Ranger Station Episode 57: Enter The Lizzinator
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, Rita Repulsa attempts to abolish our cheerocracy and install herself as cheertator with an indestructible space lizard that sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 57: Enter... The Lizzinator
Writer: Stewart St. John
Director: Worth Keeter
Original Air Date: May 6, 1994
I know I've said this before, but I really cannot overstate how disappointing the monsters in the last 20 episodes of Mighty Morphin's inaugural season really are. It's not just that their designs are relatively uninspired --- while that's certainly a factor, it's something that's only really clear in retrospect. I mean, once you divorce them from the original mythological context that you get from Bandora, even classics like Pudgy Pig and Eye Guy are just a pig in a hat and a pile of eyeballs, and while both of those are interesting, it doesn't really take a whole lot of effort to get there. There's certainly a noticeable step down to just, you know, A Large Praying Mantis and Literally Just An Armadillo, but most of them at least have a pretty threatening look to go with.
No, the real frustration comes from the fact that there's nothing connecting them to the rest of the plot. The Mantis, for example --- and if you ever need an indication of the lack of effort going on here, just look at the names of the monsters --- was thematically related to Trini's Praying Mantis-Style Kung Fu, but here in the home stretch of season one, that's the exception, not the rule. Most of the monsters just show up with the vaguest inspiration from whatever's going on in Angel Grove that day, tethered only to the rest of the plot by the vaguest suggestion of logic.
It's incredibly frustrating. The real magic of the Power Rangers formula always comes when the monster has some kind of thematic resonance, like an evil alarm clock that teaches us a lesson about punctuality. But here, the monsters are just assembled from mildly threatening costumes and a handful of completely random superpowers. The result is that rather than having the plot and the monster shore each other up, they just end up falling flat in a mishmash of half-baked ideas, even under the best monster designs.
And I mention all of this because this week's monster is easily one of the best.
And the thing is, the plot's not bad, either. This could've easily been one of the most solid episodes of the season --- it could've easily been two episodes, in fact, both of which could've gone back to time-tested teen drama plots that built up to thematically appropriate monsters. But alas. Here we are.
The setup for the plot comes from Kimberly's young cousin Kelly, who's following in the Pink Ranger's footsteps by trying out for the Angel Grove Junior High Cheerleading squad. And in case you're wondering, the tryouts take place at the Youth Center instead of AGJHS. I mean, they have to --- there are only five locations in Angel Grove, after all, and it's not like they could fit the entire team into Billy's garage.
Unfortunately, Kelly's having a little trouble memorizing all the cheers, and is starting to loser her confidence. And of course, since Rita's always watching from her palace on the moon, this show of weakness spurs her into action. The thing is, she starts out by saying, and I quote, "I'm the one those pom-pom-heads should be cheering for!"
So, two things about this.
First, it raises an interesting point about Rita and her motivations that I don't think the show ever actually bothers to address: What exactly does she want? I mean, we know from the theme song that it's time to conquer Earth, but why? Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger's Bandora was on a mission of revenge against all children after her own son was killed by dinosaurs (fun fact: that show rules), but Rita's motivations here are left a little more nebulous.
Does she simply crave power, like a Cobra Commander? Is it just wanton destruction, laying waste to the planet that spurned her? We know that Rita has previously attacked other planets, so is she attempting to add our own jeweled world to a vast interplanetary empire that we never actually get to see? This single throwaway line would seem to indicate that the reason she wants to conquer the world is simply for the adoration of the public. She quite literally just wants to be cheered.
Secondly, this has to be our setup for the episode, right? It's so easy! Rita wants cheers, there's a cheerleading tryout going on, and cheerleaders themselves have plenty of easily recognizable visual elements that would be simple to modify into a monster. It's all right there just gently wafting over the net so that they can spike it down with a cheerleader monster that would attack the rangers with sinister yells and flips.
But that's not what we get.
