I briefly discussed the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers television show and its influence on child-targeted programming in the early to mid ’90s last summer on CXF. The sight of five teenagers moonlighting as colorful superheroes captivated a lot of kids’ imaginations. Just how big were the Power Rangers? In addition to the series still running today, over 20 years since its debut, it spawned tons of merchandise and two feature films with a third coming in 2017.
With all popular entities, there were a barrage of copycats also trying to cash in on the fantasy-action genre aimed towards children. I think the question is: Were any of them actually good? Well, I already previously mentioned the cyberspace-themed Superhero Samurai Syber-Squad starring Matthew Lawrence in a past article but now, let’s check out the rest.
The first blatant Power Rangers clone I remember watching as a kid was a little show called VR Troopers. Believe it or not, this one was produced by Saban Entertainment, the same company who produced Power Rangers. I guess the thinking here was “lightning can strike twice.” Here, we meet three karate experts, Ryan, Kaitlin, and J.B., who are transformed into superheroes after discovering a laboratory containing the digitized Professor Hart, who explains that mutants from another dimension are threatening Earth. They are soon given costumes of armor and state of the art weaponry to allow them to fight evil. On their journey, they’re joined by Dojo instructor, Tao and a talking dog named Jeb. A prominent theme on this show is virtual reality (hence the name VR) which prevails in the other world that our protagonists travel to throughout the series. The technology itself was still young at this time so while a lot of it feels completely dated, it serves as a cool little time capsule. Like the Rangers, the Troopers had to keep their identities a secret leading normal lives and transforming in private when duty calls.
In terms of Power Rangers rips off, this was one of the better ones I feel. In addition to action figures, I owned a horrible VR Troopers video game that was released for the doomed R-Zone headset console (shout out to the Angry Video Game Nerd). I recommend checking out VR Troopers for yourself as it’s available to stream on Netflix.
Okay, this show dropped after the release of the first Power Rangers film, so Saban were still attempting to replicate the Rangers’ magic as their stock was now at an all time high. This time they aimed for an even younger, more comic book oriented crowd. In Big Bad Beetleborgs, three young comic book nerds, siblings Drew and Jo and their friend, Roland, thrill seek at a local haunted house and accidentally release the spirit of Flabber, a friendly ghost who uses his powers to turn the children into their favorite comic book characters, the Big Bad Beetleborgs. In doing so, Flabber also releases their nemesis’, the Magnavores, whom the children have to stop from terrorizing their town. These changes also grant the team distinct powers to help them through everyday life. Drew possesses telekinesis, Jo has super strength, and Roland demonstrates sonic speed. The series is told through the pages of a comic book and has elements of campy horror instilled. It was revamped in season two with the heroes’ upgraded armor and was renamed Beetleborgs: Metallix.
One of the things I remember most about the Beetleborgs was when they switched out the actress who played Jo halfway through the series, from Shannon Chandler to Brittany Konarzewski. In a rare instance of continuity, they actually had an entire episode explaining the change as she was accidentally put under a spell, altering her appearance forever. None of the characters seemed to notice or care.
I enjoyed Beetleborgs for what they were and appreciated that they were at least trying to do something different with the comic and horror overtones. This one is also available to stream on Netflix so check out an episode and enjoy the memories.
And yet we have another output from Saban Entertainment. After VR Troopers hit television sets everywhere, Masked Rider joined in as a part of Fox’s “Fox Kids” line-up. This show was actually an adaptation of the famed Japanese series, Kamen Rider Black that was distributed by Saban in 1995. The original show dates back to the 1970s and is still running today in the land of the rising sun with this series being based on the ninth installment of the franchise, Kamen Rider Black RX. The character was first introduced to North American audiences in a season three episode of the Power Rangers and was subsequently spun off into its own show.
Here, we meet Dex, an alien who crash lands on earth and it taken in by a kind family. On earth, he learns how to live like a human while calling upon his powers when necessary to become our eponymous hero. Armed with a badass motorcycle, he sets out to fend off the dark forces of Count Dregon. Masked Rider’s stay in the limelight would wind up being very brief as it only lasted one 40 episode season.
I remember owning a Masked Rider video game for the Sega CD (!). It was, by far, one of the most confusing games I’ve ever played. If you ever played a Sega CD game, you’ll know how bizarre some of them were. Some, such as this one, followed long full motion video interludes that coincide with the player pushing the right button at the exact moment to progress or else it’s game over before you know it.
Now we’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel here with the inclusion of the Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills. This show was about as ridiculous as its name and probably the laziest attempt to lure in the audience that Power Rangers had. This aired on the USA network on weekdays and followed four posh teenagers from Beverly Hills who attended a prestigious academy by day and fought evil creatures by night. The chosen ones were summoned by a blob named Nimbar who rubs tattoos on their wrists in the form of different constellations. Our saviors included Laurie (Scorpio), Gordon (Taurus), Drew (Centaur), and Swinton (Apollo).
In order to morph into their alter egos, our heroes would follow a portal to Nimbar’s lair, stand on small platforms called “transo discs”, and call out their respective signs. The budget for this one must have been a whopping $50 since the costumes looked awful. The guys looked like they were hitting an intense workout in the 1980s while the ladies looked like third-rate modern-day pop singers. The sets were also abysmal as the background used for the fight scenes switched between a cheesy desert-like area with horrible lighting and a embarrassingly cheap looking city landscape. How this show was green lit is beyond me. Still, like most things, that didn’t stop me from watching this every time it was on. Thankfully it lasted only one season. I only knew about two or three people other than me that actually watched this one growing up. After its cancellation, I never heard anything of its existence…until the birth of YouTube of course. Hey, Donkey Lips from Salute Your Shorts appeared in an episode and look, Zsa Zsa Gabor appeared as herself in the series!
Did you watch any of these? Do you have fond memories? What series did I miss? Let me know in the comments section below.