West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 11/25/22

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special dropped this morning, and I was already up from Black Friday shopping, so I checked it out. I LOVED it. No spoilers here, in case you haven’t watched it yet. It’s a pretty simple premise for the 45-minute special:  As seen in the trailer, in order to cheer up Quill at Christmas, Drax and Mantis decide to kidnap “Earth hero” Kevin Bacon, and give him to Quill as a gift. The dynamic between Drax and Mantis is wonderful, and it was fun seeing them explore Earth together. I love these specials, and that Disney+ can expand on these franchises without full blown films and TV series. There is major character and plot development for the team in just a few lines, which will surely carry over to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. It’s a really sweet special, with a lot of heart, which was the perfect length, even if I did kinda want more when it was over. Definitely check this out!

Now that it has finally hit Peacock, I got around to checking out Jordan Peele’s Nope. If you haven’t seen it, Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer are siblings trying to keep their family’s Black-owned Hollywood horse trainer business afloat, when weird stuff starts happening around their ranch. They decide that it’s aliens, and they want to catch the UFO on film, so that they can cash out and get some money to save the business.

While a lot of folks raved over the film, every now and then I’d find something like a TikTok review, where the person didn’t necessarily care for it. I’ve got to say I side with the Tokkers. I feel like there’s a lot of potential there, but something about it just didn’t work for me. First off, I wouldn’t exactly say it’s “horror”. Suspense? Maybe. But it’s not particularly scary. There are things thrown in that don’t really pay off like, basically, everything with Steven Yuen. I could never really get a read on Kaluuya’s Otis Jr. character. And while they had me locked in for a good 2/3 of the film, once you find out what’s actually going on, the whole thing just kinda lost all the air out of its sails.

There are bright spots to the movie, though. Keke Palmer is incredible, and steals every scene she’s in. Brandon Perea as Fry’s tech guy Angel was also a revelation. And that Kaneda slide! Overall, I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I ever need to watch it again. I’ve heard it’s Peele’s allegory on how Hollywood treats actors, eating them up and spitting them out. I don’t know about all that. Maybe a second viewing is required to see that, but I’m in no hurry.

I’m a huge Elton John fan, which might surprise folks. In fact, I’d say that he’s probably my favorite recording artist. There’s a caveat to that, though: I love the Elton era that most folks don’t. I’m not here for “Your Song” and “Rocketman”. No, I’m basically here from “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” until just before the Lion King stuff. I’m all about ’83-92 Elton. So imagine my disappointment when I saw the setlist for his Farewell, Yellow Brick Road tour, and saw that most of that era had been omitted from the show. Sure, it’s a big deal that he’s touring for the last time, but that’s all I needed to see to keep me from spending $350 a ticket to see him kind of phone in “Crocodile Rock”. Then I heard that Disney+ would be livestreaming his final US concert from Dodgers Stadium, and that was good enough for me!

Scheduled to start at 10:55 PM ET, the concert wasn’t without its issues. You see, I started out by trying to stream Disney+ through my Xfinity box, but it would only play for a few minutes, freeze, and then kick me out. I tried this about 10 times, while checking Twitter, which confirmed that I was not alone in this. I finally just decided to switch to the Roku, which means I had missed about the first 25 minutes of a show that already started 20 minutes late. He had already barreled through about 4 songs by then, so I missed the beginning. And that’s probably my first complaint about the show itself: it lacked PASSION. He just kind of did quick, by-the-numbers version of his songs, and was on to the next one. There weren’t really any dynamics to the songs, and they all fell a bit flat. The stage itself wasn’t that spectacular. I wanted a flamboyant SPECTACLE, and instead the place looked like a late 80s showing of the Ice Capades.

Every now and then, he would get up, and kind of amble around the stage like Danny Devito’s Penguin. Look, I realize Elton’s 75 years old, but you could tell. He’s not a spry 75. Every step he took you could tell he was in some sort of pain. I just sort of wanted him to stay seated the whole time, as the walk arounds seemed to take a toll on him.

It wasn’t all bad, though. The guests, like Dua Lipa and Brandi Carlisle, were welcome duet partners. And his voice was still rather strong. At the end of the day, I’m glad I saw it, as I can say I was “there” (in spirit, at least), but I just expected more from his FINAL show. And I would have been rather disappointed if I had been one of the folks who traveled from afar to actually be there.

