Twenty years ago a bizarre, action-packed kids series called Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers premiered and garnered a fast, rabid following. For the 12-and-under set, the show served as a bridge between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Saved By the Bell: Yes, there were cartoonish fight scenes and giant robot villains, but the show also exalted cool teenagers and made you feel like part of their Angel Grove-protecting posse. You could feel like a kid and a tolerable preteen among their ranks.
If you didn’t watch Power Rangers from at least ’93-’95, you were nothing to me. I got my Power Rangers action figures from the soon-to-be-bankrupted Venture department stores in the Midwest, and I became obsessed with dinosaurs because of the Power Rangers “roll call” (“Mastodon! Pterodactyl! Triceratops! Saber-toothed tiger! Tyrannosaurus!”), and not because of Jurassic Park. That’s what separates kids born in 1981 from kids born in 1986, FYI.
On this anniversary, let us revisit the six things gay children enjoyed most about this ridiculous, awesome series. (Let’s stick to Original Recipe Power Rangers and not the alien offshoots or recast versions.)
1. You trusted Billy.
I remember other kids in my second-grade class fearlessly identifying with Jason (the Red Ranger), Zach (the Black Ranger), or Tommy (the Green/White Ranger, which is its own saga). But I always, always knew Billy was the ranger most like me. He was bookish, cautious, articulate, and never got caught up in the fist-pumping machismo of his teammates.
Years later David Yost, the actor who played Billy, announced he was gay (and that he quit the show because horrid producers “called [him] ’faggot’ one too many times”), and it all clicked into place: Billy was one of us. And even if he only had a yellow belt unlike his karate expert pals, he was still a damn Power Ranger. Did you notice he was also gorgeous? Young Richard Burton in the house, my God. Here’s a just-tweeted photo of Mr. Yost announcing his LGBT pride.
What in sweet Battlestar Galactica camp hell was this? Scorpina was the most ferocious of the Power Rangers villains, not just because she was the only lady among Rita Repulsa’s evil crew: The other baddies were furry-faced weirdos, and she was just a kickass dame in a gilded suit.
3. The lady rangers kicked just as much ass as the guys.
I’m not saying the female power rangers didn’t have their setbacks — Why on EARTH did Kimberly’s jumpsuit feature a skirt? Not optimal battle apparel, Saban Entertainment — but the Pink Ranger (Kimberly, played by Felicity’s Amy Jo Johnson) and the Yellow Ranger (Trini, played by the late Thuy Trang) were unflinching fighters. In an era that gave us distaff video game warriors like Chun Li from Street Fighter II and Sonya Blade from Mortal Kombat, Kimberly and Trini seemed like their worthy high school counterparts. And Trini’s yellow daggers were sick.
4. It really seemed like Tommy and Kimberly were going to get busy in front of us.
Tommy the Green/White Ranger (played by mixed martial artist Jason David Frank) enjoyed a slight romance with Kimberly that culminated in a climactic kiss following a very stressful two-part episode. I hope I’m not just speaking for myself when I say it really seemed like they were going to have sex in front of us. Who cared if it was a kiddy show airing on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.? The tension was raw, and I’m sure none of us will ever forget the dim hope that we were in for a green-on-pink zordfest.
5. Rita Repulsa? More like “Amazing Ruth Gordon character.”
Rita Repulsa was one delirious, very poorly overdubbed villain. (Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers used footage from the Japanese Super Sentai series for its battle sequences.) Rita’s cackle may have been annoying and extreme, but I’d watch her in a remake of Harold and Maude, for sure.
6. The knee-slapping comic stylings of Alpha.
The Power Rangers’ HQ was a tech-heavy battle station featuring a Wizard of Oz-style sorcerer named Zordon whose face appeared eerily in a giant, gaseous green tube. Less threatening was his C3PO-esque assistant alpha, a stubby robot who paced around shouting “Ay, yiy, yiy!” Imagine if C3P0 had more Jar Jar Binks neurosis and an Urkel patois. Now you’re talking classic.
7. Oh yeah: Hunks!
Go, go! And for the last time, no, that’s not Austin St. John (the Red Ranger) in a certain XXX video (safe link). Sorry to all of us.