Is 'Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' Actually Good? An Investigation

(Welcome to Nostalgia Bomb, a series where we take a look back on beloved childhood favorites and discern whether or not they're actually any good. In this edition, we revisit the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers television series.)

I have to admit, I somehow missed the whole Mighty Morphin Power Rangers phenomenon altogether. I was just shy of ten when the show premiered and I felt too old to care about teenagers turning into superheroes. Give me Ghostwriter mysteries or Zach Morris' perfectly moussed coif on Saved by the Bell and keep the cheesy monster battles, thanks.

But with the Power Rangers movie looming (which even I admit, looks pretty cool), /Film editor Jacob Hall asked me if I might be interested in giving the original series a watch. Could someone who has zero knowledge of the Power Rangers universe find some charm in it or does it only hold nostalgic value? And most of all, in the age of Marvel blockbusters and Academy Award-winning superhero films, does it hold up at all?

So we both watched the first 10 episodes of the original series and convened to hash this whole thing out.

Previous Experience

Jamie: Jacob, I'll admit I went into this absolutely cold. While I watched the first ten episodes of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993-1999), I did notice Netflix had a plethora of different iterations and there was also Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995). I knew about the toys and I saw tons of kids in the iconic costumes on Halloween growing up, but I really was clueless about the rules of the universe or the powers the Rangers call upon. I didn't even know who Zordon or Rita Repulsa were. So for me, watching also meant really investing in the pilot episode, where everything is explained and set up. What was your experience with the series?

Jacob: The original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers arrived at just the right time when I was just the right age for me to be completely obsessed with it. It was not a thing I carried into adulthood and I don't consider myself a fan today, but I remember it fondly. I had the toys and the Red Ranger was my favorite. I never did watch beyond the original series, though. I know healthy and sane who can track the history of the team from series to series, so it definitely got its hooks really deep in some people. Revisiting the first 10 episodes was a surreal experience, as all of the tiny, weird details that had faded away from the big picture came rushing back in. But before I tip my hand and reveal whether or not this was a pleasant nostalgic experiment or a pin in the fragile balloon that is my childhood memories, I'm very curious about your knee-jerk reaction to seeing this show totally fresh.

First Impressions

Jamie: It's weird. On one hand, being an adult, I can see the marketing gimmick right away. This was about selling toys, which becomes pretty evident when you see each Rangers' dinosaur component come to life and it looks so much like the close-up of a toy. When they all assemble, all I could think of was Voltron. We'll dive into villains in a bit but I also felt like each episode was pretty formulaic. But despite all of this (and I can't believe I'm admitting this), I nearly watched past episode ten. The series does have a charm to it, fueled in part by the cast. It's corny at times but so are most of our favorite shows from childhood. I wasn't sitting on the edge of my seat each episode, but I definitely didn't find this to be as painful as I was expecting!

Jacob: That formula sold toys. Oh, boy. Did it ever sell toys. The formula is actually pretty convenient – a kid can sit down and watch any given episode and get exactly what they want out of it. I know the show gets more serialized in later seasons and series, but even then, there's a pretty standard "give them what they want" pattern. I'll be honest: I sat down to watch these episodes with my wife and friends, alcohol in hand, ready to suffer...and I didn't? We actually had a blast! The show is cheesy and cheap and silly and the fact that the writers were forced to write around action footage they had licensed from a Japanese TV series is painfully obvious, but...I didn't care? It's perfectly cute and nice and we all ended up having a good time? Let me be frank: I thought this would be an exchange where we both kicked this show into the mud, but I'm officially a convert.

The Villains

Jamie: I honestly thought we would be trashing it as well, but it's oddly fun! Let's talk about those villains now, because man, Rita Repulsa is serving a LOOK. I'm kind of obsessed with her and while I love Elizabeth Banks, I'm really bummed we've lost that classic costume – and a woman of color to boot. Being a kids show, the danger in the series never feels menacing, more like a disruption to life that the Rangers must scramble to resolve. But these "monsters of the week" are always interesting as they usually tie into whatever has been set up in Angel Grove right at the beginning of the episode. When Trini and Kimberly become Big Sisters to a young girl for a day, Rita sends a giant chicken to kidnap her. Billy's science protege? Sucked into a giant eye monster. Again, it's formulaic but I found these far more interesting than the Putty Patrollers and, if I'm honest, the giant monster fight at the end.

Jacob: Oh, don't get me started on the Putty Patrollers! Has there ever been a less threatening group of henchpeople in a children's show? I will say this much: their weird, warbling voices really upset my dog. But you're right: those final battles always suffer because they reuse the same footage over and over again. It's cool at first (and yeah, a giant robot made of dinosaur robots is the coolest), but by the sixth episode, you're just twitching in your seat, wishing you could fast forward to the comedy ending where Bulk and Skull fall into another cake.

Life Lessons

Jacob: One thing I do appreciate about the monster-of-the-week storylines is that they're very much about teaching a lesson to the kids watching. They're very simplistic (i.e., teamwork is good!), but it's better than a show that's all noise and flash. Plus, I love how the Rangers are essentially young, progressive activists, always volunteering and gathering signatures and trying to make the world better when they're not literally saving it. How about the scene where Kimberly and Trini take a stand against pollution, only for all three of their male friends to totally abandon them when they need them the most? Learn that lesson well, young ladies.

