This Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel review contains spoilers.
Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel Episode 8
Have you noticed all the old MMPR cues making their way into Super Ninja Steel these past few episodes? The battle riffs, the Bulk and Skull music, its all there. It’s not EXACTLY the same but they’re clearly referencing it. I’m sure someone thought this would be a fun “tribute” for the franchise’s 25th anniversary but it actually puts a spotlight on one of the main problems with Power Rangers as a whole.
It’s becoming completely reliant on nostalgia. The making of the series seems less trying to do something new and interesting and instead rehashing everything that made Power Rangers a success without understanding the reasons why it worked.
The music for instance. On paper using the MMPR riffs seems like great branding and if it was so popular back then surely it’ll catch on now… right? Well it hasn’t worked. Ever since Samurai we’ve been saddled with it and the show hasn’t exactly taken off in popularity. Why not have a completely original song? Because Power Rangers feels it needs to constantly ape its glory years to stay relevant instead of trying something bold and different.
The original Power Rangers theme song had an edge other TV theme songs didn’t back in the 90’s. It was hard rock! That was a big deal back then. Now the theme just sounds like any other generic song (although it has made for some great memes.)
Same with the plots. MMPR was a delightful mix of Saved by the Bell, Robotech, and martial arts that hadn’t really been seen in live action kids TV. It was different. It got kids excited. Now it’s content spewing out basic moral lessons and lackluster slapstick comedy. The whole moral of integrity in today’s episode wasn’t necessarily a bad one but it’s paced so strangely none of its emotional beats manage to land.
It plays it safe. None of the Rangers suspect for even a moment Brody could be responsible for stealing the compass. It also doesn’t tie at all into the cliffhanger ending. The best kind of television threads its plots together so that even if they don’t cross paths they at least have similar themes. Here Brody’s plot is quickly resolved so Odius can get a Zord in the last five minutes and that’s it.
In a better series Brody’s plot wouldn’t have been this “moral of the week” but part of a longer arc of episodes that reached a tipping point which would dovetail into Odius getting the Zord.
Why are we so confined to these episodic plots? Because MMPR did that? Because Power Rangers wants to play it safe? Who knows. Ninja Steel had the Aiden arc, as poorly handeled as it was, so I’m not sure why we’re still getting outings like this.
It’s nice the series actually planned for its mid season hiatus for the first time in eight years but without proper build up it just doesn’t land. I don’t feel for these characters so I don’t care what happens to them. You can have all the dramatic twists and turns you want but if I don’t care about the characters none of them will work.
If you really wanted to get me invested, show Victor and Monty in peril. Those guys I care about.
Power Rangers on TV badly needs to invest in its writing. It can’t coast on MMPR nostalgia or the constant refrain from Saban executives of “Power Rangers is kids first introduction to superheroes” as some kind of excuse for why the TV series is the way it is. It’s not. Kids know who Spider-Man and Batman are long before Power Rangers.
Just because the movie underperformed doesn’t mean they should play it safe. If Hasbro does take over the franchise it needs to inject new life into it and stop playing on MMPR. The MMPR nostalgia will never completely go away, nor should it, but the TV series needs to go in a bold new direction that will get people to take notice.
Perhaps part of the reason the movie didn’t reach a wider audience was because Power Rangers hasn’t done much to stand out. By playing it safe it hasn’t challenged anyone’s perception of the franchise or brought a lot of new blood into it. Power Rangers is now and forever a show for four year olds and that’s it (which isn’t an excuse for its quality but still.)
That kind of mindset is a mistake. Take a look at Voltron. Voltron has arguably had a similar imprint on pop culture as Power Rangers. It could easily coast off that but the new Netflix series is bold and innovative. It’s drawing in a new (and very diverse in terms of age) audience along with pleasing its old fanbase.
This is what Power Rangers should be doing. Bringing in new blood across the spectrum, not just the four year olds that will quickly age out of the series in two years. Not just half heartedly playing on nostalgia for an older audience that has no desire to tune in and even if it did there’s nothing there to keep them invested.
That’s the only way for Power Rangers to stay alive. Otherwise it’ll continue to gorge on its own nostalgia until there’s nothing left.
With the show about to head into a long hiatus allow to recommend some Power Rangers media I do enjoy. The Boom comics and the Hyperforce RPG are both telling unique stories perfectly suited for their mediums that offer everything fans have been wanting out of the show for years. Compelling characters. Continuity nods. Serialized storytelling. Humor that isn’t based entirely in farts.
Hyperforce is also a unique property in recent Power Rangers history in that its heavily inspired not by reheated MMPR but a love for Power Rangers Time Force. That’s something special and should be celebrated.
The best Power Rangers stories right now aren’t on TV. Give the comic and Hyperforce a try. Remind yourself that Power Rangers can be fun, entertaining, and full of wonder. It may have lost sight of that on TV but it’s still there. You just have to dig for it.
Shamus Kelley is a pop culture/television writer and official Power Rangers expert. “They’re all good sides, Victor.” Shamus will forever bless Monty’s gay heart. Follow him on Twitter!