I made the mistake of vowing that once Discovery Channel’s Shark Week rolled around, I would return to the jawsome world of the Street Sharks. This was a mistake. Not just because the show itself you might say really bites, but because it’s hard to say anything about the show without using its own level of puns like this is a fintastrophe. In fact, as I watched it, I just wanted to go to the beach and freaking drown myself.
Let’s move on.
I’ve talked a lot about how kids have it good these days as far as animation goes. There’s still some stinkers out there, of course, but it’s become almost expected for even kids’ animated shows to have such fancy things as “character arcs” and “ongoing stories”. Such luxuries were largely unknown to the children of my generation, and even then shows like Street Sharks were the nadir of an already low-down trend.
Still, I thought about seeing if my hazy memories of the show were unfairly distorted, and picked out an episode that seemed like it would explore the potential of the show’s premise, “To Shark Or Not To Shark” (yes, every single episode title is a pun). See, the one thing that genuinely made the premise of Street Sharks stand out is that the sharks are supposed to be not only outcasts, but also genuine fugitives, while their archenemy Dr. Paradigm was a well-respected professor. This might have been an interesting take on the ancient “Don’t judge a book by its cover” moral if Dr. Paradigm wasn’t a sinister-looking man who went around in freakish body armor, but again I digress.
I wanted to give this episode a chance in particular because 1) it spotlights one of the two Street Sharks with an actual tangible character trait, Streex, who is vain, which you can tell because he looks at a mirror and brushes his fin like he would hair because I guess it actually affects his appearance somehow (the other one is Ripster, whose personality trait is “leaderish”) and 2) it has like a solid premise for a cartoon with inhuman protagonists. They get a chance to become a normal human at the cost of their powers and ability to effectively fight evil. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did it. All the various iterations of “X-Men” did it probably 123,000 times, give or take a hundred. It’s a pretty stock plot, but it’s tailor-made for a series about fugitive heroes. Let’s see how they did!
Let it never be said I can’t give a subtle hint.
Anyway, I honestly made a little checklist of things that I would consider basic to a story like this. Nothing out of the ordinary that would make something like this stand out, much less be an inspirational classic (although it is a shame we never got a groundbreaking episode of Street Sharks scripted by Maurice Sendak). It’s just for what I, as a writer myself, would consider the bare minimum for a story like this.
Streeks does something that really hits home how much he’s lost by being a humanoid shark, i.e. he frightens a bunch of children he’s trying to rescue, an old girlfriend is disgusted with him, etc.
The episode does that…kind of? The Street Sharks’ requisite human buddy, Bends, invites Streeks and…er, the brown Street Shark to check out a car he’s worked on that will be presented at a mall car show. It’s a car that can use most liquids as a fuel, even sugar water, so naturally it’s just to show off at a crappy mall. Anyway, there’s this supermodel who is stuck up and also French (you might think this is so très banal but by being snooty and French she already has more dimensions than most Street Sharks characters) who thinks the Sharks are in Halloween costumes. And they have trouble fitting into the car.
This is enough motivation for Streeks to decide to stop being the city’s only defender against a mad scientist who wants to mutate its entire human population.
It turns out the opportunity to change back to human is a trap laid out by the antagonist.
Okay, this one the show actually did fully do, but even then it’s a bit off. If you go by what we see in this episode, apparently Dr. Paradigm’s plan was to:
1) Find out (somehow) that the Street Sharks were going to a mall during its off-hours.
2) Send two of his bungling henchmen to check out the car (which of course is his real objective in all this), bringing attention to his interest in the car to the Street Sharks, and to awkwardly mention to Streeks that Dr. Paradigm has invented a way to completely reverse geneslamming, while at the same time hoping that Streeks will not start a fight and instead not only believe them, but follow them back to Dr. Paradigm’s lair.
3) Assume that Streeks and the rest of the sharks will be stupid enough to just take the untested scientific formula devised by their archenemy.
4) Also assume that they will believe the information you dropped that the change back to human isn’t permanent unless the formula is drunk a second time within the span of eight hours (and they should, because you’re not lying about it to trick them into permanently becoming human for some reason).
5) Act on your plan before the eight-hour window has passed, trusting that the Sharks won’t let themselves revert back to superhuman beast-men who can effortlessly defeat you and your minions to stop you.
Dr. Paradigm, you may be unmatched when it comes to making buff aquatic furries, but you really need to take some villainous scheme of the week lessons from, say, Cobra Commander.
The protagonists are divided over whether or not they should use the “cure”, but ultimately decide to sacrifice returning to a normal life for the greater good.
Kind of, except…not really.
I mean, there’s about a few seconds of dialogue where one of the Street Sharks talks about returning to college and normal life and Ripster shows his leadership skills by saying this is a “bad idea”…but still they’re all convinced in a matter of seconds. The French model (who honestly had no idea who the Street Sharks were before she came to town; you’d think someone would have brought up the whole “fugitive shark men” thing) also returns. But rather than becoming a symbol of what Streeks can have if he goes back to being human, she gives him a tiny bit of encouragement when he rescues her from a fire started by the hench-goons and disappears from the story.
The ex-Sharks discover that Dr. Paradigm is planning to use the car able to use anything as fuel as a means by which he could cover the city with an exhaust that will mutate all the city’s human inhabitants into aquatic half-humans. They do split up, with Streeks wanting to stay human and the others deciding to attempt to stop Dr. Paradigm even though they will stay human for a matter of hours. However, when the other sharks get captured by Dr. Paradigm and he sends his goons to finish Streeks off, he pretty much makes the choice to embrace sharkdom out of necessity more than anything.
So, yeah, there’s really no sacrifice, unless not being able to fit comfortably in most car seats counts.
To hammer this non-point in, we get the last words of wisdom from Streeks after his epic adventure that forced him to mildly inconvenience himself:
“Do you miss being a human?”
“Well, there are great things about being human, but there are great things about being a shark!”
Wisdom worthy of Socrates.
Overall, my assessment is that this episode does less than the bare minimum of what a normal animated series, even in the creative wasteland of ’80s and ’90s animation, would normally do with a similar premise. But, in a way, isn’t that kind of commitment to eschewing all standards of quality what makes Street Sharks stand out from among all the other cartoons that existed only to sell toys? Well, that and its catering to the minority of gay male aquatic furries.