Indeed. What did Power Rangers fans experience these last two years?
After Power Rangers RPM and during the last gasp, misguided re-versioned Mighty Morphin, I think many if not most fans accepted that Power Rangers was pretty much done.
Believing the franchise ended on a high note with RPM, I was one of those fans. Which is what finally helped me open up to where Power Rangers was born out of.
I started watching Samurai Sentai Shinkenger when, to my surprise, I realized having no Power Rangers left a hole in my life. And Super Sentai filled that hole. I loved it and immediately became a fan.
Then the huge news broke. Haim Saban and his vast fortune would reclaim the franchise he helped create and take it to Nickelodeon where it conceivably would enjoy a much better platform than Disney was willing or able to give at the tail end of their ownership.
Fast forward to February 7, 2011. After plenty of shiny promos and the promise of morphing in high definition for the first time in 18 years, Power Rangers Samurai premiered, in primetime, on Nickelodeon.
And that’s where it all started. Despite marveling at the franchise being in beautiful, crisp HD for the first time, the strange premiere episode confused even the most longtime fans.
Where was the traditional summoning of the Rangers? Was there a missing episode somewhere?
Little did anyone know that jumping right into the action, the team already formed, would be the least of everyone’s worries.
Almost two years and more than 40 episodes later, Power Rangers Samurai comes to an end. For many, it’s been a long time coming. For others, gratitude that Power Rangers still lives to morph another day. But just what happened in the last two years to have elicited the most passionate and lengthy discussions of criticism and debate in the franchise’s history?
Oy. Where do we begin?
A good place to start would be Nickelodeon’s scheduling. It’s no secret that Nickelodeon, once riding high especially over its rival Disney Channel, has taken a sharp decline in viewers the last year or two. Parent Viacom, experiencing similar declines at Nickelodeon’s sister networks, blamed it on some kind of anomaly on Nielsen’s end.
But other than the quality of product, the decline can be attributed to Nickelodeon’s erratic scheduling practices. Power Rangers wasn’t the only one, but maybe the one that suffered the most. Sporadic hiatuses and last minute timeslot changes plagued Samurai‘s run, starting out strong then fading fast with airings that couldn’t even hold on to its repeat lead-in’s audience.
Two Seasons?! (SUPER!)
And maybe because of Nickelodeon’s scheduling, Power Rangers “teams” will now apparently span two seasons. Or really, a regular season order broken in half over two years.
Returning to 40+ episodes per season or I guess, team, from the 32 that became the norm under Disney was a welcome change under the Saban II. But not when those 40 episodes would be split over two years.
Trying to space out 20 episodes over 52 weeks contributed to those oddly timed and never similarly lengthed hiatuses. The ratings suffered and the series got an unnecessary SUPER addition to its title.
Nickelodeon wanting to stretch its buck as much as it could is the only reason for the decision to air the series like this. But the ratings show that wasn’t necessarily a good decision.
Plus, the decision to hold the REAL premiere episodes (“Origins,” Parts 1 and 2) lies both on Nickelodeon and Saban. Now there’s a decision that doesn’t have a single logical reason to explain it.
In the greater scheme of things, the Sentai-to-Power Rangers turnaround time grew from no more than a year to now three (between Goseiger and the upcoming Megaforce). That might not be a concern to anyone other than those who are both Power Ranger and Sentai fans. But adapting a four year old Japanese series?
Adaptation vs Translation
Which brings us to the next point. Much has been made of Power Rangers Samurai‘s scripts seemingly being direct translations of Shinkenger scripts.
I’ve said they pretty much ran the scripts through Google Translate and handed the result to their actors. And the result has been, well… a story lost in translation.
By merely translating the Shinkenger scripts with little to no original material or even the slightest bit of modifications to fit Power Rangers Samurai and its characters, the season was at times nonsensical and at times unnecessarily confusing. Were we watching Shinkengers or were we watching Samurai Rangers?
Nothing good ever comes from just copying the source material without attempting to either improve upon it or at least match the quality of the original. For fans who’ve seen both, unflattering comparisons are inevitable
For everyone else, maybe they should’ve seen the original just so they could understand what was going on. Like why there’s some guy walking around in a brown robe or what’s this whole “I’m drying out” business. Or what’s the big deal about water seeping through cracks? What are folding zords? Why does Jayden have a Japanese last name!? Whhhyyyyy!?
It is 2011 and 2012, not 1993.
In fairness, Samurai did have some of its own original material.
Most of it not very good. The one original aspect of Samurai they did right, but eventually botched at the end was the reworking of the Dayu/Juzo (Deker) storyline. It was actually a pretty good direction to take. It only sucks that the ending was completely mishandled, which is actually in line with how the rest of the season went.
