Tomorrow, July 14, is Shark and Ray Appreciation day and it’s during Shark Week, which means somewhere out in the South Pacific, the Fijian shark god Dakuwaqa (pronounced Dak-OOO-wan-GA), is preparing to slip the coils of the Diamond-Eyed Serpent and rise up to bring delicious taro leaf pakoras and Bounty Rum to all the good shark lovers around the world. OK, everything after the Diamond-Eyed Serpent is a lie – but wouldn’t it be cool? But on this Shark and Ray Awareness Day Eve, Shark Week gave us some shows that didn’t suck, and a couple that were really good! So thanks, Dakuwaqa, wherever you are (note: he’s off the coast of Kadavu, Fiji – drop him a fish if you’re ever down there).
Mothersharker ( 5/5)
So, when people ask me if I’m a scientist, I honestly answer I’m not. I’m a conservationist, but if I’m being truly honest, I’m a very engaged dilletente. I used to joke when it comes to Arizona, I’m closest thing to a shark scientist most people will meet, but NOT ANYMORE (and not for a while now). The Sulikowski Lab at ASU is a honest-to-God Arizona academic institution doing field work with sharks outside of the Sonoran desert. All their hard work is on display tonight with… ugh… “Mothersharker” (no, the field teams don’t name these episodes and it always seems the worst named shows have the best science). Without giving too much away, they go into the field to find out where tiger sharks are pupping. They’re using new tech! It works! The sharks are pretty awesome too. There’s not a celebrity to be seen. It’s what Shark Week could be on the regular, if they stopped trying to gimmick us to death all the time. Less might be more, Discovery. More like this.
Brad Paisley’s Shark Country (2.5/5)
The problem with watching every minute of Shark Week, is that after a certain point, everything kind of looks the same. And we’re getting there pretty quickly this week. We’re in the Bahamas with Brad Paisley, who I don’t know if I’m being perfectly honest, and JB Smoove, who I like, along with a brief appearance by William Shatner (for some reason) and Cheryl Hines (like Smoove, of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” – more on that in a minute), and the premise is how does sound affect sharks? And they test it by (inevitably) playing Paisley’s music, but also the sounds of Hawaiian sling spearguns, Sperm Whale clicks, cowbell, and fish song… hold up. Fish song? YES. Fish, like birds, sing (it’s mostly atonal clicking and grunts, but yes!). I wish, rather than tossing off that fact, they’d spent some time explaining it, and I realize TV time is precious in story telling, but rather than more footage of Caribbean Reef Sharks (they’re definately getting their dollar’s worth out of Stuart Cove’s Dive Adventures this year), maybe go for a morning swim along a reef, and give us a 5 minute education on how reefs are a chorus in the morning of goatfish, drums, snapper, etc. I’m pretty sure Brad Paisely would have appreciated it. As would have the audience.
So. JB Smoove, Cheryl Hines. Is Larry David really holding out for that much cash that we can’t have “Curb Your Sharkthusiasm”? Come on, Discovery. Hit me up. I’ve got an expedition for you that takes place off LA, is almost guaranteed sharks, and would play to even the theme music. Aren’t HBO and Discovery part of the same media conglomerate now?
Spawn of El Diablo ( 5/5 )
Great Whites are back, baby! After what seems like days and days of reef sharks, WHO ARE STILL AWESOME DON’T EVER LEAVE ME, REEF SHARKS, we’re getting a lot of great white content tonight (outside of Air Jaws: Going for Gold), and I’m here for it when it’s great, globetrotting content like this. Marine Biologist Michelle A. Jewell is investigating great white reproduction (and while it falls a little intro the trope of “we’re trying to find this specific shark” that a lot of the specials go for, it’s not too repetitive. We get some really stellar footage of great whites from around the world, including some feeding off the carcass of an unfortunate Northern Right Whale, one of the most critically endangered cetaceans in the world (and literally, only dying because of ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement) – and while I know it’s Shark Week – CONTEXT PEOPLE. It would take like 5 minutes to explain what I just tossed off there in a sentence, and it’d reach more people, and maybe you throw a link to a Northern Right Whale conservation org at the end, like I’m going to do right now, The Conservation Law Foundation: North Atlantic Right Whale | Conservation Law Foundation (clf.org).
And now onto the Discovery+ shows…
Great White Comeback (4/5)
OK! This is not the first non-celebrity show of the week, but I’m not going to lie, it really feels like it is, and we’re back down in South Africa chasing creat whites around the Cape of Good Hope. Fortunately, this is a good one. It’s not bogged down in a framing device or having to hand-hold a celebrity through the basics of shark anatomy or behavior. The idea here is that Great Whites have more or less disappeared from Cape Town’s water.
Which is true – I saw first hand in 2019 how sevengill sharks are moving into the ecological niche of great whites, now that they’ve been chased off likely both by the Sino-Indian fishing fleets and orcas (chased off if they’re lucky – there’s unfortunately a good bit of evidence that great whites are being fished out from South Africa’s waters to the point where they won’t be able to recover). The scientists are competent, the footage is cool, it leaves you with a spark of hope, and it’s fairly educational without too much hero worship. Discovery+ finally gets a decent show (and to be fair, Shark Academy is a decent hate watch, but is just so, so dumb).
Shark Academy, Episode 4 ( 2 / 5 )
Good God. This show. It completely jettisoned “sharks” and “science” to become an discount “Survivor” on the same beach I saw them do “Naked and Afraid of Sharks” last year. I’m not sure if I hate this show or if I HATE THIS SHOW. I like Ren, the Fijian woman who has to put up with a lot of crap from a bunch of Americans who, let’s face it, would be lining up to die like sailing teens in “Jaws 2” if this were real life. Brad, the actor cum “shark scientist” (if this world is indeed in the hands of a angry God or on the Rittenhouse timeline) is less repellent in this episode, only made less odious by the fact that everyone nearly decends into “Lord of the FIies” style anarchy (THEY LITERALLY USE A CONCH TO DESIGNATE A SPEAKER). Except Ren. Who is awesome. Which means she is likely doomed to lose this whole thing. Anyway, ridiculously, they are “marooned” on an island (which at one point is betrayed by a local Bahamaian who didn’t give a shit and was going about their day mucking about in the low tide while Juliana was freaking out about sand flies, but made it through post-production editing). Anyway. None of them die, and we, the audience, were denied a critical fact (the contestants were clearly given instructions to build a signal fire and raft) and they all live. For science. I guess.
NOTE: If you’re looking for my review of “Fin” by Eli Roth, an anti-shark finning documentary, I’ll be reviewing it, when Shark Week turns into a garbage dump of clip shows and “I Was Prey” on Saturday night. Or I might do it as a separate post. I’m hoping it’s good.