Transformers had Go-Bots. Mad Magazine had Cracked. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had the Battle Toads. It seems there is always a contingent of coattail riders ready to leap upon a creative idea and clone it into mediocrity. VR Troopers was agglomerated and forged in this dedication to the tradition of tested sameness.
The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers didn’t just blaze the trail for introducing foreign market television to pie-eyed American kids, they conflagrated the genre in a way that actually burned the ranks of imitators that followed. The show’s core scenes originated as a chapter of the Japanese Super Sentai franchise, Ky?ry? Sentai Zyuranger. Haim Saban and Shuki Levy, founders of Saban Productions, purchased the rights to the original episodes, Americanized the non-costumed scenes by supplementing new actors and had those same actors provide vernacular articulation for the battle sequences. With just a bit of spotty green-screening to complete the illusion, the resulting aggregate allowed action at a Godzilla scale with a modest budget.
Flying high on wings of wax, Saban Productions snatched more footage to create VR Troopers, a show that was cobbled from no less than three unrelated mechanical acid trips: Space Sheriff Shaider, Dimensional Warrior Spielban, and Super Machine Metalder. This myopic attempt required even more sagacious editing and plot chicanery, as the footage was plentiful, but visually dissimilar.
Enter the world of Virtual Reality. “VR” operates on a different plane of existence, and is home to an army of monsters and robots lead by the evil Grimlord. On Earth Grimlord has the ability to transform into human form, hiding in plain sight as Karl Ziktor, heartless billionaire industrialist and Robert Palmer lookalike, complete with an army of slick, emotionless Vixens.
Set to do battle with Grimlord/Ziktor are Ryan (the pining hero), JB (the computer whiz that explains things) and Kaitlin (the girl, because one of VR Trooper costumes seems to have breasts). They’re three wholesome young adults that love to ride motorcycles and practice karate when they’re not busy high-fiving each other. Fate pairs them up with the digitized head of Ryan’s father’s old lab partner because all this exposition isn’t going to reveal itself, and a talking dog that sounds like Jack Nicholson because OH MY GOD THAT IS FUNNY!
Gifted with phenomenal robotic suits that allow them to splice into video footage taken halfway around the world and a decade prior, these Americans are the only thing that can stop the demonic takeover of our planet!
The acting in this show is tertiary to the action and costumes, but that’s to be expected for the genre. Like Godzilla or Starship Troopers, the manner in which this kind of bad acting is framed actually adds to the experience without taking you out of the moment. Professor Horatio Hart, the aforementioned talking head in the computer and major general of the VR Troopers, almost makes this show worth watching all on his own with an unfortunate resemblance to American Idol’s Randy Jackson and a cold, cue-card line recital that makes Peter Francais Geraci look like Nicholas Cage.
VR Troopers is a Frankenstein’s monster of a children’s show, a nightmarish amalgam of half-cooked concepts and grainy stock footage, a bombastic jumble of loveable rubber robot costumes, thundering but bloodless violence and the Not-Ready-for-Saved-by-the-Bell Players. Truly the Jim Belushi of preteen programming, it could never really crawl out from the shadow cast by its more successful, mighty morphin’ sibling. Sadly, the show lasted only two seasons. Not from a lack of popularity, rather the editors literally used up all the footage that Saban Productions had purchased.
The DVD set of VR Troopers: Season One, Volume One offers 26 episodes and no special features. Honestly, I would have loved to see some interviews with the editing team, or had some running commentary that expounded upon the inception and execution of each episode, but there’s nothing. Say what you will about the surface of the end result, but this show deserves recognition for a level of sampling and reconstitution acumen that is on par with Danger Mouse’s “Grey Album.”