West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 4/21/23

This was a great week! Mark that down on your calendars, ’cause I won’t be saying that often. I was on Spring Break, saw a great movie, enjoyed the Power Rangers 30th anniversary special, and capped it off with the amazing Star Trek: Picard finale. But it doesn’t end there! I got some new toys, got approved for an auto loan at a great rate, and I continued to lose weight. Everything’s coming up Milhouse! But you didn’t come here to hear me brag – you came here for the rants and analysis. Here’s hoping I’m not like Fiona Apple; her stuff always sucked when she was happy.

A few weeks back, I told y’all about the Regal Mystery Movie, but if you’re just joining us, here’s how it works: Every few weeks, Regal Cinemas screens a mystery movie that hasn’t been released yet. For $5, you can attend what’s basically an advanced screening of an upcoming film, but the catch is that you don’t know what the movie will be until it starts playing. You’re not going to see some anticipated blockbuster, though. No, these films tend to be movies that aren’t tracking well, and could use some word of mouth to give them some exposure. Sometimes they’re even Apple TV+ movies that weren’t going to get a regular theatrical release. Past Mystery Movie selections include Champions, Paint, and Spirited. When I went the first time, it was Mafia Mamma, starring Toni Collette. Regal does tell you the runtime, but not the title. My friend John and I did some research, trying to figure out what we thought this week’s would be. Considering they skew towards comedies, and comparing runtimes and upcoming release dates, I decided the movie would either be martial arts comedy Polite Society or indie comedy starring Ray Romano, Somewhere In Queens. Once the trailers ended, I realized just how wrong I had been. We weren’t seeing either of those movies. No, we were gonna be watching Sisu.

I had heard the title, but I didn’t have a clue what Sisu was about. As the film began, I still wasn’t really picking up what they were putting down. Set for wide theatrical release on April 28th, Sisu is a more than a film – it’s an EXPERIENCE. Set in the final days of World War II, as the Nazis are realizing their days are numbered, we meet a former Finnish soldier who’s now panning for gold in the wilderness. Solitary and silent, we see his body is covered in gruesome scars, souvenirs from the war he’d left behind. He eventually hits the mother lode, and realizes that amount of gold will change his life forever. He packs it up, and sets out on the road. The only problem is that he has to travel through Nazi-occupied territory. A small company stops him, steals his gold, and leaves him for dead. That’s when the fun starts. He may have been taken out of the war, but the war hadn’t been taken out of him. He reveals himself to be an unstoppable, one-man killing machine, determined to get his gold back.

As action packed as it is, there’s a lot of gore. I had to look away at some points. Have you ever seen a horse explode? If you said “No”, you’ll change your answer after you see this film! War is Hell, and this movie is no exception to that. It’s a good old-fashioned Good vs Evil scenario, with no line-blurring gray area. You know who you’re rooting for, and he never fails to deliver. It’s basically “What if First Blood took place 40 years earlier, and in Europe?” If that doesn’t get you to wanna watch Sisu, then I really don’t know what to tell ya! I LOVED it. 8 out of 10!

The next thing I watched was 30 years in the making. I’ve written about it over the years, and I tweet about it a lot, but I don’t know if I’ve ever truly conveyed what the Power Rangers franchise has meant to me over the past three decades. Yes, it began as a kids show, and I was already basically out of its primary demographic when it started, but it has been something that was always there when I needed it. It helped me build friendships. In middle school, when I was in public school for the first time, and didn’t know anyone, it was something I bonded over with my new friend Brett, once we got tired of the X-Men’s shenanigans (He doesn’t talk to me anymore, for some reason). Then, when I went to prep school, I befriended a kid named Aaron, whose parents took us to see the infamous Mighty Morphin Power Rangers live stage show (He doesn’t talk to me anymore, either. Damn, what did I do to these people?!). Later, in adulthood, I worked at Toys “R” Us, and my coworker Mike and I would talk about the franchise. He’s also known as “Special Forces” on this here website, and that’s a friendship that remains to this day.

