This article was originally written in November 2020.
Well, that’s not strictly true.
Going back to the early episodes of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers feels like reuniting with an old friend. Despite the franchise now approaching its thirtieth anniversary, the Power Rangers property shows no signs of slowing, with new film and TV projects recently announced, helmed by Jonathan Entwistle (writer of The End of the F**king World ).
Yet out of the twenty different Power Rangers properties, the original Mighty Morphin is by far the most enduring. Decades after Jason, Kimberly and co. left the Morphers behind, Power Rangers media still focuses on the original incarnation: from the comics to Funko Pops, video games to the 2017 reboot, the blueprint for Rangers is firmly rooted in what came in 1993.
What makes it so fun to rewatch is how unerringly charming and bubbly the show is. Yes, every episode is as predictable as the next: Rita unleashes a new monster, the Rangers are brought to their knees by it, then bounce back with a combo of either Power weaponry or Megazords, and the day is inevitably saved. It’s a safe formula that provides the sort of good-versus-evil comfort that times like these have necessitated more than ever.
But of course, in some ways it has aged mightily. The show’s fundamental DNA – action footage from the Japanese Super Sentai show spliced with American-made high school hijinks – does feel admittedly clunky in retrospect. The Rangers’ exaggerated body language, and Rita Repulsa’s dreadful lip-syncing, show signs of age that didn’t matter before, but it doesn’t diminish Mighty Morphin‘s quality at all. Later seasons have become increasingly high-budget, sterile, and ultimately less successful – the last good season was 2005’s SPD, and the 2017 cinematic reboot swiftly came and went – meaning the early seasons have become a time capsule for the rugged, rough-around-the-edges charm that made the show so likeable.
It’s a show that, in the age of on-demand viewing and binge-watching, has rarely felt so accessible. Episode breeze by in a twenty-minute flurry of flamboyant rock music, wildly unrealistic combat and dreadful puns, and despite there being very little serialised narrative, it’s almost impossible to watch just one episode. The endorphin boost of the rollicking action is what hooked me as a toddler, and it still holds up today.
Maybe it’s nostalgia talking, but there’s a purity and unfettered joy from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers that very few children’s shows have – let alone maintain nearly three decades later. From Billy’s goofiness to Kimberley’s charm, the characters are thin, but more than enough to plug the gaps between action scenes – and when the show attempts multi-episode arc, such as the truly brilliant Green with Evil saga, it proves that it has the narrative depth and emotional weight to hook even older viewers.
But it would be irresponsible to look retrospectively at Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers without holding to account the dark history that still feels largely ignored. Much has been said about the homophobic abuse David Yost faced on-set, mistreatment that ultimately led to him leaving the show during Power Rangers Zeo, which undoubtedly casts an egregious shadow over the campiness and fun of the finished product. And while it may have been accidental, the racial coding of the Rangers’ colours is hard to overlook in modern contexts.
And even aside from the problematic nature of the show’s past, the property itself – at least its on-screen output – is in danger of becoming a sinking ship. The 2017 reboot, designed to breathe new life into the franchise, performed dismally at the box office, with subsequent sequels – teased in the film’s end credits – canned. Recent seasons have used the tried-and-tested formula of uniting Rangers from across the show’s history, but it isn’t enough to stop viewing figures falling to a fraction of what they were even in 2017, when the show was already far from the cultural touchstone it once was.
The upcoming rebooted film and show from Paramount seem promising. It’s got genuine talent behind it – and Jonathan Entwistle has ‘an incredible creative vision’ for the franchise’s future – a passion that the 2017 reboot desperately lacked.
Regardless of how much fun Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers still is – despite its murky production, as a finished product it’s some of the best 90s TV around – perhaps a new perspective on the property will do it some good. It’s hard to see anything top the sheer thrills and unadulterated joy of the original series, but a new lease of life is what Power Rangers desperately needs.
The 90s series will remain legendary and a true masterpiece of action television – introducing child TV audiences to a trailblazing world of superheroic adventure – and personally, it’s a show I’ll always cherish as my first true on-screen obsession. But as long as the roots of the show are respected, and the mistakes of the past are avoided, it’s an exciting time to be a fan. For the first time in a long time, it seems like Power Rangers is going to be taken in a completely new direction. And I, for one, can’t wait.