In my review of The Shallows, I talk about my first trip to Isla Guadalupe, and the first time I encountered a great white shark. I mention the shark’s beauty and grace. What I didn’t mention was the absolute shitshow that occurred before and during the expedition. Let me be clear: It was NO ONE’S FAULT. The crew of the Solmar V could not have planned for three major hurricanes within weeks of each other to slam into the Baja California coast. Sharks are wild animals and do not follow any schedule other than what they set for themselves. Ensenada’s harbor master was only looking out for our safety when he delayed our trip due to high winds and heavy seas. Nevertheless, we were delayed, a mutiny almost broke out among the divers, and when we got to Guadalupe all the sharks had disappeared to parts unknown except for the one shark I got to see for 15 minutes. I made up for the trip a year later when I returned in 2015, but man … that 2014 expedition was so disappointing.
Have I set you up with enough foreshadowing of disappointment? Good, because we’re off to Shark Week, Night 3 –and we start off with, well, the equivalent of my 2014 expedition.
Night 3, Show 1 – Wrath of a Great White Serial Killer — ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ of 5 Shark Fins
Ugh. This effing show. Even the name is bad. First off, let’s start with the premise. Sharks are appearing off the Oregon coast. As they have for decades. As they have for probably centuries. Millennia before that? Not out of the question. So, for a surfer or bather to possibly have been injured by a large predator in Oregon waters is not out of the question, no more surprising than it would be anywhere else great whites roam (thanks, by the way, to Amity Island’s Mayor Vaughn for showing us the way to say “shark attack” without saying shark attack).
Even the science is bad. Brandon McMillan, our protagonist, says that “great white sharks aren’t supposed to go to Oregon”. Really? Mr. McMillan needs to understand something called “geographic distribution”. Just because it’s off the beaten path for the sharks, it does NOT mean they’re not supposed to be there – especially when you just said they’ve been there for years. It gets worse than that, though. He’s trying to find the same shark that attacked his friend in 1979. OK. That’s almost 40 years ago. Assuming the shark is even still alive (and that’s a lot of orcas and long lines to avoid), that’s like searching for a needle in a haystack. Unless you had DNA from the shark (they don’t), it is a completely pointless quest.
We’re spending even more time at Isla Guadalupe here (does someone associated with Shark Week have a time share at Guadalupe?), this time aboard the Solmar V, she of the Almost Diver Mutiny of 2014 (they took us to Baja’s wine country to settle us down – the Riesling I brought back was VERY good), which is a perfect metaphor for this show. You want to get somewhere and do something, but the show just kinda meanders and yeah, you’ll get some footage. But what’s the point?
It ends on a poignant note, dedicating the show to surfers of the Pacific Coast, which is a nice touch, and there’s the kernel of a good show here (are the sharks following grey whales and humpbacks on their migrations), but Discovery could’ve skipped this show and everyone would have been better off.
Night 3, Show 2: Air Jaws – Night Stalkers — 5 of 5 Shark Fins
The granddaddy of shark specials returns with a new premise: are the sharks of South Africa also hunting at night, and are they making breach attacks? And If they are making breach attacks, do they rely on sound and vibration, or the diffusion of moonlight/starlight around the seals bodies? The cinematography is absolutely amazing, from the night views of Durban, South Africa from the sea, to the shots of seals and sharks swimming in the star-dappled sea.
This show is everything that Wrath of a Great White Serial Killer is not. You’ve got a narration from Cersei Lannister herself, Lena Headey, which lends the show a smooth menace, but not an exploitative one. The scientists, Chris Fallows and Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, are explain things to you, not AT you – and let me tell you, Fallows has got more courage than most people possess. Diving at night, among seals, where the white sharks are making kills? Brass ones, Chris Fallows, solid brass. Plus, they make you feel a certain empathy for the seals that make up lunch for the fish. It’s hard knock life for these guys.
It’s easily one of the best Air Jaws specials in years and it’s flummoxing that the same network that can produce something like this will also put up something like Wrath. Bringing a crew down to Guadalupe isn’t cheap, so it can’t be a cost effective thing, and Discovery has to know by now that shows like Air Jaws: Night Stalkers, Shallow Water Invasion and Tiger Beach are drawing us in. We don’t need to be pandered to anymore. You’ve got us hooked. Now reel us in.
That’s it, only two shows tonight! Were as you disappointed with Wrath of a Great White Serial Killer as I was? Did Air Jaws: Night Stalkers give you phantasmic dreams? Let us know in the comments!