Power Rangers has also been my key form of regression, which is something I learned in college. Whenever it was time for finals, Student Life would host all these events to help you calm down and relax before getting reamed by exams. One thing they did was called “Regression”, which is where you’d color, eat cereal, and watch cartoons, in an attempt to take you to your happy place, back to the time before responsibility and major stress. I don’t go back to the 80s, like a lot of my compatriots. Instead, I go back to the early 90s, when my life was pretty much comics, Star Trek, and Power Rangers. These things take me back to a time when the sky was the limit, and possibilities were endless. Now, however, the limit is the sky, and I’ve got responsibilities and debt. Whenever I need a hit of nostalgia juice, I just go back to Power Rangers. It’s so bad that I actually own the series on DVD, yet I’m trying to digitize my old VHS tapes of Fox Kids just so I can also have the commercials, which are also key to full immersion. And I watch the new stuff, too! I made a quiet vow, back around 1997, where I said I would continue to watch as long as they continued to make it. Lord, I didn’t know they were NEVER gonna stop making it! But a promise is a promise, and “pledged is pledged”.

Anyway, I said all that to set the stage for the fact that I was front and center for this Mighty Morphin Power Rangers 30th anniversary special. This thing was made for ME. The steadfast fan who never faltered (except for those years Disney owned it and I didn’t have Jetix). My pal Keith over at The Nerds of Color knew I was a big fan, and he invited me to do a write-up for the site when the final trailer dropped. I thought that would be the end of it until the special was set to be released on Netflix on April 19th, but connections were made, wheels started turning, and I ended up being able to experience an early viewing of the special so that I could write up a review for the NOC. I’ll talk more about it at a later date but, in the 20 years (!) I’ve been blogging, this was probably the biggest honor I’ve received. I’m not the world’s biggest Power Rangers fan. I’m smart enough to know that, plus I’ve talked to him, and he ain’t me. I don’t know ALL the trivia, as I’ve got kids, a wife, and I’m busy trying to evade Type II Diabetes. I’m just a 41 year old man who loves the Hell out of Power Rangers, and has a lot of thoughts about things. Over the course of this week, I’ve watched “Once & Always” twice, in different settings. The first time, I was alone and on the edge of my seat. During the second viewing, it was a watch along with the crew over at the 3BlackGeeks Twitch account. The second time, I was able to process things more, and also get an idea of what other folks thought about it. And I’ve got THOUGHTS (Yes, there will be spoilers, so…)

The special starts in media res, with the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers team fighting a robotic version of their old foe, Rita Repulsa. How do they have their powers back? After all, the Dino coins were effectively destroyed. Well, don’t hold your breath for an explanation, ’cause you ain’t getting one! And why are a bunch of 50 year olds back in the saddle, fighting Rita? Can’t some of the younger teams take care of this?

Anyway, the fight is swift, and Robo Rita fires a lethal blast at the Blue Ranger (Billy), but the Yellow Ranger (Trini) jumps in front of it, spins around in midair, and EXPLODES. Yup, Trini dead. Now, for you casuals, let me give you some context: Thuy Trang, the original Yellow Ranger actress (unless you talk to Audrey Dubois…) was killed in a car accident back in 2001. So, of course, she wasn’t able to appear in the special. Now, I understand they had to explain her absence somehow, but part of me feels like maybe it was a little tasteless how it was handled? Maybe? I dunno. But I’ll give them THIS: they did what Marvel wouldn’t do. The Blue and Black Rangers remove their helmets in disbelief, which was also tied to the fact that they were the only original actors to return for the special. We’re led to believe that Red, Pink, Yellow, and Green ARE Jason, Kimberly Trini, and Tommy, respectively, because they dubbed in old audio clips of them, despite the fact that they never demorph and show their faces. So not only are they down a member, but it turns out Trini had a teenage daughter, Minh, and they now have to break it to her that her mother is dead.

