You have to be a die-hard Power Rangers fan to know a season called RPM even existed. Even (so-called) fans never heard of it.
But for a season that was meant to be Power Rangers‘ last gasp and a season that didn’t even air on television in half the country, RPM has drawn a lot of praise and is held in very high regard by fans who actually saw it. For some, it is a standard they’d like to see Power Rangers hold up. For many, it was a different style and approach that was great to watch.
But for others, RPM sucked. It was horrible. It didn’t feel like Power Rangers. Story was all over the place. It was “too dark.” The villains sucked. The characters were unlikeable. It was just bad.
So again, for a season that was barely even watched, it has drawn some varied and sometimes polarizing opinions.
For me, I’m in the camp of the former. I absolutely love Power Rangers RPM. It easily surpassed my previous #1 season, DinoThunder. It is indeed the standard I want to hold Power Rangers to. If there are Sentai snobs (which I also am), then I am an RPM snob.
In my wrap-up of thoughts after the finale, I wrote:
If Power Rangers were to continue beyond 2011, I’m sure RPM would be the turning point. RPM took the Power Rangers franchise to a whole other level and it would be impossible to go back to the way it used to be. RPM changed the way Power Rangers did business and it was incredible.
It certainly showed just how much potential the Power Rangers franchise can have if treated well and with effort. Also, the potential for Power Rangers to grow beyond ABC Kids.
Boy was I wrong on many things!
Power Rangers did continue after 2011. But it was definitely possible to go back to the way it used to be. And not just immediately before RPM, but all the way to the first Saban Era pre-Y2K!
RPM may have changed the way Power Rangers “did business” in the storytelling sense, but Saban changed it right back. RPM did show just how much potential the Power Rangers franchise can have if there were a lot more effort put into it. But why put in more effort when you could just go back to the way you were doing things before?
Power Rangers did grow beyond, or forced off of ABC Kids, but being on Nickelodeon with its sporadic scheduling and two-year-a-team span wasn’t the kind of growth I had in mind.
But that still doesn’t answer the question. What is the big deal about Power Rangers RPM?
Well, let’s take a look…
It all started when a rough, unofficial trailer for the season leaked online weeks before the premiere.
Needless to say, this wasn’t what anyone expected from Power Rangers. The trailer felt more like some Battlestar Galactica-lite series on Syfy. But no, it was for the new season of Power Rangers; a season that barely even had a uniform national timeslot.
But in spite of all the uncertainty with what almost was the last season of the franchise, the trailer was exciting and different. It was an unexpectedly mature and serious teaser for what was to come.
And So It Began…
It’s a big accomplishment for any series to set the right tone in the very first episode. But RPM set the tone from the very first scene. Actually, even before you saw anything on screen. The narration over a plain black background before fading into a warzone with people being hurried into a large dome signaled, Yeah, this was going to be different.
The line: “Then heaven help them, because we can’t.” When would you have ever heard that line on Power Rangers before this? But that was only the beginning.
Death and Destruction!
Power Rangers RPM is set in a post-apocalyptic world. The computer virus Venjix has wiped out almost everything that’s needed to sustain life on Earth. And the only remaining survivors in the world are living in Corinth, encased in a dome both to create an artificial environment that is unsustainable elsewhere thanks to immense levels of radiation and to protect itself from Venjix and his army from wiping out the last remnants of human life.
That’s pretty heavy. But it didn’t end there.
You’ve got a little girl asking “Are we going to die?” Yeah, she said “die.”
You’ve got a loyal butler dying in the lap of his charge and future Yellow Ranger. Like, literally take his last breaths as she held his hand.
You’ve got the future Red Ranger in a fighter jet flying next to his older brother who explodes right next to him.
And neither of them came back to life at the end.
WTF!? This is Power Rangers right?
It Wasn’t All Doom and Gloom
It definitely is. And it never forgot that it was. It wasn’t all doom and gloom all the time and in fact, RPM contained more lighter and fun moments than many a Power Rangers season before it (and more effective in its attempts than any PR season after it).
Not only did it have regular comic relief and one-liners that actually hit the mark, RPM lovingly poked fun at both its formulaic heritage and its Japanese origins.
While the season definitely touched on some darker topics, it still kept a great sense of fun. And while keeping its sense of fun, in turn, never forgot the real danger the last remnants of humanity were in.
Fresh Storytelling and New Potential
Now the biggest reason for this balls to the wall storytelling may have been the fact that RPM was meant to be the final season of the franchise and/or an effort to raise the target demo for an aborted plan by Disney to have the series air on a rebranded network.
But I’d like to caution by saying that liking the story of RPM doesn’t mean one wants post-apocalypse every season. It was the approach executive producer Eddie Guzelian and his team took. RPM recognized its audience, no matter how young or old, wasn’t stupid. Even if the kiddies were still the target demo, kiddies these days are much smarter and more sophisticated than when I or many of us were kids in the early 90s.
There was care in the way dialogue was written. There was an effort to craft a full and meaningful story.
From ignoring the original Sentai season to the creative use of flashback focus episodes to peel off the layers of the characters and the story of how we got here, RPM showed Power Rangers needn’t be just a toy commercial masked as a television show.
The franchise could hawk toys while also presenting a legitimately engaging dramatic series that was accessible not just to the target demo, but to a wider audience.
But all the creative success could mean nothing if the series didn’t have the talent to bring it to life. And Power Rangers RPM was gifted with an excellent cast of talented actors.
Let’s face it, Saban II has failed in the casting department for Samurai and Megaforce. RPM‘s cast is the complete opposite and seeing much of the cast not only getting steady work, but big roles post-RPM is just testament to their talents.
Disney actually did a very good job casting their seasons, casting their net outside of the United States (out of necessity and out of frugality as well) but with a return of getting promising and talented actors that we haven’t seen so far with Saban II.
Should Set the Standard
Not everyone may like the content of RPM. And others even hate it even if they haven’t seen a single episode.
But if you have seen it, you can’t not appreciate the care and effort that went into the series creatively. The biggest accomplishment of RPM was showing that Power Rangers could still be creatively relevant outside of selling toys and simplistic nostalgia for Mighty Morphin.
What’s the big deal about Power Rangers RPM?
That the franchise could indeed exist and last in the 21st century. That Power Rangers fans didn’t have to settle only for 30 minute toy commercials. That Power Rangers could grow and evolve into something more. And that the creative possibilities for Power Rangers are endless.