Ranger Station Episode 51: Grumble Bee
With 800 episodes over the course of 22 years, the Power Rangers television show is arguably the single most successful live-action superhero franchise of all time, and certainly one of the strangest. Adapted from Japan's long-running Super Sentai series, created by manga legend Shotaro Ishinomori, the Power Rangers combined the giant robots and monsters of their Japanese counterpart with a completely different set of secret identities and problems, and became a pop cultural phenomenon. That's why we're looking back with an in-depth guide to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, including its source material, Kyuoryu Sentai Zyuranger, in ComicsAlliance's Ranger Station!
This week, it's very hard to muster up any sympathy for Billy, but I guess we'll do our best.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 51: Grumble Bee
Writer: Cheryl Saban
Director: John Stewart
Original Air Date: April 24, 1994
When it comes to spotlight episodes, the first season of Power Rangers has had some pretty mixed results, and that's putting it charitably. Another, more accurate way to put it would be that they are generally pretty terrible, and I'm not really sure why.
The characters are --- probably by design --- blank enough slates that they should be pretty adaptable into any situation you wanted to throw them at, and since their stories are usually dominated by giant robot dinosaurs, you'd think that taking a little time to flesh them out would make the stories more resonant.
And yet, every time we get one of these things, it's a snooze at best. And in this week's episode, where Billy steps into the spotlight and we all learn a lesson about bees, it gets a whole lot worse than just boring.
That in itself is actually pretty surprising, because on paper, Billy should be the most interesting Power Ranger. I mean, Zack may have more charisma thanks to Walter Jones's performance, but Billy as a character is a teen who built a flying Volkswagen and invented teleportation in his garage --- and that's when he's not driving around in his giant triceratops and hanging out with his (admittedly extremely annoying) robot pal. That should be really easy to make interesting! I mean, I even like learning about bees! I love learning about bees! They're fascinating!
But here we are.
I think the core of the problem here is that this episode goes out of its way to make Billy a difficult character to sympathize with. The crux of his problem, which starts in our opening scene, is that he got a B on a test instead of an A.
This is, of course, a pretty standard teen sitcom plot --- all it's missing is for Zack Morris to show up and accidentally get a perfect score --- but under normal circumstances, it usually leads to a lesson about how it's okay and unavoidable to make mistakes. But with Power Rangers, the whole thing is sort of half-assed and more strict at the same time. While his friends are quick to console him --- albeit in a pretty uninterested fashion --- Billy's fall from perfection to just below perfection is presented as something that's just devastating.
The show does make an attempt to show us why this B should be a bigger deal than it would be for anyone else, in that Billy's hoping for a membership to the Young Scientists of America Club, a membership that is now threatened by his imperfect GPA. Which, you know, okay, I don't know what their requirements are and how strict they are with the rules, but maybe these Young Scientists would make an exception for a guy who built a friggin' flying car.
Either way, Billy comes off as a little bit of a jerk about the whole thing, especially when Kimberly tells him that it's nothing to worry about because she gets Bs all the time.
Billy's so distraught that he ends up skipping out when his friends go to shoot some hoops --- you know, B-ball --- so that he can hit the books and prevent any future failings. And since Trini's the only other Ranger on his intellectual level (and maybe above it, now that Billy has descended into the ranks of the dullards and dimwits pulling down Bs on their tests), she sticks around to help.
Rita Repulsa, meanwhile, has taken a little bit of homophonic inspiration from Billy's current troubles and decided to order up a new monster from Finster: The Grumble Bee!
That's what bees look like, right? Right. Close enough.
Before the Grumble Bee can mix it up with Trini and Billy --- who are in the library learning bee facts and never sharing them with the audience, which is the single most unforgivable thing about this entire episode --- Rita has another piece of her plan to launch, complicating things and kind of tanking the entire plot of the episode.
In this case, the other three Rangers are attacked at the park by Goldar and a gang of Putty Patrollers, who tie them up with the Magic Rope, which is literally just a regular rope with some sparkly gold effects added in post-production.
And not only is it a rope, with which they are physically tied up, but it also creates a force field around them, because sure, why not. And again, why is this not the entire plan?! Like, if you've got Jason, Zack, and Kimberly --- a quorum of Power Rangers! --- completely immobilized, you could probably just kill them right there, right? Even without the giant bee monster that's already involved, Goldar's right there and that dude has a sword. Just deal with them and don't just have them hang around while you wait to see if you can take out the other Rangers first.
Alas, no one ever accused Rita of being a particularly effective supervillain. While the incapacitated Rangers are just sort of left out in the park to wait for the end of the episode, Billy and Trini are sent out to battle the Grumble Bee.
Unfortunately, they're no match for the Grumble Bee's combination of venom and ultrasonic attacks, but after about seven minutes of stalling for time, Alpha 5 finally gets back from the McGuffin store with a weapon that can give them the edge. And it's definitely not just a spraypainted Nerf gun.
In fact, to be specific, it's definitely not this Nerf gun.
Sufficiently armed, Billy's able to spray the Grumble Bee with a blast of foam after he and Trini free the other Rangers. Rita intervenes with her magic wand, and when the monster grows, the arrival of the Megazord and the Grumble Bee's subsequent bisection via power sword are pretty much inevitable.
Back at the Youth Center, the five Rangers celebrate their victory, and if you've been paying attention, you may recall that there are actually six Rangers, including the super popular one that we just went through a two-part episode to bring back! So where the heck was Tommy?!
He was at a karate tournament.
Seriously, if you thought it was bad when they were writing around footage of Burai being stuck in his time-stop apartment, wait until you see how much they lean on, "You have to conserve your energy!"
As for Billy, all of his studying paid off. He "got an A+ on the exam," which is interesting since I don't think any exam was mentioned prior to this, and the other students in his class don't seem to have taken or been bothered by any upcoming tests, and even made it into his brain club. He is not, however, the only one hitting the books. In a surprising twist, the Rangers find Bulk and Skull cramming, too.
It's uncharacteristic, but Miss Appleby has threatened that they need to improve their grades or be punished with a tutoring session with the class's six top students. And you know, maybe if you're doing a spotlight episode to highlight one character's differences, like say being the smart one, don't end it with a gag about how all of your main characters are basically exactly as smart as he is.
In Ranger Station, each episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers will be graded on a scale of one to ten in five categories, with a final score awarded with a maximum of fifty points.
Weirdness of the Monster: Considering Billy's grumpiness about his perfectly acceptable grade, I think they really missed out by not making the Grumble Bee actually, you know, grumbly. 4/10
Radness of the Music: This episode marks the debut of "I Will Win," and while it's absolutely worth listening to, it's not Ron Wasserman's best work. Points added for a pretty killer synth riff at the start, but points definitely deducted for not having any explicit references to Goldar. 6/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: Okay so here's the thing about this final scene: According to Bulk, he has to be tutored over the summer if he doesn't make a C. There's no mention of Skull being in the same boat. Since Power Rangers is about as subtle as a brick upside the head, I think we have to assume that this means Skull is not up for the same punishment, and that he's cramming purely out of solidarity with Bulk. 7/10
Moral Lessons: If you get a B on a test, you are a failure and at least one Power Ranger regards you with a mixture of pity and horror. 2/10
'90s Fashions: Overalls: Why? 6/10
Total For Episode 46: 25/50