The funniest part to me was that iHeartRadio was also trying to get in on the action, by simulcasting Elton’s last song and “special message” to his fans. That was scheduled for 10:00 PT, and I don’t know if that lined up with when he was actually finished. Then, when he gave that message, it was basically “Be kind to one another. Goodbye.” I felt like Ralphie when he got the Ovaltine ad. All that for a paraphrased Bill & Ted quote?!

Art by Alon Chou

This is hard to write. I mean, I just last week had to say goodbye to someone who meant a lot to me, and now I have to do it again? In case you hadn’t somehow heard, the world lost actor Jason David Frank (“JDF”, to the fans), best known from the Power Rangers franchise. I almost said “best known as the Green Ranger”, but that’s not entirely true. You see, over the past 30 years, JDF became something of an ambassador for the brand. And he came back as many different Rangers. Some folks might know him better as the Mighty Morphin White Ranger, while others know him as the Red Zeo Ranger, Red Turbo Ranger, or Black Dino Thunder Ranger. He returned as recently as the franchise’s 25th anniversary special just 4 years ago. For all intents and purposes, he was Mr. Power Rangers, And that’s why this hurts so much. He was the face of a franchise that brought joy to so many, and he was struggling inside. I thought the death of Kevin Conroy affected me, but it was nothing like what I’m feeling right now.

I have been a fan of the Power Rangers franchise since it first aired on August 28th, 1993. I remember watching that pilot, and thinking “This will never last.” While I didn’t think it necessarily had mainstream appeal, it did something for me, and I continued to tune in – partly because I was curious to know more about this mysterious Green Ranger I’d seen. You see, I was a charter member of the Fox Kids Club, and whenever they shipped their quarterly magazine, there were always ads for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers toyline from Bandai. So, I had seen the Green Ranger before he had even appeared on the show, thanks to these toy ads, and I wanted to know what his deal was. So imagine my (and everyone else’s) surprise when the Green Ranger/Tommy Oliver was introduced in the 5-part “Green With Evil” saga, and he was EVIL! He showed up and singlehandedly beat the Hell out of the Power Rangers. One against five, and it wasn’t even close. He was SUCH a badass, and from that moment on, I was Team Tommy.

While folks will tell you they might have had a different favorite Power Ranger, it was no secret that the show favored Tommy. No one else had an arc quite like he did. Prior to his arrival, it was just the 5 teens fighting the Monster of the Day, which was somehow tied to whatever they were doing that episode. If the school was having a charity car wash, here comes Washatron, and the Rangers would have to turn him back into a bucket before he laid waste to Angel Grove. But that sort of changed when Tommy showed up. We tuned in to see where life would take him. He shows up and he’s evil. Then he has to adjust to being the new kid, and learn to make friends – primarily with the teens whose asses he’d just kicked. Then he loses his powers. Then he gets them back. Then he loses them again. Then he comes back as the White Ranger, and he’s suddenly promoted to team leader. Whether you liked it or not, Tommy was the David Ruffin to the Power Rangers’ Temptations. He was pretty much a mainstay for the first 4 years of the franchise, including 3 incarnations of the show and 2 movies.

This is really hitting me today, however, because in America today is what we call “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving, that’s usually filled with retail deals and whatnot. Back in the day, however, it was also the day of the Fox Kids TV Takeover. It’s hard to convey just how big of a deal Fox Kids was in the 90s, as there’s no real modern day equivalent. Everything is streaming or 24 hrs, so you just tend to take the stuff for granted. Back then, however, we looked forward to these distinct daily blocks in which to watch our favorite kids shows. The TV Takeover was special, though, because it was supposedly voted on by the fans. Kids were asked to write in with their favorite shows, and then they might be added to the TV Takeover mini marathon that aired on Black Friday. Power Rangers pretty much always made the list and, instead of airing a rerun (for whatever reason, the PR season tended to be over by Thanksgiving), this is when they would air their Christmas episode. These Christmas specials always featured Tommy, often as the focus of the episode, and we tended to get even more character development for him in these specials. After all, one of the rare Kimberly/Tommy kisses is in “I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger”. And it’s Power Rangers Zeo‘s “A Season To Remember” which entered into canon the idea that Tommy and replacement Pink Ranger Kat would eventually end up married, with kids and grandkids. Originally, these Christmas specials were released directly to VHS (remember those?), but the TV Takeover airing was the only time you’d see them on TV, so I looked forward to that. Sadly, Fox Kids has been gone for about 20 years now, and with it went the Takeover tradition. So, here I am, missing both Fox Kids and JDF.

