Welcome back all and sundry to what is surely going to be the hardest installment of Power Rangers Week for me to survive. Yes, today is Power Rangers Turbo day, and what can I really say about a show wherein the Japanese version actually saved Super Sentai, but the American version nearly killed Power Rangers for good. About the very best I can say is that is that it sets up Power Rangers In Space next year, and heralds the creative peak of the series (no, seriously!) But, as a wise sage (I think it was Steve Miller) said, you have to go through hell to get to heaven.
OK. So, let's get this damn thing over with. After Zeo, the franchise was really cooling off, and when a franchise is well into its heat death, there are two things that usually happen. Either the people writing it, decide to get adventurous and move the story forward because there's really nothing to lose, or they try to roll back the clock and go back to basics.
Turbo tries to do both, and the world is poorer for it. Turbo tries to be a transition between the classic and Zeo era but it's not because they want to progress anything, they really just want to roll back to the original formula where the monster fights were punctuated with bland pro-social character stuff, and slapstick comedy, involving actual monkeys this year. I'm told that there were actually two schools of thought--one half of the writing team wanted to do more serious stories, the other wanted to embrace the silly. As with Zeo, we're trying to have our cake and eat it to, to much more detrimental effect.
Neither would have worked, of course. The Super Sentai for this year, Carranger, was a parody of Super Sentai (and being Japan's idea of a parody, this involves a lot of pointing, shouting, and goofy slapstick that is utterly impenetrable and incomprehensible to anyone outside of that cultural idiom) and while it was amazingly successful in Japan, it presented problems when it came time to adapt it for American audiences, because as someone who saw the first few episodes unsubtitled and with no context for it . . .it kind of hurt my brain.
In any event, the idea was to relaunch it in spectacular fashion--by doing another movie. Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie was, I'm told, three hours in its original cut. I am relieved, then, that editors were able to whittle it down to something manageable (only having to cut out most of the plot) and also that the TV series summarises everything up to this point so I didn't have to watch it again before I started this review. A man should only have to suffer so much.
The takeaway from the movie is this: Rocky gets injured, and annoying wunderkind called Justin gets to be the new Blue Ranger. Justin is 12 years old and so brilliant he goes to high school with the others, and he turns into an adult size Blue Ranger with the same technology that made Trini turn into a man whenever they switched over to the Japanese footage, I guess. Justin is a paradigm for what's wrong with this season--on the one hand, they want to refocus everything back for maximum kid appeal. On the other hand, the Rangers are graduating and moving on to actual careers and really, these things do not sit comfortably together.
Oh well, I'm sure that with a suitably impressive villain, that aspect will be well-handled. Guess again. Divatox is our head villain for the season. She's not terribly interesting and doesn't do much except shout, camp it up, and whine. At no time does she really seem to be that credible a threat to the Rangers (given who's rolled through already) and yet . . .well, more on that later. She and her retinue of rubber-suited monsters are completely indistinct and make the Machine Empire look like well-rounded characters.
It doesn't help, of course, that her plans are even more inefficient than Rita's. Basically, Divatox's standard plan for the first half of the season is this: See the Rangers are doing something in their civilian identities, plant a bomb near them, send the Piranhatrons (this seasons footsoldiers, whose own theme song doesn't even seem that impressed with them, which is very telling) Rangers fight, find bomb, monster, robot, explode AND THIS GOES ON LIKE FOR THIRTY EPISODES.
There's formula, and there's rote recitation.
Anyways, while all that's going on, change is in the air. Zordon and Alpha 5 leave in the early episodes, to be replaced with Alpha 6 . . .who is just like Alpha 5 only more annoying, and Dimitria, perhaps the least helpful mentor figure ever. There is a suspicion that Dimitria and Divatox are sisters, but no one seems to care enough to really button that particular plot point, and of course, neither do we.
That's not the only major change, though. About halfway through, Tommy, Adam, Kat, and Tanya leave the show and we have a complete rollover of the cast (Justin sticks around, of course). And you know what that means. Ladies and Gentlemen, these are YOUR 1997 Turbo Rangers:
T.J.--Made Red Ranger solely by being on the right bus at the right time, T.J. has the unenviable position of replacing Tommy, the most popular Power Rangers character ever. However, he's pretty cool in his own right, a natural leader and he has some intelligence and charisma (it's not his fault the rest of the show is so chronic) His full name is Theodore Jay Jarvis Johnson, and this is what passes for characterisation this season.
ASHLEY--Ashley is a cheerleader, which is what passes for characterisation this season. Gets to be a Ranger pretty much solely because Adam did all his recruiting for replacement Rangers during soccer practice. Wikipedia says this: "Ashley's character is upbeat, hardworking, and positive, being the
cheerful heart of the group.Ashley and Cassie were best friends, with
Ashley tempering Cassie's sass."
. . .and I hear a dozen fanfic writers' keyboards clacking in the distance trying to determined what "terming sass" really means.
CARLOS-- The Rob Van Dam of the group Carlos starts out as a glory hog on the soccer field until he isn't and given he has an honest to God character arc this season (or what passes for one) he's actually one of the more well-rounded of the new characters. Yes, that was damning with faint praise, why do you ask?
CASSIE--Rode the same bus with T.J. and lucky them, they found Tommy and Kat trussed up in a cave, which made them ideal candidates to become replacement Rangers. Apparently it's like capturing a leprechaun, only instead of a pot of gold you get a spandex union suit and a helmet. Cassie is meant to be the sarcastic one of the group, but as this is Power Rangers, it's pretty mild and fades quickly.
They're not bad, and they'll get better next season, but they're set aboard a ship with a number of holes in it for now. No sooner do they get installed in the outfits than they're embroiled in the nadir of Power Rangers Turbo (indeed, the only thing anyone remembers about this season) "Trouble by the Slice," or "The One Where The Rangers Get Baked Into A Giant Pizza." than things start calming down a little and some actual story arcs get more established. New allies for the rangers are introduced in the form of the Blue Senturion (who is an idiot) and the Phantom Ranger (who is a cipher) The Blue Senturion brings word (to the wrong person) about a great battle the Rangers will take part in the year 2000, and how Rita, Zedd, and all and sundry will destroy the universe. This goes nowhere . . .kind of.
Anyways, let's deal with the final episodes of the season--"Chase Into Space." After 43 episodes, Divataox gets Final Episode Competence +1, forces the Rangers to destroy their mecha in a desperate attempt to finish off the final monster, and. . .raids the Command Center. By the end of the two-parter, the Command Center's destroyed, Dimitria's long gone (not that she was any help) Justin's gone, and the remaining Rangers hi-jack a space shuttle in a desperate rush to find Zordon.
Oh, and Divatox has been called away to a meeting called by someone called Dark Specte right when she's destroyed the Rangers and she could be conquering Earth. That this happens is actually in-character for Divatox, who never really did have all that much follow-through.
While Turbo is a little better in the second half, it's still utterly muddled and the second half isn't exactly "good" as much as it is "an order of magnitude less bad" it's still not quite there. It's almost as if there's another, better series in there and it's trying to get out.
And that other, better series is what we'll get to next time when we look at Power Rangers In Space, arguably the best of the series, and certainly an indicator that the show is at its creative peak. Join us tomorrow for the Power Rangers equivalent of Gotterdammerung, won't you?