OK, Shark Week, THIS was a great night of Elasmobranch Edutainment. A good mix of celebrity fluff with a decent amount of science at the ready to make it worth your while.
At this point, let’s run through the Shark Week tropes for your bingo card. If there’s a celebrity, they’re inevitably afraid of sharks. If there’s new equipment, it’s going to fail in some fashion. If they’re looking for a specific shark, they’re likely not going to find it. There have been some notable exceptions (some we’ll see tonight), but otherwise you can more or less fill up your bingo card with this rollout of tropes. Another is music. Inevitably, the music is best described as “deep and scary”. This does Shark Week a disservice, as if you are watching every show, like me, it’s hard for the show to distinguish itself because they all sound the same. Here’s my idea for a show: We find a celebrity who loves sharks. They’re familiar enough sharks to postulate a experiment (my idea would be to test the theory that Great Whites congregate off of South Florida in the winter as there once was a population of Caribbean Monk Seals there before they were driven to extinction – would a Great White react to a seal decoy off Florida waters?), and the music is Deep House and Ambient. That’s my pitch, Discovery. You now how to get in touch with me.
OK, I was SUPER skeptical about this one, NGL. It’s basically some of those tropes I mentioned above – definitely the music, looking for a specific shark (a large female great white named “747”, which is a pretty great name for a big shark, also NGL), and with a fairly ridiculous mechanical invention – a dive propulsion vehicle (DPV) shaped like a shark. But… the show works. As to the science, they’re trying to find out how the sharks establish a pecking order on mating, and would they be interested in a DPV that looks like a shark. Without giving away too much, they very much are. I don’t know how much this adds to the scientific record about Great Whites, but it does make for great watching. It’s fluff, but it’s fluff in the sense of the center of a Fluffernutter sandwich, which means I liked it.
The Real Sharknado (5/5)
Yeah, yeah. I’m biased. I enjoy the Sharknado series for what it is. It’s fun, goofy, nonsensical, and while Tara Reid and Ian Zeiring aren’t exactly Bogie and Bacall, I can’t exactly see anyone else in the roles of Fin and April Shepherd. And this show? It actually has a point! While according to director Anthony C. Ferrante, the Sharknado series was really about family (see my interview with him here), The Real Sharknado is focused on whether or not a Sharknado could actually happen (spoiler alert: NO). To address that, much of the focus is on how sharks react to storms. I actually learned a couple new facts during this show. Like: will a tiger shark eat a banana? How about an apple? I’m honestly not going to answer that for you. Watch the show. It’s fun. I won’t do much more of a review than that. It’s worth your eyeball time.
Return to Lair of the Great White (2/5)
I was torn on this show last year, unable to come up with a final rating – there was a lot of stuff I liked, but I deducted some points because I was a little burned out after 6 nights of shark watchin’. So I tried to split the baby, and gave it two ratings. Not so this year. This show off gets off to a really bad start and never recovers. It fires off news clips from Western Australia’s conservative media freaking out over the (admittedly fatal) rare negative incidents tht happen in WA’s waters. It lets us know we’ll be trying to find a specific shark. Ominous music that never lets up – we’re in for a a series of bad tropes. I wish I had a sound studio that I could recut this epsiode and change the music and narration – it would elevate the show from frankly a bad show to at least an interesting one.
The language in this episode – “natural born killers” and “abandoned babies” and of course, “shark infested waters” undoes the work that Madison Stewart and Craig O’Connell try to do in real life. At the 1/2 hour break, I watched just to make sure I wasn’t missing a larger point (it doesn’t), otherwise, I could have turned it off and not be worse for wear. This is a Shark Week show from 25 years ago. Not sure I’m super nostalgic for it. Any message the show tries to make in its last 5 minutes? Completely lost. I tuned out. Could have been better – and at the bottom of the ratings this year.
And now, the Discovery+ shows.
Tiger Queen (5/5)
So, I’ve been hard on the Discovery+ shows, because for the most part, they’ve either been super niche celebrity shows that are not for me, or just… bad. Discovery+ was bound to finally have a Grand Slam, and this was it. Look, there’s a lot to like on this one – from the fact the we get a lot of non-male (if not BIPOC) representation, to the fact the there’s a decent enough scientific enough presence (basically, why do sharks seem to segregate by sex at aggregation sites – something I’ve witnessed from Fiji to the Bahamas to the Maldives) and if they self-segregate, where do the sharks hook up? What struck me was an ever so brief moment the presenter, Kinga Phillips, free dives with a great hammerhead, and the music changes from the usual “ADVENTURE TIME!!!” music to this soft, ethereal score that changes the tenor of the show, and changes the life of the shark from a dangerous predator to an animal in tune with its world and giving Kinga persmission to enjoy it with her. Shark Week has done this before with the Great White Double Trouble in 2020, an otherwise average show that had a moment of transcendence with the musical score towards the end. This was a worthwhile show with a standout moment.
Shark Academy, Episode 5 (2/5)
I wasn’t selected to be on the six-week long journey that was Shark Academy, but watching it? Lord, it feels like I was. OK. The good: Hammerheads are cool. I could watch them all day. Ren and Randy are pretty great as shark conservationists, and I really hope one of two gets selected – if I was *on* the show, I’d hope for either one of them to get the opportunity to go on an expedition. I believe one of them will, because the show is definitely make us root for them as people and a couple (although, come on, TV – like much pop culture I’ve watched, from Doctor Who’s Mickey and Martha to the The Rise of Skywalker’s Finn and Jannah, just because you have two BIPOC people, doesn’t mean they have to fall in love). Watching the trust fall was cool. The Bad: Why are we doing a trust fall? A staged fake party mutiny that just happens to have selfie sticks and GoPros. Establishing that to be a marine biologist, you need to be in perfect shape with a headshot look. It’s not true. Ultimately, that’s a real problem with this show. A reality show, with sculpted contestants is fine if you’re doing some bullshit like “Survivor” or “Bachelor in Paradise” – if your goal is to crown King Idiot on Moron Isand, then sure, let’s dip into central casting. If you’re trying to inspire the next generation of marine scientists, maybe let’s not give them body dysmorphia and an eating disorder along the way. Anyway, 2 fins for this episode, as my goodwill is evaporating to its existence.