Then there’s a One Year Later time jump. Zack, the Black Ranger has quit his job as a Congressman (?!) to take care of Minh, who’s been training – training for revenge. On the anniversary of Trini’s death, everyone is planning to meet up at the cemetery, but Rita ambushes the Rangers and conveniently captures the ones whose actors didn’t return for the special. An ambush at a cemetery? That’s cold! Blue and Black manage to escape with Minh, and they activate the Bandora Protocols, which summons reserve members Rocky and Kat to fill out the team. Using cloned Dino coins (yes, this explains how THEY got their powers back, but not the other folks!), they’re able to tap into the Morphing Grid and become the Red and Pink Rangers again. So, the rest of this special is this 4-piece vs. Rita and her minions.

“But what’s Rita’s plan?” I’m SO glad you asked, because it makes NO SENSE. Let’s talk about it. First off, it needs to be clarified that this isn’t the OG Rita. This is Rita’s Evil Essence, which was separated from her at the end of Power Rangers In Space. It’s a long story, but basically the Rangers’ mentor, Zordon (remember the giant head in the tube?) sacrifices himself, and as his “Z-wave” energy spread throughout the galaxy, it destroyed all evil in its path (until it didn’t, but that’s another story. #ZordonDiedForNothing). Rita and her husband Zedd reverted to human form, and it was believed their evil had been destroyed. Wrong. Instead, it had simply been carried along the Z-Wave, throughout space. When Billy was trying to reconstitute Zordon, he inadvertently summoned Rita’s essence instead, which came through and inhabited the robot body of Alpha-8, transforming it into Robo Rita.

Since Robo Rita has had more experience with the Power Rangers, she plans to open a portal to the past and give her present-day knowledge to a younger Rita just as she emerges from her space dumpster (as seen in the pilot episode, “Day of the Dumpster”). That younger Rita will, then, kill the prospective Rangers in their sleep, before Zordon can give them their powers. Huh. She’s gonna kill a bunch of kids in their sleep. So, if that’s her plan, why didn’t she do that when she had the chance? There have been several instances of her watching them sleep, messing with their dreams and whatnot. It reminds me of that Scott Evil line from Austin Powers, “I have a gun, in my room, you give me five seconds, I’ll get it, I’ll come back down here, BOOM, I’ll blow their brains out!” It would have been THAT easy. Do I know why she didn’t do it? Sure, it’s because it was a kids show, and that would have gone too far. It still needed to be addressed in-story, though, as it’s a weak plan. They could have said something like “Rita’s human half held her back in the past, but she’s no longer encumbered by it.” Hell, she could kill them NOW. They’re 50! They’ve all got ulcers and bad knees. Plus, if she killed them in the past, Zordon would’ve just chosen different kids. Teenagers are a dime a dozen!

Anyway, I’ll skip the play by play here, because the next 20 minutes are just a cat and mouse game of the Rangers baiting Rita’s monsters and then running away from them. There are interspersed scenes of Minh trying to be a Ranger, having stolen her mother’s Morpher. Yet every time she tries to morph, it doesn’t work because she hasn’t been *chosen*. Yadda yadda Minh saves Billy’s life, just as her mom sacrificed herself for Billy, yadda yadda Minh is chosen yadda yadda new Yellow Ranger. They’re fighting on the Moon, and they summon their Dino Zords (again, making no sense, as these were destroyed. Did Billy pull a Geordi, and he’s been quietly restoring them over the past 30 years?). Someone had the bright idea to layer CGI over stop motion footage of the toys, and it looked BAD. Seriously, it wasn’t much better than the CGI from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, and that was using the best technology 1995 had to offer. We’ve come a long way since then, so there was really no excuse.

