fans began to bandy about how maybe Chip was just getting acclimated to the show again. That he’d find his footing after being away for so long. This excuse holds no merit, since the show started out so strong. If the show was going to be weak at any point because of being rushed into production, it would have been the start and not the end that suffered. What happened in the middle of the season? Was it some kind of decree from Saban Brands to change direction?
For years Power Rangers had struggled with the fact it had to start production while the Sentai they were adapting was still airing. They couldn’t make any long term plans for fear it wouldn’t match what the Sentai gave them. This excuse disappeared during Samurai when they had all of the footage from the get-go and did nothing with that opportunity.
With the return of Chip, fans thought they’d finally see him in his element. He wouldn’t get screwed over like he had in the past with Sentai. At first it seemed fine. They shot so much original footage! It seemed like they were confident where the show was heading. Then Dino Super Charge rushed its endgame and introduced a bunch of Kyoryuger villains in the last batch of episodes as if he had just gotten the tapes from Japan a week before writing it. Even with the entire Sentai in front of them, Dino Super Charge felt like it hadn’t been planned from the start. What happened?
In the past ten years, Power Rangers has suffered from a bevy of executive producers and corporate masters who in fans’ eyes did not understand the show. Around the time Samurai was airing, Chip Lynn gave an interview stating he had been asked back to the show but turned it down because he wasn’t given the creative freedom he wanted. With his return to Dino Charge, it’s fair to say he was given that creative freedom. It was going to be great! Chip wouldn’t be under Jonathan Tzachor anymore. He had more or less free reign!
While Dino Charge and Dino Super Charge looked great in comparison to Samurai through Super Megaforce but as Chip has said multiple times at conventions, “that isn’t saying much.” Chip talked up the newest episodes as some of the best Power Rangers has ever done but his focus seemed to be more on the wacky one off episodes like “Homerun Koda”. A perfectly fine stand-alone episode to be sure, but this was what we were supposed to get excited about? As we went into great detail here, the finale was an utter mess. Chip, whose finales are still legendary amongst Power Rangers fans, couldn’t even get this right?
There’s two possibilites here. One, maybe Chip just wasn’t as good of a head writer as we thought he was. Maybe other people in the past had helped him, like longtime Power Rangers writer Jackie Marchand. Perhaps his longtime disagreements with Tzachor had lead to better stories.
Two, Chip was under extreme pressure from Saban Brands and his hands were tied in the writing of the show.
Both of these are worrying. If the fan-proclaimed savior can’t improve the quality of the franchise, who can? If his hands are tied by Saban Brands, then what do we have to look forward to in the future if this is the best the show can offer?
It’s a Kid’s Show
Ah yes, this old chestnut. Sometimes that excuse is valid. Other times it’s just a lazy way to give the show a pass for not stepping up its game. Twenty years ago, “it’s a kid show” was a valid excuse for Power Rangers‘s lack of quality at times. This is no longer the case. In the past twenty years children’s television has evolved. As Lauren Montgomery, one of the creators of the new Voltron: Legendary Defender describes,
“A lot of the writing for children’s shows now, the bar has been raised. There’s a lot of stuff that people could get away with back in the day that we can’t really do now.”
Series like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Gravity Falls, Steven Universe, and Voltron have pushed the boundaries of what kids TV is capable of. They’ve helped raise that bar.
Avatar: The Last Airbender proved you can tell a serialized story where the characters grow and change.
Gravity Falls proved you can tell a lot of zany one-off stories that are still entertaining and thought provoking.
Steven Universe continually proves you can tell heart wrenching tales that are kid appropriate with some of the best representation on television.
Voltron: Legendary Defender proves you can take a franchise with five giant robots that form into a bigger robot and reinvent it into something that pays homage to its roots but is a master class in science fiction storytelling.
Power Rangers isn’t trying to do any of those things. Whoever’s fault it may be, Power Rangers is stuck in the past and trying to recapture its Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers glory days. It isn’t trying to do anything new or groundbreaking, it’s perfectly content telling the same sorts of stories it was telling back in 1993 for kids. The last time the series really made an effort to update itself (and succeeded) was Power Rangers Dino Thunder.
It was Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers 2.0. It was still high school kids fighting evil, but they had deeper characterization. They had emotional arcs. My go to example is the episode “Bully For Ethan” where Conner, the Red Ranger, is actually friends with the guy picking on Ethan. Conner, who at this point is good friends with Ethan, still worries about his social standing at school. It’s a small moment, but it displays the kind of emotional depth the franchise is capable of.
Dino Thunder was a solid season of television that worked for both kids, with the various moral lessons and wacky situations, and adults, with realistic characters and the copious amounts of well-placed fanservice.
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Dino Super Chargeon the other hand had episodeslike “Besties 4Eva!“, a story that involves Shelby not being able to stand up for herself when the entire series up to this point had demonstrated her doing just that. It’s an epsiode straight out of the ’90s.
Even when the season should have been ramping up for its endgame they decided, four episodes before the finale, to do a wacky episode about Koda’s wacky robotic caveman friend.
Even if we take Power Rangers as a show merely meant for six year olds, then it’s also not doing a great job there. The moral lessons are mostly weak. James was a deadbeat dad to Tyler and the show never addresses this in any meaningful way. If the show is supposed to be a weekly morality play for kids, it’s utterly failing.
No matter how you slice it, Power Rangers isn’t really working on any level anymore. At its best Dino Charge was okay. But is that enough to keep us watching? Is this enough to thrive on? It’s not the Promised Land we wanted. Are we willing to live with this for the foreseeable future?
The show can be better. It has been better. Seasons like Zeo, In Space, and Dino Thunder prove this franchise can be really fun, engaging, and have some great science fiction for kids. I’m not asking the show to be like Battlestar Galactica or anything, but it can certainly step up its game, give its characters conflict, world build like it has in the past, use the Sentai footage for the series benefit, not its detriment, and to actually plan out the series from the start and not to end it with ten Deus Ex Machinas in the span of twenty-two minutes.
I’ve waited ten years for Power Rangers to step up. For the excuses to stop. I waited in vain. There are so many other shows out there for kids that actually reward the kind of in-depth analysis I’ve been trying to give Power Rangers week after week.
There are shows for kids that actively court an adult fanbase and the writing treats it as such.
There are so many better shows out there. Why bother with Power Rangers?
The show hasn’t done anything to answer that question and perhaps it never will. It’s perfectly content with being “good enough.” And that is the death knell for my love of this franchise on television going forward.
Maybe the movie will be good. It’s possible that Saban is focusing all their attention on launching a film franchise, but if that’s the case, shouldn’t the TV show be left to its own devices? In a perfect world, after the movie comes out, Power Rangers on TV should see a surge in quality like the Transformers TV series did after that film came out.
But I’m not going to wait for that. I’m not going to get my hopes up. I’m done making excuses for Power Rangers.
Shamus Kelley is really enjoying the main Power Rangers comic series from BOOM though. Follow him on Twitter!