Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"I better get extra credit for this..."

Last time, I happened to mention that the tv program "Big Bad Beetleborgs" wasn't as bad as "Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills." And to be fair, it wasn't. It also wasn't as bad as "Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog," "VR Troopers," or "Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad" (whose poor spelling still makes my teeth itch). But then, they were all attempts to cash in on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and everybody who watched them knew it.

I didn't watch much of "Big Bad Beetleborgs" when it came out in 1996, but there are a few things I remember distinctively about it. One was that the kids worked in a comic book shop that sold merchandise of the Beetleborgs. I always found this somewhat puzzling. Who made the merchandise, and why did they never show up to squash the rumors that their characters were destroying real monsters? It would be like finding Clark Kent working in a shop that only sold DC comics, and then you hear on the radio that Superman not only is real, but he just punched an alien in the face. You aren't sure if you should bring up the fourth wall issues involved or if you should just smile and hope you can get out of there before anything goes wrong.

I also remember this guy:

I'm not going to make any Elvis, Bob Hope, or Jay Leno jokes because I know they've all already been done before, but I will point out that it takes a brave ghost to wear an outfit that not even a Bedazzler can make into a bigger eyesore.

Flabber here embodies for me what might be either be the greatest or laziest writing I've ever seen in a children's series. Allow me to explain.

Halfway through the first season, the show decided to perform a casting switcheroo. Shannon Chandler, who played Jo, was leaving the show and being replaced by Brittany Konarzewski. Now, normally when a character is replaced, they move out of town and a new character arrives at just the right moment to fill their shoes. But the show didn't want to replace Jo, so they kept the character and simply replaced the actress. How'd that work out?

Well, we went from:


...yeah, they needed to think of something quickly.

So here's where the writing comes into play. The show simply portrayed that this was a magical transformation caused by one of the comic relief characters casting a spell. The only problem with this was that any logical person in a world with monsters, ghosts, and robots would undoubtedly find it suspicious that their daughter dramatically changed appearance.

Flabber, therefore, came up with a plan. He cast a new spell, so that everybody would see Jo as her old self...unless, of course, they happened to be in the room when the new spell was cast, then they'd be immune and see her as she (now) truly was. Oh, and the audience? Well, technically everybody watching the show did "see" the spell get cast so we get to see the new actress as well! Isn't that convenient? Everybody wins!

But anyway, I'm not here to discuss the Beetleborgs. I'm here about teenagers with tattoos who fight aliens. ...or fighters who battle tattooed teenage aliens, the wording of the title has always been rather awkward.

This show was one of the first (that I remember seeing, anyway) to attempt to cash in on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers craze. For a while during the late 90s, it seemed that anybody with a ninja outfit and some bad rubber monster costumes and a bucket of paint could produce one of these programs. The sets were ridiculous, the storyline was nonexistent, the martial arts might have been passable if it weren't for the sudden camera short, it was bad.

Not only was it bad, though, but it was also hilarious.

The concept of the show was simple. An alien being hides on Earth and picks a group of teenagers to defend the planet from an evil intergalactic threat. The primary villain routinely sends monsters down to the planet to wreak havoc, and the teenagers respond by transforming into their heroic alter egos/stunt doubles and fighting the monster. However, the monster gets a quick upgrade and the heroes have to either push themselves past their individual limit or work together to summon the Ultimate Combat Machine Ever Made to finally take the monster out.

Now, I realize that's the plotline of every one of these types of shows, but TTAFFBH did a few things differently that, while they flat out didn't work, I appreciated the effort.

For one thing, the kids didn't hang out at a juice bar. These kids were hip and knew that Friends was the Next Big Thing for adults, so they hung out at a coffee bar. Plus, instead of getting their powers from dinosaur robots, they got their namesake and power source from various constellations in the night sky! Tell me THAT doesn't scream original product!

All right, there was really only two things I could think of that made this show different. One was that the bad monsters might temporarily die, but odds were pretty good you'd see them again in a later episode, as the villain never believed in letting a bad minion not get a second chance. Eventually he'd learn to try sending more than one monster at a time, but by then most of their weaknesses were figured out and it just felt kind of sad.

The other was one of the moments during the first episode, after the mismatched group of teenagers have acquired their powers and are wondering what comes next. One wonders if they'd hang out together at school. The general reaction?

"Pfft. Please. Me, hang out with people like you guys?"

That's right! They might be a squad of heroes who are the planet's last hope, but she's head cheerleader and he's a math geek! He's a surprisingly effeminate-for-the-90s prep boy and she's a rebel! Did you expect them to be friends? What did you want from a show like this, a moral lesson? Go back to Sesame Street if you want help making friends, we've got monsters to kill!

Coming up next, we'll take a look at the main characters, the first episode, the main villain, and the glory that is "Ninjabot, the Samurai Robot."

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