I have never seen the movie Shark Tale, which seems like a pretty big oversight for a guy who says he lives at the intersection of pop culture and shark science, right? I mean, the movie’s literally got “Shark” in the title. I can’t even tell you what it’s about. I think I vaguely recall the plot involves a shark, whose family is like the Mafia, but he wants to sing instead of — I don’t know what a shark version of the Mafia would do — I guess make high interest loans to … other fish? My unwillingness to do the bare level of research into what the movie Shark Tale is should tell you how low my interest is in ever seeing it. And the only reason I’m even referencing it here, is that it stars Will Smith, I guess not as a shark but as a tropical fish of indeterminate species. It really seems like a mess, and I’m probably going to get an angry letter from Will Smith’s people about how I shouldn’t cast aspersions on this fun family film classic. Well, slow down there Overbrook Entertainment PR flack! Your boss made me believe in Shark Week again!
That’s right, I was very down about this year’s offerings. Nothing had yet gotten 4 fins in the ratings, and a lot of it was lowest common denominator stuff (Mike Tyson, Dude Perfect). But tonight? Delightfully weird. Diverse sharks, a stunningly meditative narrative on fear, and even the Great White Serial Killer franchise vehicle wasn’t complete crap (although still bad). There’s a lot wrong with Shark Week, but for Tuesday night (yes, I know this is being published late Wednesday — I’M SORRY), it was fun, educational, and for yours truly, nostalgic!
Extinct or Alive: Land of Lost Sharks (3.5/5)
I remember there being some controversy about Forrest Galante on Shark Science twitter a couple of weeks before Shark Week, and sure enough, in keeping in the #SharkWeekSoWhite hashtag, it’s pretty spot on for some of the problems in this episode. Basically, a team of white people go to South Africa, specifically KwaZulu-Natal, to find sharks and amazingly, not run into any Black people while doing so. It’s the idea of “parachute science“, that science and exploration don’t exist if there’s not a white European or American to do it.
Having been to the specific area where this show was filmed (Sodwana Bay and the Protea Banks) to dive, I can say… yeah. SCUBA’s cultural problems are on display, as most of the guides are European or Afrikaans, most of the divers are European or Afrikaans, and the Black Africans are the support staff for the divers. You notice it, and I wish I had answers on how to make SCUBA more accessible. People are working on it, such as the National Association of Black SCUBA Divers, but for now, it remains an issue.
So, why does this show get such a high rating, despite this issue and Galante’s continued scientific inaccuracies (such as that Bull Sharks have the highest testosterone of any animal – they DO have a lot – or that rays are in the Carcharinidae family — THEY’RE NOT), or use of sensationalist terms like “shark infested”? Because A. we see so many unique shark and ray species, B. you really DO get a sense of how difficult South Africa is to dive (it’s absolutely brutal — the only dive I ever called was at the Protea Banks — although I’m sure there are days that aren’t filled with 9 foot seas, multiple thermoclines, and currents so fast it literally sounds like a jet engine) and C. it’s the rare Shark Week show that actually fulfills it’s premise (none of these sharks have been declared extinct, BTW — they’re just super, super rare).
It was a fun hour, despite all it’s problems.
Will Smith: Off the Deep End (4/5)
What a wonderfully weird, beautiful little show. I actually watched this one first, and I’m so glad I did. I actually don’t want to explain it too much, because I think, even if you’re just a casual Shark Week watcher, this one, in all it’s unscientific zen, might be the one that explains why I love the ocean and sharks so damn much to people. It’s basically 41 minutes of Will Smith talking about his journey through fear.
You’re taking a journey with Smith (and his friends and family) as he conquers what he calls the “poison” of fear, which growing up in West Philadelphia, was manifest in the ocean. Again, there’s so much spoilery here that I don’t want to step on his narrative. But I will say this — it’s a journey I took, and in a way, it’s a journey I take every time I kit up and enter the seas, with or without sharks. You’re not going to learn much. This is not a science show. That’s why it’s not getting the coveted Five Fin Rating. But, if my years in poetry slam have taught me anything, it’s the points, it’s about the poetry.
And this is a poem. And poetry, even in the world of shark science, is necessary. Watch it here on Discovery GO.
Great White Serial Killer Extinction
Oh, Great White Serial Killer, you are the ABSOLUTE WORST. From your dumb name, to your ominous music, to your weird, stupid premise, you are why shark science people drink. To run through the premise — for a while in the 2010s, there were a series of very serious shark bite incidents that tragically ended the lives of surfers off the California coast,and then it happened again two years later, and there was another incident 2 years after that, so some guy tried to apply serial killer profiling techniques to find a specific shark that was doing this, and they roped in Ralph Collier from the International Shark Attack File to validate it.
SO DUMB. This year, however, they ditched the conceit about “SERIAL KILLER SHARK ATTACKS HUMANS” to “SERIAL KILLER SHARKS THRILLKILLED A BUNCH OF OTTERS”. No, really. Like, is there a show to be made about the complex interactions between prey and predator as one species recovers (great whites) while one species declines (sea otters) in rapidly and dangerously collapsing ecosystem (California’s kelp forest). There sure is.
But I’m not sure that floating a guy in a Lexan box at Isla Guadalupe is that show. YES THEY DID THAT (I’m yelling a lot in this part of the review). And glossing over human causes for otter extirpation from certain areas of the world doesn’t help.
But I didn’t hate this. I probably should, and I’ll probably get grief for admitting I don’t. Maybe it’s because I scored the rare Shark Week trifecta of having done dives with many of the sharks in these episodes at the places they were filmed (Guadalupe, Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in Nassau, and South Africa). Maybe it’s because the first two days were pretty weak and/or bad. But this had great footage, less of a dumb premise than previous years, and we didn’t have shark attack footage rammed down our throats. So, for the first time ever, you get THREE FINS!!! Now go away.
Back tomorrow with Night 4! Hammerheads! Adam Devine! Rock ’em Sock ’em Great Whites! Could be Shark Week has gotten it’s groove back?