Why Street Sharks is the Most Underrated Cartoon of the ’90s

By 2019-08-05News

Why Street Sharks is the Most Underrated Cartoon of the ’90s

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The ’90s gave rise to numerous "too cool for school" cartoons with tubular protagonists, almost all of which tried to capitalize on the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and, later, Sonic the Hedgehog. Most of these shows came and went, becoming nothing more than the answer to a particularly difficult Saturday Morning Cartoon trivia question.

While most of this was deserved, some of these shows were definitely diamonds in the rough. Chief among these was Street Sharks, which was possibly the most blatant TMNT ripoff on paper. Despite this, the show used this to its advantage, featuring many of the same strengths as that franchise. As it reaches its 25th anniversary, let’s look back at one of the forgotten gems of the ’90s.

The basic premise of Street Sharks is that four brothers (John, Bobby, Coop and Clint) are mutated into humanoid sharks after being kidnapped by their father’s evil lab partner, Dr. Paradigm. Dubbing themselves the Street Sharks, they take on the tubular new nicknames Ripster (a great white shark), Jab (a hammerhead), Streex (a tiger shark) and Big Slammu (a whale shark). Together, they fight the monstrous mutant threats that Paradigm sends and defend the people of Fission City, despite being hated and feared by them.

The show had a basic monster of the week format more befitting cartoons of the ’80s. Many of the mutants, including the sharks, feel barely developed, if at all. Conversely, Dr. Paradigm is the quintessential Saturday Morning Cartoon villain, consistently embarking on inane, meandering quests and speaking in a bad accent that lands somewhere between German and Caribbean.

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When the show wasn’t by the numbers, it was outright weird. Episodes featured storylines involving underground crocodile societies, Cold War allegories in a country called Chernosium and a character named Moby Lick. There were also wolverine/centipede hybrids called wolverinepedes. What else made it stick out among the sea of Turtles wannabes? The fact that it ripped off the TMNT so well, of course.

Much like the 1980s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, Street Sharks was littered with colorful characters that begged to be bought in toy form. There were monsters like Slobster (a mutant lobster that had Genghis Kahn and Thomas Blood’s DNA), the poisonous squid Killamari and the mobster Maximillian Greco, who is a combination of a rhino and a tortoise. The similarities to Splinter, Bebop, Rocksteady and Baxter Stockman were obvious. Both shows even featured alien dinosaurs!

There was also the unique slang that both shows employed. The TMNT used surfer slang, namely "cowabunga." Meanwhile, the Street Sharks would shout out fish puns such as "Jawsome," or the ever clever "fintastic!" It was ironically a foreshadowing of the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles revamp and its predilection for using the word shell as a euphemism.

Both shows, even more than other cartoons of the time, were blatant vehicles for some jawsome action figures. The show came after the toys in Street Sharks’ case, and one of the promotional videos used to sell the concept to Mattel even featured a then unknown Vin Diesel!

Like most cartoons of the time, especially of the TMNT ripoff variety, Street Sharks was sure to inject a healthy bit of poorly done environmentalism. Season 1’s unseen narrator constantly mentions the planet’s worsening environmental conditions, with all of the unintended irreverence that viewers should expect from a contemporary of Captain Planet. It also makes some behind the scenes sense, as one of the series’ creators would use his royalties to become an environmental activist.

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Despite this poor discussion of pollution and the psychedelic by way of MTV color scheme, the show did have some darker elements. This is namely seen in the sheer body horror of its constant mutations. The allusions to the damage being done to the Earth through man’s arrogance can also put a dour spin on what is usually a rather wacky show. There was also an episode that dealt with steroids hitting the streets, an obvious attempt to tell kids to just say no.

Given that the TMNT franchise was the obvious inspiration for Street Sharks, and that franchise has seen numerous reboots and relaunches, why hasn’t Street Sharks? For one thing, the TMNT franchise featured a lot more pliability, even in the ’90s. The original comics were notably darker than the toy commercial that it spawned, and the live-action movies that came out after the cartoon were a thematic halfway point between the two.

Conversely, as cheesy as the ’80s cartoon may have been, the 2003 Turtles cartoon was far more serious, and hued closer to the comics. Meanwhile, the Street Sharks only had their cartoon, which lasted 40 episodes. While the toys were very popular, this lack of media presence meant that the Sharks would be absorbed by the TMNT whirlpool like other would-be franchises.

When ’90s nostalgia takes off, and the inevitable Street Sharks live-action movie is made, let’s just hope that Michael Bay isn’t involved.

NEXT: Whatever Happened to… TMNT Cards and Turtle Pies?

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August 5, 2019 at 08:50PM