Jamie: That's one thing that stood out to me, I think what really made me find the series so endearing is that the show is really great about showing viewers that everyone is important. The cast is diverse, they champion teamwork, and even show Trini and Kimberly as being completely capable outside of the guys. Bulk and Skull are your typical bullies, but they feel different to me than most shows. They feel more like cautionary tales than true enemies. I think some of this stems from them being part of the juice bar hangout scenes. They'll muck things up, but it seems to serve a purpose, like "here's what happens when you're too greedy" or something like that.

Jacob: You may be interested to know that Bulk and Skull are on the show longer than any of the rangers, with the actor who plays Bulk returning to play the character as late as 2013. It's kind of insane, but it's a living.

The Fights

Jamie: Something we haven't touched on, but which ties into monsters, are the special effects. I'm curious to hear what you initially thought of the fights as a kid. Were these awesome to you or cheesy fun?

Jacob: As for the fights, they were awesome and sometimes, they're still awesome. Since the bulk of the major special effects were created for a separate series in Japan, there's a distinctly un-hollywood style to those giant kaiju vs. robot fights. To adult me, they're kitschy in a way I find endearing. To kid me, raised on a diet of monster movies, they were just more of the same. They bled right on over from the Godzilla and Mothra flicks I was already watching. I found them enthralling. I also didn't notice the sheer amount of repetition in the footage when I was younger! What about you? Did the fights and special effects hold any charm for you?

Jamie: So, I'm with you on the big fights. While they do look like toys, I also thought of Kaiju films – Big Man Japan also came to mind – and I think this is where anyone, whether a fan of the series or new like I was, will find the most charm. The main monsters might be more interesting and yeah, the footage is constantly recycled, but who doesn't love a giant monster fight? I also love that anytime the Rangers pull out their sword, the other giant monster is like nope and runs away. The special effects leave a lot to be desired in the series as a whole, but this is the one place where everything works because of the films it inherently channels.

Jacob: I'm less impressed by the actual on-the-ground fights, where it's just a bunch of fit actors waving their arms at guys in bad costumes. My friends insist that the series gets its act together with the action later on and eventually focuses on delivering genuinely solid martial arts goodness, but that is beyond my time with the series.

Jamie: Now, watching the teens fight off Putties without their powers is painful. It's not badly choreographed per se – this is where Amy Jo Johnson's gymnastics background and Austin St. John's martial arts training come into play – but after being spoiled by things like the airport fight in Captain America: Civil War or the hallway fight in Daredevil, I feel like the fight scenes are flat and unimpressive. They're working with what they have and to be fair, we're talking about the first season of a children's show that aired in 1993. I'm conscious that it's a bit unfair to compare. Things get better once the Rangers are in costume and we have actual martial artists (I assume) doing the cool backflips and smoother fights. It's not The Matrix, but it's a lot better to watch. That all said, this is my impression based on just a tasting of the show, so it's interesting to hear that this all improves going forward.

Power Rangers Credits Scene

The Legacy

Jamie: I think the show's overall legacy speaks for itself. Just a cursory glance of what Netflix has to offer when you search "Power Rangers" is a testament to how much this brand has been expanded, explored and, with a new film about to hit theaters this weekend, how in-demand these characters still are. So I suppose my final question to you would be, where does the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series sit for you today? Is it pure nostalgia or does it hold a place as an important cultural touchstone of the time period that must be seen, much like we might recommend someone watch Twin Peaks or The X-Files?

Jacob: This is such a tricky question. The brutal truth is that if you removed Power Rangers from pop culture entirely, I'm pretty sure nothing would change. We'd still have comic book movies. The "geek" revolution would still occur. People would just have one less thing to obsess over. This is a perfectly charming, perfectly endearing, perfectly nice little show that meant a lot to me for a brief window of my existence. I'm fine without it. But if you strip away The X-Files or Twin Peaks, I think popular culture takes on a different shape. I think become a very different person. If anything, Power Rangers is the live-action continuation of '80s cartoon shows like Transformers and and He-Man, whereas some of its peers where genuine trailblazers that were reshaping the earth around them. In short: yeah, it's all pure nostalgia. Every last bit of it. Power Rangers is not important...and that's okay, right? Something doesn't have to be important for people to love it.

Jamie: To be fair, those were some heavy comparisons – I probably should've said something like ALF, which I obsessed over as a kid and found delightful when it made an appearance (no matter how ludicrous) in Mr. Robot. But I think you're completely right here. While I can't say my life has been enriched for the better having now watched a small slice of the series, it also was interesting. If anything, I feel better prepared for the new film so I'm glad you had me watch this!

***

So, does Mighty Morphin Power Rangers have a lasting legacy? I do think so. It certainly holds nostalgic value, but I also couldn't help thinking of another sci-fi show aimed at children: Doctor Who. While the series reboot that kicked off with the Ninth Doctor gave the series more gravity, complex plots and better special effects, I kept thinking back to classic episodes, where Tom Baker or Sylvester McCoy were facing off against some cheesy monsters. The truth is, should the Power Rangers film prove a successful, dark and gritty reboot to the series, it would be no different than the legacy Doctor Who has offered die-hard fans, where the great episodes sit alongside the wildly bad and fans debate their favorite Rangers the way Whovians argue over the Time Lord (Ten FOREVER). Like it or not, the Power Rangers are here to stay.