When JDF left Power Rangers, it felt like he struggled to really find his place in the industry. He had done some guest spots on Sweet Valley High and Family Matters, but nothing really stuck. This is why it wasn’t too much of a surprise when he eventually returned to the franchise, in more of a mentor role, in Power Rangers Dino Thunder. While this return further cemented his role as the elder statesman of the brand, I have to feel like he wanted something else he could hold onto. Something that was uniquely his. This led him down some avenues that, I’m just going to say it, came off as kind of cringe sometimes. There was his MMA stint. There was his Jesus Didn’t Tap religious merchandise line. There was the unreleased Legend of the White Dragon film. He had brought so much joy to kids around the world as Tommy Oliver, but he seemed to really be searching for what might bring joy to Jason David Frank.

JDF loved his fans, and we loved him, but he was more than Tommy Oliver. He was more than a Power Ranger. He was a man, with hopes, fears, and desires. And I feel like that gets lost sometimes. We just see this guy doing the convention circuit, smiling and taking pics, and assume he’s got it figured out in a way that suits him. He was struggling, though. I mean, losing Conroy hurt, but he’d been sick. JDF, though…49 years old. Just so young and so sudden. There’s a Power Rangers graphic novel called “Soul of the Dragon”, which serves as something of a coda for the Tommy Oliver character. In it, he’s a kinda grizzled middle aged man, who eventually passes his powers on to his son. And I just realized that JDF won’t even see the age that he was portrayed as in the book. Forty-nine years old. He had so much more to do, to give. I’m just so angry, and lost, and I dunno… There are so many people out there feeling the same. There are a lot of parents who had to have some difficult discussions with their kids Sunday night. And he leaves behind kids of his own. I’m just saddened by the whole thing.

Sure, a large piece of my adolescence (because, let’s face it, I was watching Power Rangers at a much later age than most folks) is gone, but a MAN is gone. And I don’t know how to cope. I don’t want to watch Power Rangers to “remember” him. It’s too soon, and he’s all over that damn franchise. I don’t know when I’ll be able to revisit those seasons, honestly. We’re supposed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the series next year, but I don’t feel like celebrating. It was never clear if he had a role in that anniversary special, but the loss is just going to loom over it. I hope we get some fitting tribute besides the obligatory memorial card.

I really didn’t want to do another West Life Ever. It’s too soon after Conroy, and I just don’t want this to be real. To issue that title makes it…final. I woke up to the news Sunday morning, and I spent the day saying “What the Hell is Geek Ireland? I’ve never heard of that site. I’ll trust it when TMZ confirms it”. And then TMZ did. It just doesn’t seem real. I met him once, but that dude was my hero for damn near 3 decades. Sure, I love Batman, but Power Rangers was always different for me. Maybe it’s because it was always live action. I really couldn’t tell ya. He just seemed “real” to me, ya know?

During the pandemic, JDF was trying to help out comic shops and keep them afloat by doing signings and appearances all over the country. He called it the Power Ranger Protection Program. He would go live on Instagram, while driving to these destinations, and I’d just sit and watch these sometimes. He was something of a motivational speaker, and he really had some insightful things to say at times. I remember during the Jesus Didn’t Tap days, he was really involved with something called Crosby Church, and that informed a lot of his advice. During recent years, the religious talk waned, but the motivational sentiment remained. He would be exhausted, hauling his motorcycle behind his truck, as he drove from Texas to California to film his movie. But he would be on these livestreams for hours, and I’d like to think he got as much out of us keeping him company on those long drives, as we got out of it spending time with our hero. I’ll never forget those, as it was such an intimate, yet practical, use of social media. It wasn’t him seeking clout or anything. As I said before, he loved his fans, and we loved him. Rest well, JDF. May the power protect you.