Street Sharks ran for but two seasons (three if you consider the three-episode mini-series that started it all a season unto itself) in 1994 and 1995. It didn’t have the overwhelming cultural impact that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to which it owes its entire existence, had, and the merchandise it was intended to market wasn’t nearly as cool as the Turtles, in spite of the obvious attempt to one-up them by making four anthropomorphic sharks the protagonists. And yet, something about Street Sharks has stuck with people who grew up on the era’s children’s programming. Anyone to whom I mentioned that I was watching Mill Creek Entertainment’s Complete Series DVD release of Street Sharks responded overwhelmingly with excitement, and some specifically remarked, “Jawsome,” perhaps the Street Sharks’ most notable catchphrase. Nostalgia for the Street Sharks is surprisingly incredibly potent among those who grew up with it, even though the series may have been the lesser of its type.
In the interest of full disclosure, I could never quite get into Street Sharks when it first aired. Perhaps I saw through the blatant attempt to capitalize on the anthropomorphic, crime fighting animal craze that the Ninja Turtles heralded. Then again, perhaps it just wasn’t that good (blasphemy, I know). But my recollection of the series was not strong enough for me to accurately assess my appraisal. Rewatching the Sharks as an adult, however, I quickly realized where my primary hang-up with the series lies, and it’s in the writing. The Street Sharks, for all their catchphrases and character quirks, just aren’t as well-defined individually as the Turtles were. Even now, having sat through many, many hours of Street Sharks in preparation for this review, I cannot tell you much about them individually, or indeed which Shark is which without looking at a list of characters.
And yet, I still found myself drawn to it, not reluctant in the least to perform the sort of marathon viewing required to cover a 40-episode series in its entirety. After all, where the characters themselves may be lacking in personality, the series on the whole exhibits a wealth of character. In spite of the slew of shark-referencing catchphrases the Sharks spout ad nauseum and the trite 90’s slang peppered generously throughout the dialogue, the series manages to mix elements of pop culture together in just the right proportions to draw you in and keep you there.
When the series opens, the Street Sharks inhabit the dark, polluted, dystopian sort of world typical of many 90’s series and films. The Sharks themselves quickly become the enemy of the people, condemned in the press by their enemy and creator, Dr. Piranoid. They must therefore hide in the sewers and only emerge at night, like the Ninja Turtles, unable to prevent the press from blaming them for all of their enemies’ wrongdoings, like Spider-Man. Later, the series deviates from this and the Sharks come to inhabit a more brightly-lit, welcoming world, where they can, if they so choose, openly enter an automobile race against regular humans, for instance, which they do in an episode blatantly appropriating the plot of Speed. Far from ruining the series, however, this shift in the presentation of the narrative world is accompanied by the introduction of more and more wacky, gene-spliced human/animal hybrid characters, which never fail to liven things up (except perhaps for Shrimp Louie, one of the later additions to the villainous Seaviates). Moreover, the series’ writers were decent enough to include an early series nod to their Ninja Turtle predecessors by having the Sharks voice their personal disgust at the thought of eating pizza. They’d much rather, in fact, eat toasters or anything else.
In short, Street Sharks is jawsome. You should buy it. And at around $10 for the entire, 40-episode series from Mill Creek, how could you not do just that?