Jason David Frank was a Power Rangers icon and a true star

Jason David Frank was a Power Rangers icon and a true star

For anyone who wasn’t a dyed-in-the-wool 90s kid, the passing of actor and mixed martial artist Jason David Frank last Saturday at the too-young age of 49 (apparently by suicide) might not not carry a huge weight. But for an entire generation of mid-millennial elders, he was the closest thing we had to Jackie Chan – a bonafide PG-rated martial arts action star beaming straight to our TVs every day of the week. . Children’s television was not the arena for fast and furious fight choreography; in fact, parents at the time raised hell about the amount of violence directed at their children. But in Power Rangersand Tommy in particular, we had a superhero we could see ourselves emulating on the playground and in our backyards.

When it premiered on Fox in 1993, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was an instant surprise hit: From the first episode, kids were already hooked on its bright and colorful superheroes, slapstick camp antics, and Japanese-imported fights and monsters (the series drew liberally from the Super Sentai series of tokusatsu shows that had been running there since the mid-70s). But it was Frank’s introduction as Tommy Oliver, the Green Ranger, that cemented the series’ hit status.

In a move that still seems new to children’s television, Tommy was featured in a five-episode arc, “Green With Evil,” which featured him as an “evil” Green Ranger, mesmerized by series villain Rita Repulsa. to defeat the Rangers. inside. But even in the baked woodiness of the show’s performances, Frank struck a chord: He was tall and handsome, with a wiry voice that could swing between vulnerability and menace in the blink of an eye. (And, of course, those ’90s fashions served her well: green mesh shirts, baggy pants, shaggy hair that would eventually grow into a wild long ponytail.)

Image: Saban Entertainment

Tommy was the kind of Ranger who could run and fight circles around our benefactor heroes, whose characters suffered painfully under the show’s impeccable tenures. But Tommy’s rough edges brought out the best in them and the show itself, making him an instant fan favorite.

He was the franchise’s bad boy, as willing to beat up the five Rangers in the cockpit of their Megazord as he was to snub Pink Ranger Kimberly’s advances and send school bullies Bulk and Skull running into a dumpster. with one look. And when that quirky arc ended with the Rangers breaking Rita’s spell and bringing her into the fold, that’s when Power Rangers really took off.

Frank’s contract with Power Rangers was originally only 14 episodes, matching the temporary trajectory its Sentai counterpart followed on the show where they recorded all of their footage, Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger. But Tommy and Frank were just too popular: Frank was by far the most skilled martial artist in the main cast, and his unique magnetic presence elevated the rest of the ensemble. Plus, his gear was just too cool. That golden shield on his chest! The Dragon Flute! So the show just brought it back.

As an actor, it’s safe to say that Frank wasn’t a big jerk (not that the show ever asked much of its performers). But there was an intangible charisma to his work that resembles the more adult-oriented action stars of his time: funky, if a bit wooden, grounding and grinding his lines with playfulness. Honestly, he wasn’t too far off from Jean-Claude Van Damme, an agile martial artist who had just enough star presence to lead his scenes between roundhouse kicks. He was the PG alternative to the Arnolds and Slys of his day, explicitly marketed to kids without losing the fighting ferocity of his big-screen peers.

Frank’s meteoric rise to fan favorite was consistent with the show’s trajectory for Tommy; in the show’s second season, the writers elevated him to team leader, giving him the White Ranger’s gold and black shield and (don’t ask) talking tiger sword. This move coincided with Power Rangers becoming an even bigger hit, and when the franchise hit the big screen for 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The MovieFrank and his comrades felt like real movie stars.

Tommy (Jason David Frank) standing on a beach with a sword, holding it as it drives green lightning

Image: Saban Entertainment

As the show progressed and more changes to the formula were needed, Frank remained as the series’ main draw. Mighty Morphin move towards Power Rangers Zeo, as the franchise has fully embraced the dynamic of Sentai’s new costumes each year. Tommy still led the team, but not as an upgraded Sixth Ranger: he had graduated as a Red Ranger. This continued through the first half of the car-themed season. Power Rangers Turbo before he and most of his other teammates fell victim to the eventual turnover the franchise demands of its cast.

After Rangers, he returned to his first love, martial arts – he would set up classes for young aspiring Rangers to learn the way of the fist – and even developed his own form called Toso Kune Do, a mixture of aikido, Jeet Kune Do, Karate, Thai Boxing and a host of other styles. He appeared in the occasional acting role (including an episode of MTV’s Undressed), but otherwise stayed away from the cameras.

Yet the power of the Morphin’ Grid (and the cries of an increasingly adult person Power Rangers fanbase) couldn’t keep him away for long. In 2002, he returned for the show’s 10th anniversary special, “Forever Red”, alongside all the previous Red Rangers on the show before and after his tenure.

Frank would return more permanently in 2004 Power Rangers Dino Thunder, this time as a mentor: Dr. Tommy Oliver, his high school student who apparently earned a Ph.D. in archeology (and a sick mid-2000s soul patch) in the years following Rangerhood. While he spent the first few episodes teaching misfit high schoolers how to become Power Rangers, he quickly transformed into the Black Dino Ranger. “Aren’t you a little old for that, Tommy?” the episode’s villain purrs him. His response, just before transforming for the first time in years? “I may be old, but I can still get by.”

The five Power Rangers standing and posing

Image: ABC Television

Implausibility aside – this is a show about giant robots, after all – it was really nice to see Frank back on screen, now older and a more seasoned and confident performer. Gone is the shimmer of bad boy, balanced by a more paternal and professorial gentleness towards his young students. He was the Giles to them buffy the vampire slayerif Giles looked a little more like Scott Stapp.

Frank would pop up in a few more cameos after Dino Thundermainly in other birthday promotions (Super Megaforce and a recent one in super ninja steel). He even appeared in the 2017 Power Rangers reboot alongside former Pink Ranger Amy Jo Johnson. But his omnipresence in the franchise never looked like an out-of-work actor continually returning to a reliable cash cow. Instead, it looked, however naively, like a former statesman checking up on the legacy he left behind.

This love for the franchise extended to his fans, and Frank always seemed to take the iconic status he achieved among multi-generational Ranger fans seriously. He was a regular at conventions and appeared in fan projects and voice-overs for spin-off games and other media. (Shortly before his death by suicide last week, he had wrapped production on Legend of the White Dragona Kickstarter-funded fan film heavily inspired by Rangers and featuring several other Rangers alumni.)

It’s clear that Tommy meant a lot to Jason David Frank, just as the man himself did to the legions of fans who grew up watching Tommy spin, ruminate and eyat-se-eyah his way through the most exciting part of their childhood. In the narrow but powerful niche Power Rangers sculpted, Frank was an icon, someone who matured as a performer the longer he kept his Power Coin. In other circumstances, it might have been mentioned in the same breath as JCVD. But part of me hopes (and thinks) he was happy with the legacy he created for himself. May the Power protect him.