“Power Rangers” was one of the biggest franchises of the ’90s — it brought tokusatsu to the West, it was a franchise with some of the coolest theme songs, and it also introduced superheroes to a whole generation. Despite its cheap look and extremely corny dialogue and storylines, “Power Rangers” always offered big excitement, lots of cool costumes and robots, and a (sadly) rare superhero team with diversity. There is at least one ranger that looks like you in the show.
Because of the neverending nature of “Power Rangers,” and its revolving door of cast members and characters, we rarely see a ranger evolve beyond your typical “shy person gets confident, gains power, then disappears by season’s end.” There have been over 500 rangers and over 900 episodes across three decades’ worth of seasons, but there’s no denying that “Power Rangers” has been defined by a single face, the one that got the most character development over the years: Tommy Oliver, as played by the late Jason David Frank.
What started as a one-time villain evolved into a fully-fledged member of the team, then a leader, and a legend. Tommy is one of the most endearing characters on the show, its most iconic, and the purest representation of what a Power Ranger is. The MCU had Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, and the “Power Rangers” had Jason David Frank’s Tommy. This is a tribute to the man that was the face of a franchise, the man who turned a tiny 10-episode guest-starring role into a 30-year career.
A Redemption Story
Tommy Oliver was first introduced in the original series’s five-part episode “Green with Evil” as a new student at Angel Grove High School. Right from the get-go, Tommy was the epitome of the show’s idea of “teenagers with attitude” who are meant to be the best candidates to be Power Rangers. He exudes coolness, is better at martial arts than even the Red Ranger, flirts with the Pink Ranger, and is a bit of an overconfident rebel.
This made him a perfect candidate to be the very first evil Ranger when he gets kidnapped by Rita Repulsa and enchanted to become her servant. As the show’s first big villain who wasn’t a goofy, alien-looking creature, but a teenager, Tommy was threatening, he was charismatic, he was dangerous.
And even when he got freed from Rita’s magic, and despite not really being in control of himself while acting as the Green Ranger, Tommy fought and worked to atone for his sins by helping the Rangers. Even as he found out his powers could disappear at any minute, he still fought alongside the Rangers. Years before Zuko in “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” Tommy Oliver had the best redemption story in an American children’s show.
As a reward for his actions, Tommy later becomes the White Ranger, the new leader of the team. He would remain the leader for a few years, as some of the original Rangers left and new ones arrived, even as the show turned away from dinosaurs into sci-fi and shortly before it left Earth to go to space. All throughout this time, Jason David Frank played Tommy as a bonafide superhero, a teenager with great bravery who had gone through hell and come back the other side wiser and stronger.
While the franchise kept changing and introducing new elements, Tommy remained the only constant. It was only when Tommy was sent to college that he gave up the mantle of Ranger, as “Power Rangers” gave us something extremely rare for a franchise like it: closure. His story was done, he accomplished everything that could have been accomplished, and he was getting a normal life as a reward.
But Jason David Frank wasn’t done, because seven years after his departure from the franchise at the start of “Power Rangers: Turbo,” he made a surprising and triumphant return in “Power Rangers: Dino Thunder.” What could have easily been a desperate attempt at bringing attention to a declining franchise instead became the show’s best use of Frank since his stint as a villain, and Tommy’s best role: as a mentor.
You see, after earning a Ph.D. in paleontology at MIT, Tommy becomes a sort of new Zordon, creating a new set of zords and waiting to recruit the next generation of Power Rangers. He still fights as a member of the team — not losing any of his martial arts skills — while providing knowledge, wisdom, and tech to the new Rangers.
This was pretty significant, both to the franchise and to its young audience. While “Power Rangers” had a revolving door of actors that seemed to leave just before they turned old or dull, having Jason David Frank return as an older but still badass Ranger was significant. It showed kids that being a hero isn’t like being an athlete, and it doesn’t stop in your 30s. Jason David Frank could have been just another guest star, a cool villain to be defeated by the Power Rangers, never to be seen again. Instead, he became the best Ranger ever, a leader, a team player, a mentor, and a legend. Jason David Frank wasn’t there when “Power Rangers” first began, but he became an intrinsic part of the franchise, and the epitome of what a Power Ranger can be.
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Author: Rafael Motamayor
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November 23, 2022