Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Looking at The Power Rangers through Adult Eyes

In latest editions of looking at some program I saw as a kid through adult eyes:

1. Tommy was like the Yoko Ono of the Power Rangers as far as I was concerned. He just messed up the chemistry of the group. The group was supposed to be a true ensemble symbolically as well as literally. They all had roughly equal screentime and when fighting, they each made units that formed into a coherent whole in both their weapon and the super dinosaur they formed.

Tommy was distractingly hunky (any guy who wears a pony tail is doing so to get attention), took up more than his fair share of airtime and had a dinosaur that didn't match up with the other dinosaurs. I later learned through the interwebz that Tommy was intended to be written as a guest role but the fan response was so overwhelmingly positive that they kept him on. This confirms my theory that Tommy was antithetical to the show's original vision.

2. Trini, the yellow ranger, seemed a little shyer and had less presence (at least to me) than Kimberly and the guys, although I don't think she was written that way.
Listen closely at her wavering accent and you can tell English was new to her. The quietest kids in school were Asian girls and most of the Asian women I'd seen on screen were pretty submissive. If the actress who played Trini, Thuy Trang,was just a little more assertive in her line delivery, if she shouted "sabretooth tiger" with the convincing gravitas of the others, I think she could have really Sidney Poitier'ed up for Asian girls. Missed opportunity. The actress tragically died in a car crash in 2001.

3. When I look back on films and TV that I experienced as a child, I tend to better remember colors and visuals for some reason (probably is true for all children although I've done no research on the topic). Even as an adult, you might notice as an adult that the wardrobe of the power rangers matched their colors as often as possible.
This raises questions if you want to really examine this closely because these rather unorthodox wardrobe choices (wearing a yellow outfit two days in a row is just a coincidence but having an entire closet full of yellow outfits is pretty much out of the realm of normal for any teenager trying to be fashion-conscious) were made by the Rangers before they knew they were going to be Rangers and after the transformation.

The fact that they were wearing those clothes before opens the door for interesting fan theories should anyone wish to take the show more seriously than what cast member David Yost later described as a 30 minute advertisement to sell toys. Did the Rangers always know on some deep level that they'd be pink, yellow, red, black, and blue?

I have equally pressing concerns about the use of color coordination after they knew they would be rangers: wouldn't that arouse suspicion?
Nonetheless, I actually did think that was a nice touch to the visuals of the show as a kid.

4. David Yost (who played Billy, right) and Jason Frank (who played Tommy) rank up there as the most ridiculous instances of an adult trying to be passed off as a high schooler. Interestingly enough David Yost didn't wear glasses for real and were given the specs to be nerded up for the camera. He reported it started to mess with his vision after a while. He was also gay and while the cast was supportive, producers and crew members would call him gay epithets causing him to storm off set one day when he had enough and essentially quit.

5. I had a crush on Kimberly as a kid and she is still as attractive as I remember. Perhaps it's because of her good looks that the actress Amy Jo Johnson was able to transition to a successful TV career. She was most notable for co-starring in Felicity. Considering how exaggerated the Power Rangers were required to act, I have trouble believing that acting on the Power Rangers would be the master's acting course needed to be able to star in a TV show watched by adults.

6. I think, especially to a kid, being a goody two shoes is the least desirable trait you could have. Back then, my greatest vicarious wish when watching this show was to see the Power Rangers just let go for an episode and light the school on fire or beat up a senior citizen just for the hell of it.

As an adult, I find them even more annoying. They're so eager to follow authority and rules that they're almost as ridiculous as the Nassim Pedrad character from Saturday Night Live who is constantly bragging about how great her parents are and won't leave them at parties. And this wasn't meant to be a comedy show.

7. Is it disconcerting at all that the black ranger in the first season and a half was black while the yellow ranger was Asian? Yellow has been used in derogatory terms to classify Asian people before anthropologists had a more exact idea of race. But that's not all: In one of the episodes that didn't go into production (this is top secret, so it can't easily be found on the internet), a big deal is made of Billy's blue blood (the Habsburgs to be exact), Jason is revealed to be 1/8 Cherokee (making him a REDskin) and Kimberly is so enthusiastic about pink power because she's a closeted lesbian.

8. Is it me or is fFinster not convincingly evil enough? Instead, he is adorable. He really does not seem to have an evil bone in his body and if the Power Rangers ever met him, they'd want to adopt him as a pet or grandfather. This seems like an intentional blunder for a show that really wanted to cement just how evil their bad guys were an how goody two shoes they're good guys were.

9. Bulk and Skully are highly curous creations (and by that, I also mean hillariously shoddily written). They have two main functions as far as I can discern:
1) Providing comic relief
The two have a crude Laurel and Hardy act goin on in which they have no sense of balance or coordination and manage to routinely hurt each other.
This isn't always the case but no worries: You don't actually have to find them hillarious to understand the fact that they're meant to be hillarious. To settle the "Is this funny?" internal debate that goes on in your head when something is sort of funny, loud carnival music blares through the score to help alert you "Yes, you should laugh here, because we're too lazy to make this naturally funny on our own."

2) Serving as a foil to the Power Rangers.
If the Power Rangers are supposed to be goody two shoe role models. These are the guys who are written as the opposite so you can be sure who not to emulate. Beyond that, everything about these two guys' identities and motives are completely unclear.

