I have only a peripheral association with the Power Rangers fandom, through my interest in tokusatsu as a whole. But even I saw the frustration from many fans over the lackluster performance of the live-action movie last year, combined with an even more-lackluster showing from the currently-airing TV season on Nickelodeon. In the midst of that depression though, two surprising additions to the mythos were introduced. The first was a unexpectedly well-constructed and entertaining comic series through Boom! Studios.
The second was Hyper Force.
It came completely out of the blue. Real-play tabletop RPG shows are fairly common nowadays, thanks to various streaming platforms and the prevalence of podcasts, but no one expected one for Power Rangers. Let alone a real-play show featuring plots and events regarded as canon within the wider shared setting of the franchise. Or involving actors from previous seasons of the show. (Or currently-airing seasons in the case of Peter Sudarso, who currently plays Blue Ranger on Ninja Steel.)
I personally enjoyed what I saw of Hyper Force at its start, but I fell behind on the episodes shortly into its run, and have been meaning to catch back up. But I also noticed many individuals who were interested in the events of the show, but expressed an understandable reluctance to wade through over a dozen three-hour episodes to get through the nearly five-month-long backlog.
So that inspired this new series of articles. I’m going to watch them so you don’t have to!
The format of these recaps, to be published sporadically when I can find time to watch through the episodes and type up notes, will consist of two main parts. First, I’ll give a brief synopsis of the major events and point out some highlights for you to watch from the sessions’ videos, archived on YouTube. Secondly, I’ll give some overall impressions or a review of the episode itself. It’s fairly similar to how I wrote my recaps for Ex-Aid last year.
In addition to recaps of the major plot events, I also wanted to provide my perspective on the show as a more casual fan. I don’t have a huge amount of nostalgia hooked to the franchise, only having watched a few of the series while growing up. Nowadays, I don’t necessarily find myself excited by the shows for the same reason I don’t get as excited over Super Sentai in general. At least, not as excited as I tend to be about Kamen Rider or Ultraman. That being said, I love fun character interactions, ridiculous monster-of-the-week plots, explosions and superheroics in general, so I figured it would be a fun project to dig into a side of tokusatsu I don’t typically see a lot of.
So without further ado, let’s get into the premiere episode.
The story so far
The episode starts out in the year 3016, 16 years after Power Rangers Time Force. Three of the five team members are introduced in class at the Time Force Academy, being taught by the Pink Ranger of the Time Force – Jen Scotts. She’s now working as a history teacher, and is played by returning actress Erin Cahill. Quickly though (about 12 minutes into the episode), their class is disrupted when a piece of technology Vesper (Cristina Vee) has smuggled into the room predicts an imminent explosion. They successfully guard the class against the attack, but it proves to only be the opening salvo in a full-scale siege on the school.
What follows is about a half hour of running around aimlessly as the characters and players try to figure out what the hell is going on and protect the other cadets simultaneously. Outside of the classroom, they find officer Jack Thomas (Paul Shrier) and Chloe (Meghan Camarena), a cadet he apprehended trying to lift confiscated contraband for kicks and giggles. They lay aside the disciplinary action quickly in the face of the chaos of the battle, though.
After finding the Dean of the academy controlled by the mysterious “Alliance” leading the attack, the party decides to investigate his office in search of answers. In the meantime, Jen realizes the attacks are intended to be a distraction, and runs off to secure the Time Ships, assumed to be their real target.
That departure happens at around 1 hour and 12 minutes in, which I note here because it’s a genuinely good scene for the audience. Jen entrusts the protection of the cadets to Jack Thomas, described as a “beat cop” Time Force officer, rather than a more decorated or celebrated Ranger himself. It means a lot to hear the trust she’s put in them so quickly after being tested under fire.
And then immediately after she skedaddles off on her own, there’s an uproariously funny bit as the rest of the team figures out how to distract brainwashed Time Force officers and fight them, ending at around 1:14:04.
It takes a lot of flubbed rolls, but they manage to incapacitate the controlled officers, thanks to shooting them in the faces multiple times with stun guns. After this, the team resolves to find the secret, protected hangar where the Time Ships are housed, in order to back up Jen.
The characters finally fight their way to the Dean’s Office, and face their greatest challenge yet – impersonating the Dean to find the location of the ships from his office’s AI database. From 1:49:32 – 1:54:10, you can watch some hilarious improv from Eddie (Andre Meadows) doing exactly that, followed by Chloe casually informing the others how to plunder the office for gear to disguise themselves as Time Force officers.
The episode comes to a climax around 2:11:52 when the team makes it to the hangar, pretending to be in allegiance with the Alliance to slip past the throngs of brainwashed cadets and officers gathered. There, they find Jen fighting a mysterious dark figure on top of the Time Ship. To rescue her, our heroes pull off an awesome team attack, but Jen is defeated anyways and thrown off the ship. Now free and clear, the villain takes the ship and jumps back through time to an unknown destination, and for unknown purposes.
2:24:07 starts another genuinely effective scene. Here, Jen recruits the party to help fight the Alliance, gives them their own Time Ship, and tells them to follow the villains through time to stop their evil plots. The episode concludes as they investigate the ship, and find out the Alliance has gone to the town of Angel Grove in 1994.