Instead, after Jason agrees to go pick up a shipment of ingredients for Ernie, the bad guys follow up on kidnapping Kelly by unleashing... The Lizzinator.
Despite what we could charitably call a pretty uninspired design --- judging by the name, I think he's supposed to be a lizard, although he could pretty easily also be a dragon, or possibly a horse --- the Lizzinator is actually a pretty great. For one thing, Alpha 5 and Zordon will later mention that "his outer body is made up of supermetals from another galaxy," which is a pretty cool attribute for a villain to have.
He also speaks with a tenuously recognizable approximation of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Austrian accent, which raises the question of whether they came up with "Lizzinator" first, or just had the impression and "-ator" waiting in the wings for the next available generic-ass monster.
The best thing, though? For some reason that is never addressed or explained, virtually all of the Lizzinator's offense is car-based. Seriously, the first thing he does is pick up a damn Nissan and just clobber Jason right in the face.
Not since Tommy kicked down the door of the Megazord's cockpit and threw everyone out through the windshield has a bad guy made a better entrance on this show.
Even better, once the fight inevitably moves to the quarry, the Lizzinator dispatches one of his attendant Putty Patrollers to run over Jason with what appears to be the Blues Brothers' car.
This is amazing.
But sadly, it has nothing to do with the cheerleading plot that's framing the episode. And look: as easy as it is for me to say that they should've just made a cheerleader monster for this week's episode, I realize that monster costumes, even generic ones, take a little bit of time to design and make. The thing is, they could've taken this exact same footage and made it work with a completely different framing sequence that would've been just as easy to pull off. They could've just made it about Driver's Ed!
That's something that teens had to worry about in 1994, right? And it's certainly a plot that they hadn't done before! So if you're given a stack of Japanese footage where the Red Ranger is in danger of being murdered by a car at least twice, why not just graft that onto a plot that's a little more appropriate?
Instead, after Jason manages to avoid being run over and/or exploded by a putty driving a late-model sedan, the major development comes from the fact that Tommy, whose powers have been severely limited, has to come to the rescue and take out the Lizzinator all by himself.
The only tie back to the cheerleading tryouts of the framing #teen plot comes when we finally cut back to Kelly, who's being kept in a cave by Squatt and Baboo. After taking a quiet moment to reflect on Kimberly's advice about never giving up, Kelly gets tired of waiting around for the Power Rangers and decides to free herself... with the power of cheer!
I said BRR! It's cold in here! There must be some Rangers in the at-mos-phere! Oh-wee-oh-wee-oh! Ice ice ice! Break it down!
With the henchmen sufficiently dizzied by a flurry of pom-poms, Kelly escapes from the cave just in time for the Rangers to blow the Lizzinator into atoms with the help of Titanus and the Ultrazord. Then, it's back to the Youth Center for Kelly to --- of course --- completely ace her tryout and land a spot on the squad.
But she's not the only one who can yell.
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: The Lizzinator is, as stated above, pretty great in practice. That said, I do wish that the monster who wast trying to hit the Power Rangers with cars was, you know, slightly more car-themed. 7/10
Radness of the Music: Not only does this episode feature "Combat" and "Go Green Ranger," but there's also a non-Wasserman track played during Kelly's tryout that's only slightly less of an earworm than Marvel vs. Capcom 2's "I Wanna Take You For A Ride." 6/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: There aren't a lot of ways to interpret "Bulky, Bulky, he's your man," although even Skull seems embarrassed that Bulk has decided to pick on a 12 year-old girl and still loses the fight. 5/10
Moral Lessons: Never give up, and when in doubt, cheer! 7/10
'90s Fashions: Most of the Rangers' clothes this episode are, along with Kelly's, pretty ridiculously '90s. Really, though, the thing I have a question about is the fact that Skull has temporarily traded his usual question mark beret for what appears to be a Civil War era soldier's cap. Has that ever been a fashion accessory? 8/10
Total For Episode 46: 33/50