I'll give you an example of how awkwardly their scenes are written:
In the opening episode, Bulk and Skully first appear as suitors of Kimberly and Trini asking them out on a double date. Kimberly and Trini just smile and say "sorry guys." This reminds me of several instances where if Bulk an Skully weren't explicitly "bad guys," than the Power Rangers would look like complete d-bags for not being nice to them. For example, the girls can't even come up with an excuse or say "you guys are really sweet but let's just be friends"?

Bulk and Skully, being some ambiguous form of bad, decide that the proper response to being rejected is to run at Kimberly and Trini and unsuccessfully attempt to karate chop them to which Kimberly and Trini do a defensive karate move that flips them over onto a mat. I kid you not. This is good exposition for Kimberly at Trini because it shows that they are strong women who can defend themselves, but it does little to develop Bulk and Skully. Similarly, after being embarrassed at the two girls flip them over, Bulk and Skully decide after a long deliberation session (literally less than 2 seconds) that in order to better court and/or attack the objects of their affection, they will need to take karate lessons. Luckily, red power ranger* Jason is giving karate lessons, so Bulk interrupts him in the middle of the class to demand lessons. Then 30 seconds later, Bulk wants to show Jason that he does karate better than him.

I'm not saying that Bulk learns from Jason for thirty seconds and decides he's overpowered the master. It just seems like 30 seconds later, Bulk has no memory of ever wanting to have been a student of Jason. It's weird in a way that you can tell it's sloppily written.

Throughout the series, the only things we can definitively attach to Bulk and Skully is that they're straw losers and not thought of particularly positively by the gang. Other than that, it's unclear whether they want to emulate, date select members of, learn from, compete with or just plain mock the gang as peons of little interest to them.


*AP Style book is unclear about whether red power ranger should be capitalized.

3 comments:

captNaj said...

A few random thoughts, as I too take perfectly good time to think too much about the show and have written on the subject myself.

-There's a reason Tommy got so much screen time...he was disproportionately cool. He had a layered personality complete with slight dark side, the best helmet, and the most effective looking individual fighting style (contrasted with Kimberly's crane-type style, Jason's standard kickboxing, Trini's indeterminate Asian martial art, Zack's break dance attacks, and Billy's "I'm going to run and duck and hope the footsoldiers hit each other" technique.)Throw in his de facto promotion over Jason, his robot capable of solo combat, and that distinctive golden shield, and you've got yourself an automatic rockstar of the team. Not his fault he shines.

-I've always taken a little more out of Bulk and Skull's relationship...my theory is that their personal interactions go far beyond the simple pranks and Ranger trolling depicted on screen to an entirely different form of slapstick. (Doesn't Skull just look like a submissive?)

-It always bothered me when their communicator watches would go off in a crowded hallway and they would just back into a corner, huddle into a group, and begin to speak into them as if it was as normal as tying a shoe.

-Trini was utterly useless. She was simply there to round out the uniform color spectrum and fill MMPR, Inc. affirmative action quotas regarding females and minorities. She really didn't have any specific characteristics and generally stayed out of the conversation until spoken to. Nobody's favorite Ranger was Trini for very good reason.

-You wanna talk racially insensitive? Zack was "the black guy" to the Nth degree. Skipping over the interesting uni color choice, he was also an avid and skilled dancer, practiced..."hip-hop kido"-style combat (no really, Google it) and in the episode where a time capsule was being assembled for future citizens of Angel Grove, saw fit to leave his mark on history with a "phat rap CD with slammin' tunes". Yeah.

-Oh, and on the clothing color coordination...it goes further than you think. Not only does every Ranger have a specific monochromatic wardrobe, on one occasion their parents visited (to be kidnapped, obviously) and their parents all followed suit. (Jason's parents in red, etc.)

-It sure was nice of the baddies to wait to attack until after school hours. Can't imagine how high property taxes must have been having to rebuild the city once a week after a giant robot battle. Speaking of which, how long would machines of that magnitude and complexity take to interlink and dock fully to form a humanoid robot? 20 minutes? An hour? I'll stop...

Oh yeah, one more thing...I'm not sure what the style guide says either, but "Red Ranger" and the like just look better capitalized.

As you can see, I have too much time to think. Very entertaining post though...glad to know I'm not the only one looking back at my childhood with a cocked eyebrow. Thanks for the read, man...

sophomorecritic said...

Wow, a real-life comment!
I don't remember anyone ever commenting. I'm sure it's happened but wow!

Thanks for commenting:
I'm not really sure it was racially insensitive because they weren't really making subtext towards anything.

-Someone on the show commented at some comic con panel that was reshown on youtube that Zach wasn't just the "Black" power ranger" but that "Black power ranger" He wore a lot of rastafarian and malcolm x t-shirts if you look closely enough. Apparently, the yellow Asian ranger vetoed a lot of the outfits they selected to her and the black yellow Ranger Karen Ashley/Aisha vetoed a lot of her lines because they were stereotypically black.

"Black power" ranger.

-On Bulk and Skull, hahaha.

-Come to think of it, the parents seem to be ridiculously absent for the entirety of the shows I watched. Whenever a power ranger is missing, Kimberly or someone's like "I looked everywhere for him, the juice bar, the school, the movie theater" and there's like no mention of notifying the parents or checking at home.

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