The Rangers beat Robo Rita, they all end up back at the new Command Center, and the captured Rangers are conveniently in a med bay, offscreen. Replacement Rangers Adam and Aisha are also present, now members of something called S.P.A. Is that Space Patrol Alpha? Couldn’t tell ya, because it’s never explained. They’re apparently in space, fighting the Troobian Empire – the villains from Power Rangers S.P.D. – but “that’s all she wrote.” They say their goodbyes, and Zack, Billy, and Minh enjoy smoothies back at Ernie’s. The end. But what of it?

Minh is a Power Ranger now, but what does that mean? Are the old folks going back into retirement, or will this be another iteration of Power Rangers Turbo, with a kid on the team? It doesn’t seem like you’d introduce a character like Minh, set her up where they leave her, and then do nothing with her. I’ve read that next season, Power Rangers Cosmic Fury might continue from this special, but I don’t know how, seeing how tonally different both properties are. Plus, Cosmic Fury is only going to have 10 episodes, compared to the usual season length of 30+ episodes. They’re not gonna have a lot of room to devote to this Minh stuff. As an anniversary special, it serves as more of a new beginning than a swan song. There’s some “passing the torch” aspects to it, but I’m confused because Hasbro is reportedly working on a full-scale reboot, including a series and a film, spearheaded by Jonathan Entwistle. I would have no problem with Minh leading the next generation of Power Rangers, but that’s not a reboot, and all signs pointed to Hasbro wanting to cut all ties to what has come before. I guess time will tell.

It wasn’t the BEST Power Rangers anniversary special, but it was better than I thought it would be and, if we’re “keeping it 100”, as the kids say, it was better than it deserved. This was a franchise meant for children, that has stood the test of time. In another universe, this is akin to a Mr Rogers reunion, where he puts on his sweater, and pulls his vape out of the pocket. Despite the franchise’s origins, this special was not meant for children. It was decidedly meant for adults, and I actually think a child would be bored watching these old people fighting. Sure, there’s still new Power Rangers today but, just like The Real World before it, it has turned into an assembly line of pretty kids, willing to move to New Zealand for a year, who you never see or hear from again outside of the bi-annual Power Morphicon convention. It never really took off as a star-making vehicle, and today’s kids aren’t invested in Billy Cranston and his alien girlfriend. As someone who is invested, I couldn’t ask for much more than we got. I’d say it could have been longer, but it was probably just long enough, and they managed to accomplish quite a bit in those 55 minutes. The Zords could have been done better, but Hasbro doesn’t have Disney money, so they probably did the cost-benefit analysis and paid what they felt it was worth. At the end of the day, I think Hasbro has something on their hands that they can be proud of, and the online response has been generally positive. So, mission accomplished!

After all that Ranger talk, you’re probably tired of me by now, right? Don’t worry. I’m almost done for the week.

Yesterday saw the series finale of Star Trek: Picard released on Paramount+, and it was PERFECT. I will NOT do a play by play here, as some of y’all may not have seen it yet, nor do I feel I could do it justice. I loved every minute of this season, as well as every new character. From Jack Crusher to Sidney “Crash” LaForge to Captain Liam Shaw, they all contributed to the rich tapestry that is Star Trek, and I really hope that Terry Matalas is able to convince Paramount into greenlighting his Star Trek: Legacy series.

As far as the episode itself, it gave me everything, from things I wanted to things I didn’t know I wanted. It was so great to see these old friends evolve. Worf embracing peace and connection. Data exploring his new “humanity”. Seven coming into her own, the culmination of a journey that began way back on Voyager. Riker and Troi working through their grief and their issues, and emerging stronger from it. And Picard finally recognizing the family in his life – both biological and surrogate. It was just fulfilling in so many ways. Matalas walked a tightrope, striking the perfect balance between fan service and forward momentum. We’re headed for the future, while making sure to correct the mistakes of the past. I was satisfied with where everyone ended up. Well, almost everyone.