Oh and they find morphers too.
Since this is the premiere, you would expect it to do a good job of showing off everyone’s characterizations, and it does. I just wish the audience also got a better overview of the mechanics and builds they use for the characters too, it was only recently that they even revealed they were using modified Dungeons and Dragons rules!
While I can easily talk about the characters in terms of their personalities and actions within the game after this premiere, I wish I knew better each of their specific skills and attributes. A lot of the fun of any real-time tabletop RPG show comes from being able to follow the strategy of the players as they face challenges and plan to overcome them together. Episodes of real-time roleplay campaigns don’t stretch for three hours because it takes that long to describe the events of the story like an audiobook. It takes that long for the players to discuss plans and interact with the mechanics of the game. Learning how to strike a clear differentiation between the in-character narration and the out-of-character metagame is important for structuring these games in an engaging way.
Let’s talk more specifically about the characters themselves though, as they’re all interesting and likeable off the bat.
First, there’s Vesper Leigh Vasquez, who is outspoken, brusque against authority, and quick to jump to fights. As an example, she’s the first to jump to, well, physical methods when trying to get information from the Dean in the first half of the episode, at about 35:58. (“I think the Dean needs a little ‘womanly persuasion’… I’d like to do an open-hand strike on him.”). She’s got an obvious chip on her shoulder, so it’ll be interesting to see where it comes from in future episodes, and how it might affect her teamwork with the others.
Speaking of obvious chips on shoulders, there’s also Marvin “Marv” Shih (Peter Sudarso). He’s more eager to learn from the teachers, but is also eager to flaunt rules (and sometimes common sense) to get things done faster. “Impulsive” would be the first word that comes to mind, and he acts without thinking, or without waiting for the other members of the team, multiple times in this episode. Probably the best example is a scene at 1:34:45 to about 1:35:55 where he almost rushes ahead of the team into a dangerous corridor. In addition, there’s hints of history between Marv and Jack, and it’s strongly implied those bad habits have gotten him in serious trouble at the Academy before this point.
Tempering that impulsivity a bit is Edward “Eddie” Banks. He’s the “smart guy” of the team, being a giant nerd and fanboy, but he’s also got a bit of suave style and charisma which is shown off in the episode. He tries to give an NPC cadet his number during the defense of the school at about 35:02, and the resulting improv from the rest of the team is hilarious. But at the same time, he’s also responsible for crafting some of the best plans the team uses successfully to overcome the challenges of this episode.
Chloe doesn’t start off the episode in class with the others, because she’s introduced as a compulsive kleptomaniac with bad habits of her own. In this case, being caught-red handed by Officer Jack Thomas for petty thievery. Later on, she proves to be just as smart and resourceful as the others when put to the test. Chloe seems like a bit of a ditz at first, but she’s a valuable addition to the Hyper Force. She also has a lot of fun interaction with the other characters too, most notably with Officer Jack Thomas in their initial appearance. Like Eddie, her character doesn’t have as many obvious edges, so it’ll be interesting to see if she develops more depth beyond a kleptomania that’s mostly played for laughs.
So that brings me to the last member of our group of utter disasters, Officer Jack Thomas.
I just want to say Paul Shrier is far and away the best part of this show, and Hyper Force wouldn’t be half as entertaining without him and his glorious mustache. Even I can recognize him as the actor who played Bulk on the original seasons of the Power Rangers show, but who would’ve guessed he has a genuine talent for comedy outside of that role too. In addition, the character he plays is a necessary part of the team dynamic, as he keeps the other younger cadets focused on the mission repeatedly through the show. In a premiere episode that’s as unfocused as this, the occasional reminder about how they’re wasting time is welcome AND completely in-character too.
It’s very welcome to see older characters get to be heroes in stories like this, whether we’re talking about Power Rangers, Super Sentai, Kamen Rider or superhero narratives in general. I wasn’t joking about the rest of the team being complete disasters, without the steadfast, dutiful anchor of Office Jack Thomas’ example, they’d be fairly incompetent disasters to boot. This way they’re just entertainingly quirky disasters who band together to save the day.
Overall, this first episode was a bit rough, expectedly so, since everyone is still feeling out the mechanics and their character dynamics – including the GM (Malika Lim). It did everything you would want to see in a pilot episode of a Power Rangers show though. It highlights the characters, does a good job explaining how they came to fight together, and why they’re now entrusted with the title of “Rangers”.
However, the players and GM really need to work out a better way to explain the game better for an audience. Right now, it lacks a consistent format to frame the mechanical action of rolling dice and choosing skills or abilities (the “crunch”), as well as how that mechanical action translates to in-universe events (the “fluff”) necessary to keep an audience engaged. Let alone to keep them engaged for nearly three hours.
Hyper Force is an admirable effort, but to be honest, a lot of this episode consisted of farting around without progressing either side of crunch or fluff. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entertaining farting around, but it can be a bit tedious to sit through.
Again, this is just the first episode, and I’ve got a long way to go to get caught back up. As the show continues, I hope this one glaring flaw in the show is cleaned up. Once the GM and the players grow more used to the mechanics and format of the show, things should proceed more smoothly. We’ll find out eventually!