Don’t look now, but it’s morphin time again!
The Power Rangers return with the Monday night debut of “Power Rangers Samurai” on Nickelodeon. This latest iteration of the spandexed heroes carries with it a complicated mythos, heavy expectations and a number of questions. Not the least of which is: Do we really need another Power Rangers series?
In truth, the Power Rangers aren’t really back, because that would imply they had actually gone somewhere.
In terms of popularity, the group peaked in the mid-1990s, when it was known as “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” Adapted from the Japanese series “Super Sentai,” the live-action program became an overnight sensation in the States when it debuted in 1993.
Kids loved the brightly costumed do-gooders, and older fans enjoyed the show for its campy entertainment value. Myopic parents groups contributed to the success by railing against the show’s cartoonish violence. It all combined to create a massive international hit property that sold tons of toys, drew huge ratings in syndication and even spawned two feature film spin-offs.
But before you could say “Go, go Power Rangers,” the characters morphed from franchise superstars to also-rans. The group has remained a constant, if ever-diminishing, presence in pop culture. But reshuffled Rangers and revamped series with titles such as “Dino Thunder,” “Lightspeed Rescue” and “Mystic Force” have done little to help keep the Power Rangers brand from losing its luster. Admitting one was a Power Rangers fan the past few years was like declaring you were a Brett Favre fan. Not cool.
Haim Saban aims to change that.
Saban is the children’s television kingpin who helped turn “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” into a billion-dollar property before selling it to Disney, which took over in 2001. He bought back the Rangers from the Mouse House last year for a reported $100 million, with the lofty intentions of making the Rangers relevant again.
“ ‘Power Rangers Samurai’ is all new to new audiences and older fans alike,” said Saban Brands president Elie Dekel, who also worked on the original series. “We expect our fans to really enjoy a great show filled with action, humor and heart.”
"Samurai," which revolves around a new generation of Power Rangers learning to use their powers, has many of the trademarks Rangers fans will recognize. There is a samurai mentor, loyal animals and of course, a go-to evildoer named Master Xandred, not to mention a generous helping of the cheesy fight scenes that first put the show on the map. The nods to the past, combined with a home at Nickelodeon — the No. 1 kid’s network — is a step in the right direction.
“(The producers need) to be able to bring kids on board like they did back when the show started, with a combination of awesome toys that kids want to have ... and a level of action not seen by most other kids’ shows,” said Lewis Lovhaug, writer and producer of the web series “History of the Power Rangers.”
Lovhaug thinks Saban is also on the right track by using Twitter, Facebook and viral marketing to reach out to fans and let them know “Samurai” was coming.
“There are fans like me, the ones who still love the show and may have been off-and-on at various points in the franchise, but obviously the general audience is not like that,” Lovhaug said. He pointed out that many casual fans he’s talked to had no idea the Power Rangers aired for 17 years in the form of spin-offs before Disney canceled the last one, "Power Rangers RPM," in 2009.
That kind of optimism is exactly what Team Saban wants to hear, but there still remains the biggest concern for this reboot/rebrand/rejuvenation of the Power Rangers: Do enough people still care?
Back when Saban regained the rights to the franchise, he told the Los Angeles Times he felt the property had languished at Disney. He said it still had “significant legs” and could “flourish and be more impactful than it has been for the past five years."
Hey, far be it from me to tell a guy how to spend his money, especially someone who made billions — literally billions — of dollars from knowing what television shows kids want to see. (Saban's company also worked on "Digimon," "Dragonball Z" and others.) But the Power Rangers haven’t had “significant legs” since Kimberly Hart was making tween boys swoon as the Pink Power Ranger.
That’s not anyone’s fault. It’s human nature.
Anything that’s been around a long time eventually loses its zing, its novelty and its appeal. It’s the way of the world. Aside from grandmothers, wine and mint-condition comic books, people mostly don’t like old things. It’s why garage sales and eBay exist. And it’s why television shows — especially those targeted at young kids — fade from the public consciousness as they get long in the tooth. There are exceptions, such as “SpongeBob SquarePants,” but these shows by rule tend to have a short shelf life.
Kids get older, lose interest and move on. All these ‘80s properties that Hollywood keeps trotting out for a second act — the “Transformers,” “The A-Team” and this summer, “The Smurfs” — are looking for a nostalgia bump from folks who somehow still look back longingly on the days when they spiked their hair and wore Z-Cavaricci pants.
Being a product of the ‘90s, the Power Rangers can’t even rely on that type of retro-affection. I could be wrong, but I don’t get the sense anyone is yearning for the good old days of Birkenstocks, flannel and grunge.
Here’s a sad but indisputable fact about pop culture: Unless you’re “Star Wars” or “The Simpsons,” you can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. You just can’t.
When you have your moment in the pop culture sun, milk it for everything it’s worth. Then watch it fade away and settle into a comfortable licensing existence with regular royalty checks for linens, party supplies and kids vitamins.
Being a hot commodity a lot of fun, but like any ride, it eventually comes to an end — as should the once mighty Rangers.
Michael Avila is a regular contributor for TODAYshow.com. He lives in Manhattan.