If I have one gripe about the finale, it’s that they never address what happened to Laris. When the season began, Picard was finally about to try to let her in. It wasn’t going to be easy, but he was going to take the chance. That all got pushed aside when he got the distress call from Beverly. I think Laris knew that was the end of whatever they’d had. Done before it truly began. That said, I feared the series was going to try to force a rekindled relationship between Picard and Crusher once it was revealed that Jack was their son. While I don’t believe it did that, as their relationship outside of being proud co-parents isn’t clear in the end, it still indicates that he chose that arrangement rather than explore a future with Laris. You can draw conclusions, but I just want to know if there’s a scene on the cutting room floor that would have addressed it in the manner that it deserved.

Now that the series is over (for now, at least), we can look at what it accomplished as a whole. Unlike many people, I enjoyed all three seasons. While the third and final season was miles ahead of what had come before it, I still enjoyed them for what they were. In fact, in an unpopular stance, I actually enjoyed Season 2 more than the first season. I remember being bored during the last 1/3 of the premiere season. As I binged Season 2 the week that Season 3 premiered, it was fresh in my mind, and I was riveted by the story. It set up a lot of things that got no payoff.

Now, when you compare Season 2 to Season 3, there’s an obvious upgrade in quality. That said, considering they were filmed back to back, due to COVID, it’s sort of amazingly disappointing how they just decided to retcon almost everything they had just set up. Ya know how they film pilots before a show is picked up, so when the second episode airs, everyone has a different haircut because it was filmed months later? This felt like that, in a way. Laris being in the premiere was a remnant of Season 2, before they decided to full-scale ignore anything that happened in it. You could honestly skip Season 2 (though I, personally, wouldn’t recommend it), and it wouldn’t change anything about Season 3. The Picard/Laris relationship? Pretty much confined to Season 2. The Borg from S2? From a different timeline. Soji? Don’t worry about her. Kore? Yeah, don’t worry about her, either. Jurati as the Borg Queen? Jurati WHO? Q dies? Yeah… I know it wasn’t well-loved, but the dangling plotlines could have been resolved with some well-placed dialogue.

I know folks who’ll say “I’m perfectly fine with them ignoring season 2”, but I take my time seriously. I invested 10 hours in that season, just for them to say “Sike!” Now, a more philosophical soul might say something like “Well, if you enjoyed it, then it wasn’t time wasted.” I get that, but I’m a continuity guy. I don’t just consume stuff like this. I study it. I’m trying to learn, and build upon the greater whole. For them to just completely ignore the events of Season 2 makes me feel like a planetary researcher whose primary focus was Pluto at the time they decided Pluto was, in fact, not actually a planet. Anyway, the bottom line is, if you plan to check out Picard, it’ll be easier on you to just jump from S1 to S3.

Just like Power Rangers was a safe haven for me, so was Star Trek: The Next Generation. As my tastes matured, I’d tell you that Deep Space Nine was my preferred Trek, but you never forget your first. Captain Picard and that crew got me through some lonely times. And don’t get me started on when it went into weekday syndication! Airing twice a night on WDCA 20, my friend Brockman and I would watch each episode over the phone, laughing at Wesley being stabbed through the chest by the warthog aliens. TNG was a very important part of my development, which just made me sad that they could never seem to figure out how to translate that magic to the big screen. I mean, outside of First ContactTNG-era films are pretty much forgettable. So, when they announced Star Trek: Picard, it seemed like they were finally going to give us a chance to say “goodbye” to these characters. But they made us work for it! Yeah, I liked the first two seasons, but most people would tell you that the show should have been Season 3 right out of the gate. They wanted the reunion to be immediate and, once out of the way, then the showrunners were allowed to do whatever. I feel like the first two seasons just made me appreciate and enjoy the ending even more. Could they have done the plot for Season 3 in the beginning? Sure, but it wouldn’t have meant as much, in my mind. They truly EARNED that final season and that finale. It successfully closed one chapter, while starting a new one. My love for this franchise hasn’t been this deep in over 2 decades, and I have “Picardmania” to thank for that. So, for these reasons, Star Trek: Picard had the West Week Ever.


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