In the third part of our ongoing series to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Power Rangers franchise, we take a look at Power Rangers Zeo.
Immediately following on from the events of the final season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers, Power Rangers Zeo saw a huge change to the Power Rangers franchise.
Despite the success of Power Rangers: The Movie, and the show continuing to maintain the number one ratings in it’s time slot, Saban were concerned that the franchise was close to losing its popularity, in part due to a decline in merchandise sales. The company knew that a change was needed.
With the added difficulty of trying to adapt new Super Sentai shows around the original costumes, something that had caused issues during the second and third seasons of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Saban decided that cosmetic changes would help, by abandoning the original costumes and using those of the next Super Sentai series. This would both negate a lot of the production issues that had plagued the series, as well as allowing them to release a whole new range of merchandise.
As such, Power Rangers Zeo was devised. Adapting Choriki Sentai Ohranger, the show would introduce new costumes, new Zords, and for the first time, new villains.
With the previous show ending with the apparent destruction of the Command Centre, Power Rangers Zeo sees the de-powered Rangers getting a new base of operations, the Power Chamber, as well as a whole new set of powers from the Zeo Crystal. The crystal turns Kat (Catherine Sutherland) into Zeo Ranger 1 Pink, newcomer Tanya (Nakia Burisse) into Zeo Ranger 2 Yellow, Rocky (Steve Cardenas) into Zeo Ranger 3 Blue, Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch) into Zeo Ranger 4 Green, and Tommy (Jason David Frank) into Zeo Ranger 5 Red.
Bearing geometric shapes on their helmets that related to their numbers, the Zeo Rangers felt more cohesive than they had in previous seasons, where their dinosaur costumes bore little resemblance to their animal Zords. Here, however, their number and shape motifs would be repeated throughout the season.
As well as changes to the Rangers, the first story also saw a major shift in the shows villains, with Rita Repulsa (Carla Perez) and Lord Zedd (Robert Axelrod) being driven off their base on the moon by a larger, more powerful force. The Machine Empire, a race of mechanical beings, set their sights on Earth after conquering a whole series of galaxies.
These new villains not only up the ante on previous seasons, with a huge empire backing the main villains, but also give a coherent theme to the monsters of the week, as they are all robots. Whilst there were never many serious complaints about the violence in the show in the past, it was a lot easier for Saban to justify the Rangers destroying robots than organic monsters.
The Machine Empire were also a lot more complex than Rita and Zedd, bringing with them a history that seemed to be lacking from the previous shows. There was King Mondo (David Stenstrom), Queen Machina (Alex Borstein), and their son Prince Sprocket (Barbara Goodson); but over the course of the season this dynamic would shift as Mondo would be destroyed, replaced by a usurper called Louie Kaboom (Lex Lang) who took over the Empire.
Later episodes would then bring in Prince Gasket (Douglas Sloan), the elder son of Mondo who returned to the Machine Empire after giving up his title in order to dethrone Kaboom and take his fathers place. It was very much like a Game of Thrones for kinds, with double dealings, secret pacts, and political intrigue.
Over the course of the season a sixth Ranger would be introduced, the mysterious Gold Zeo Ranger, whose identity would be teased across several episodes. Eventually, the original Red Ranger, Jason (Austin St. John) would be brought back into the show to take on the powers of the Gold Ranger, a decision that excited numerous fans of the original series and helped to increase ratings a lot.
The series would also introduce Tommy’s brother, played by his real life brother Erik Frank, revealing that Tommy was adopted as a child. Whilst Erik would appear across a handful of episodes, and would be one of the red herrings for the identity of the Gold Ranger, he wouldn’t return to later incarnations of the show due to his untimely death.
Power Rangers Zeo would also mark the last appearance of Billy Cranston (David Yost) the last remaining original Power Ranger. Despite not receiving new Zeo Ranger powers Billy stayed a part of the show, worming at the Command Centre as the Rangers support and tech person, helping them to complete their missions and even developing their new Zords.
Unfortunately, Yost would leave the show abruptly, meaning that stock footage and a voice actor would be used in his final episode. Despite claims from Saban that he quit the show over pay disputes, it would later emerge that he left due to intense homophobic bullying on the set from members of the crew, something that had been going on for years.
The first time that the show would undergo a major cosmetic shift, changing the costumes, Zords, and villains, this move not only helped to secure the popularity of the franchise, but created a formula that would continue on for decades. Whilst this may not be cited as a favourite show of every single Power Rangers fan, it was immensely important in securing a lasting legacy.
Were you a fan of Power Rangers Zeo? Let us know what you thought of it.