But the other big Samurai-exclusive plot, Bulk & Spike, only highlighted and sometimes exacerbated the season’s flaws. Bulk and Spike would fill in holes left by the too-Japanese aspects of the Google Translated-Shinkenger scripts. But their scenes would often be completely unnecessary and worse, absolutely unfunny and unenjoyable.
Saban issued a mandate. I’m only paraphrasing here… or not. But basically, after the downright depressing and dark and boring Disney seasons like RPM and Jungle Fury (!?), it was time Power Rangers got back to the fun and lighthearted feelings that Power Rangers should be known for.
Okay, fair enough. Even though the assertion about the Disney seasons is incorrect. But fair goal to have.
Only problem is, Saban’s way of bringing back the fun is to pretend we’re living in the mid-90s. Long argument short, a barrage of bad puns and nonstop slapstick is supposed to make Power Rangers a more fun and therefore more kid friendly show. Bulk and Spike were the personification of that misguided mandate.
Wanting to recapture the magic of Bulk and Skull from the original seasons, Saban shoehorned Bulk and Spike into episodes, maybe hoping that’d be enough to lighten the mood. Instead, it pretty much ruined the mood and made me feel sorry for Paul Schrier. Even he couldn’t save the season.
But it’s 2012. A lot has happened to children’s programming since Power Rangers was at its peak. Kids these days are much more sophisticated than they were when I was part of that target audience. Saban decided to use that 90s formula to try and reenergize the show, but instead regressed any progress Disney and even Saban themselves made the last 10 years.
An action-adventure children’s property doesn’t have to talk down to their target audience. It doesn’t have to dumb things down for kids to understand or enjoy. Maybe that was the case 20 years ago when Power Rangers first started, but not anymore. You see big Hollywood blockbusters, take Harry Potter for example, that are perfectly family friendly and widely enjoyable.
But one of the biggest problems for Power Rangers Samurai was not that it was geared towards young children. But that it was geared towards young children in 1993.
The inexperienced young cast already had a big hill to climb. So they did not need horribly dumbed down writing to drag their own performances down either.
The main cast definitely had a rough go at the start. They seemed awkward, uncomfortable and stiff. It felt like they were merely reading off cue cards instead of actually bringing the script (however poor) to life. They loosened up as the season went on, but it couldn’t erase the sometimes cringe-worthy performances they delivered in the first half of the season(s).
Half the blame certainly goes to the lazy and poorly written dialogue, but the actors too struggled many times throughout.
Now Power Rangers may have discovered a lot of great talent, many of whom are gainfully employed and working today. Maybe one of the best things to say about Disney was that they found a lot of great actors outside of the usual Los Angeles casting pool, especially down under.
And while Power Rangers isn’t going to be a model of award winning performances, there’s at least the expectation of reasonably competent actors.
This isn’t a total knock on the cast. They were definitely dealt a bad hand. I’d say the criticism lies more in the casting department. And that’s a discussion to be had by those who have a greater knowledge of the inner workings of Hollywood than me. (Contract, anyone?)
Maybe my biggest mistake was my high expectations for Samurai. For everything Disney did wrong, they did do a lot of things right. Even discounting the “balls to the wall” attitude Eddie Guzelian had in developing RPM as a final season, Disney’s other seasons had grand visions.
They didn’t always execute those grand visions very well, but at least they had them.
With Saban’s big proclamations of bringing Power Rangers back into the pop culture zeitgeist, one might expect they’d be going big. Of course, now we know it actually meant regression and bowing down to Nickelodeon’s mess of a scheduling department.
For me, having already enjoyed Shinkenger, my expectations were that much higher. You add in the HD, a big network like Nickelodeon and Saban’s excitement, it was all a fun time… until the show actually started airing.
But I think even people with reasonable expectations had to be disappointed with Samurai. There was a lot of potential to be something great. Shinkenger was a great season to get the ball rolling. It had great characters and a strong story. And yet, even while copying the scripts word for word, Samurai always came up far short and managed to pretty much suck the life out of the original story and characters.
Horrible, forced dialogue and disjointed writing may be what Samurai will be best remembered for.
On to Megaforce
And now it’s on to Power Rangers Megaforce.
Expectations? I guess I’ve learned it’s better to not have any.
Actually, I hope Saban has learned from their many mistakes with Samurai. But even my “hopes” are pretty subdued now and I pretty much don’t expect anything from the next season.
Who knows what will happen with the next two years of Power Rangers. More of the same? That’s likely.
It’s just disappointing that a show I gladly rediscovered in 2002 after about 8 years of tuning out has almost completely lost me. As I’ve written many times in the last two years, I’m grateful that the momentary death of Power Rangers helped me discover Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. Both filled the hole that Power Rangers Samurai certainly did not fill.
Yeah, I may only be one fan of millions. But even if I weren’t watching the show anymore, I want to see it do well after investing now 10 years in it (and a lot more for many fans). I’d still want to see it at its best. And Samurai was definitely not its best. Far from it.