I really do believe that Biker Mice From Mars was one of the better action cartoons to come out of Saturday mornings in the ’90s, but one of the things that worked in its favor is that most of the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-inspired cartoons were total crap. And that brings us to the totally jawsome Street Sharks…
I know it’s not much of an original criticism to say that a cartoon for kids looks like it was written according to a bunch of middle-age peoples’ perceptions of what “the kids are into these days,” but damn, Street Sharks takes it to a Mad Libs level. The heroes are guys with parachutes and rollerblades who were turned into sharks and they like to eat burgers. Their best friend and ally is a surfer and inventor who owns a comic book shop. Really, the only character I found at all interesting was of course the villain, Dr. Paradigm, who I presume was named as the most unexpected reference to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions ever. Admittedly he’s the standard mad scientist seeking to turn human beings into gods, but I love the fact that he’s just a standard university faculty member who happens to be able to afford a high-security mad scientist lab with large aquatic mammals kept in fancy tubes. And he has grad students! We only know this because one of them, an African-American female research assistant named Twofer…er, Lena, ends up helping the heroes, but still I couldn’t help but imagine the whacky hijinks the grad students of the mad scientist who makes Dr. Frank Forrester look respectable would get into. Give us that show!
Instead we just end up with four x-treme athletic guys with about as much personality as real-life frat boys (I’d do the thirty seconds of research it would take to remember their names, but…does anyone really care?). Well, one does “do machines” and another leads, which sounds kind of familiar. Anyway, all that matters to the plot is that they’re all sons of Dr. Bolton, a “geneslammer,” which sounds less like a term for a scientist and more like a fantastic drink. Showing poor judgment about the stability of the sinister scientist with a metal eye patch named “Doctor Paradigm,” Burton confronts him in his ridiculously expansive and expensive-looking barracks/lab and gets mutated into some kind of hideous monster (we only see him in silhouette) for his trouble. Showing that Dr. Bolton isn’t the only one who’s book smart but not street smart, Dr. Paradigm stands aside while Bolton-monster smashes through a wall and then decides to pick up and start wearing his watch, just before he also decides to use Bolton’s personality-free sons as lab rats, because…uh, well, somebody has to make the plot go.
The Boltons deploy amazing detective powers by deducing that Dr. Paradigm had something to do with their father’s disappearance because he was wearing their dad’s watch. It’s too late, though; Dr. Paradigm, who of course has been allotted the traditional two dumb burly mutant goons, has the boys injected with various chemicals, but is disappointed when nothing happens except they pass out. Again being too dense by the standards of any self-respecting mad scientist, Paradigm has them dumped in a storm drain somewhere without even checking to see if they’re dead. To be fair, if Dr. Paradigm had shown basic villain competency, then we wouldn’t have had the classic Street Sharks transformation scene, where the guys go eat some hot dogs after regaining consciousness, which is totally normal behavior after a family member goes missing and you’re abducted and drugged by an insane bio professor. Then, as soon as they turn into sharks, they right away eat the hot dog stand. To the untrained eye this might seem unscientific, but sharks are well-known for their hunger for wood and metal. Somewhat less accurate is the Street Sharks’ ability to teleport anywhere by swimming through pavement.
Now that you’ve got the set-up, the rest of the pilot goes as you might expect – the good guys decide to become superheroes, suffer a few set-backs, the villain becomes part piranha (but only when he’s mad!) and gets defeated – but it’s even more anti-climatic than that. Besides their power of eating and digesting plastic and metal without (apparently) getting the runs, the Street Sharks are just ridiculously strong, so they’re never in danger except for one point where they surrender to the cops and the military (and then the next episode after they escape they have no qualms with smashing tanks with their drivers still inside). I know Saturday morning cartoons, even action ones, aren’t big on tension and the like, but when your have heroes who can uppercut a tank and push over a roller coaster with their bare hands, stuff even the villains’ thugs can’t do, there’s really no point in ever wondering, “How are they gonna get out of this one?” Add to that bad animation and bland characters, and you’ve got a Saturday morning relic that’s only memorable for how forgettable it is.
However, I am grateful that the show does support my “’90s cartoons created furrydom” theory. Not only are the Street Sharks all buff and shirtless, but there’s also a delightful scene where Dr. Paradigm, who has one of the Sharks good and unconscious, marvels at the size of his chest!
I know, I know, it fits in with Dr. Paradigm’s motive of creating a new evolved humanoid species, but it really does add a pretty disturbing subtext to his actions. Dr. Paradigm was the first furry mad scientist! In a way, he was the more successful predecessor of Dr. Heiter.