Jawsome: Remembering Street Sharks
The maddest cartoon of your childhood deserves to never be forgotten
I thought Street Sharks was the most jawsome thing in the world when I was a six-year-old kid. It made me feel smart and cool and, as a small child, with wrists like matchsticks, hair like a young Lauren Harries and a pretty strong fear of death, that’s incredibly important to personal development.
Four shark-guys, kicking some serious fin. Ripster - the de facto leader, the smartest one, a great white shark who rides a motorbike and invents stuff; Jab - lazy but warm-hearted, a talented boxer who is also a hammerhead shark; Streex - the ladies man/tiger shark, who is always shown wearing his roller-blades and enjoys parachuting and snowboarding and later plays drums professionally; and Big Slammu - the youngest and strongest, a whale shark who carries a skateboard when he’s not cracking pavements with his big fists.
The two years in which Street Sharks was on my TV was quite a thing: something I could hold onto for a half-hour on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings, snapping me out of a week of stale lunchboxes and handwriting lessons and basic maths. I’d spend my free-time playing with a seven-inch tall rubber figure of Streex and his pal Moby Lick, the fucking mad Orca thing with the huge tongue and orange trousers, and yelling "Jawsome!” I can’t help but feel like the show made a lasting impact on the psyche of this young man: something I never quite realised until just the other day, when I saw a viral picture of a shark that people said looked like it has just stepped on LEGO. 'Street Sharks,' I thought to myself. 'I loved Street Sharks.'
The premise of the show was simple: half-man/half shark, all hero. The Street Sharks were created by a machine called a “gene-slammer” - not the most scientific of names for a machine that splices the genes of different species together and creates entirely new, monstrous creatures somehow imbued with the perfect balance of the two original species which can breathe on land and aren’t crippled by a complex gumbo of genetic loggerheads, but yeah - and now they fight crime. Their friends have names like Rox - a heavy-metal mako shark, the aforementioned Moby Lick, some sort of flying dinosaur thing called Mantaman, and El Swordo - a circus performer who became spliced with a giant marlin. Their enemies are SharkBot, Tentakill, a bad-ass lobster called Slobster, Slash, Killamari, Repteel, Shrimp Louie, Maximilian Greco - an aging mafia don who convinces a scientist to make him part rhinoceros and part desert turtle, a mutant-clam mercenary called Clammando, and a bunch of velociraptors, one of whom has a rocket-launcher for a right hand, naturally.
Can you see… Can you see why, when all else I had to go on was Rosie & Jim and Button Moon - just the notions of gentle, boring friendships and sweet acoustic guitar and puppets lulling by on a barge, getting along - the idea of cool sharks who battle adversity and rollerblade their way to victory might be quite influential to a boy of five or six or seven years of age? Some people had Biker Mice From Mars. Some other people even had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I knew better. Even in my infant years I understood simple laws of nature, albeit laws smudged and muddied by the notions of cartoon mutation: Bad-Ass Sharks > Ninja Turtles > Alien Mice. There was just no question about it, even if those Mice did rock ace leather jackets.
Most of the shows I watched were about fluffy friends learning how to count to ten. In one episode of Street Sharks, entitled Cave Sharks, evil Dr. Paradigm unveils the Wolverinepedes (a wolverine/centipede hybrid) which will be a solution to Fission City's toxic waste problems (how did he ever think that would be a good idea?) but The Street Sharks discover that the Wolverinepedes are just a cover for Dr. Piranoid's illegal toxic waste-dumping property where the Wolverinepedes have been getting bigger from the consumption of toxic waste. Then they fight.
In another episode, A Shark Among Us, Ripster goes undercover to break up an illegal steroid ring where a drug dealer name jackal has been convincing juiced-up muscle-men to rob banks for him. But Street Sharks was about more than just extremely-unnuanced versions of Eighties B-movies edited to be about sharks.
Although they’re forced to hide their terrifying metamorphoses from the good people of Fission City, the place these bloke-fish call home, the Fissioners react pretty well to gangs of seven-foot tall monsters with Lou Ferrigno arms and Gaz from Geordie Shore stomachs who dress like if Bart Simpson was bang into BMX Bandits and The Offspring and was also a shark. Soon they’re mixing it with the best of them, showing off their pool skills and their gift of the gab. That gives a young boy hope. If these guys - once so self-conscious about their disgustingly disfigured forms they would cower from public view, even if they could murder an entire post-code of people if they so wanted to - can just get on with it, anyone could. All you needed was self-assurance - and rollerblades.
Street Sharks is how I discovered the concept of ‘cool’. It was briefly introduced when I was allowed to watch five minutes of Johnny Bravo - all giant chauvinism, bravura body twitching like Pumping Iron on meth, his frankly sociopathic technique of romantic pursual, his torso as large as a sofa but with no soul inside - but it all felt a little off. Bravo was a dickhead lameboy, not a giant shark who was always there for his buddies.
Bravo wouldn’t fight for everything right while wearing garish cut-off jorts and kneepads like they were the height of style. If a giant evil squid thing who talked like a Ben Gazzara went for Bravo he’d shit a brick the size of his flaxen coiff. Fuck Johnny Bravo. Big Slammu would’ve Seismic Slammed that squid so hard into Fission City’s blue-grey sidewalk that it would’ve exploded like an cephalopod water balloon. Then he’d just say “Gnarly!” and quietly skate away.
And Vin Diesel approves, too. True vindication - YES - for if anyone embodies the spirit of a Street Shark in mortal, non-mutated-shark form better than Mark Sinclair, aka Vin Diesel, then I am not aware of them. Vin’s hoarse demeanour and soft hands, his smooth dome that so quickly mutates into the brusque mountain range of his mean human face, the gentle purr of his voice when coasting, the way that same voice growls like a rusty chainsaw meeting loose tarmac when he’s mad. His enthusiasm is infectious. His leather jacket could be ludicrous on a lesser man - think Streex’s lime-green shorts - and yet on Vin it looks like a viable garment.
And yet far from all surface he has a soul Mariana deep, showcased best as lugubrious rust-bucket The Iron Giant in The Iron Giant. Diesel inspires both fear and admiration in his fellow man, even when his fellow man is just a patron of Toy Fair 1994. The popular Street Sharks catchphrase “Fintastic!” even sounds quite a lot like “Vintastic!”- presumably Diesel’s own personal dictum. The parallels are endless.
In later seasons, the characters’ human qualities are indulged and the show morphs from a shoddily acted beat-’em-up to an exploration of masculinity w/r/t being a huge shark monster thing and still wanting to do things that normal young guys do.
Late in season three, Big Slammu ventures to a comic book convention much to the hilarity of his fellow Street Shark bros and is fraught with the frustration that can come with existing in a hyper-masculine environment: “I hate it when they treat me like a kid - I’m as tough as they are, and bigger too.”
Who hasn’t felt like that as a child? I had not yet been exposed to the crushing expectancy of adolescence let alone the pressures of adulthood-proper, but the first rumblings of wanting to be taken seriously as a human were there early. I too hated it when they treated me like a kid - besides from all the good bits like ice-cream and sweets and six-weeks off school during the summer - and couldn’t wait to be an adult. Adulthood meant staying up late and being taller and pubs. Frustration turned into aggression, getting into fights in the playground with kids who refused to treat me with anything like respect. Like my cartoon inspirations, I too was a biter.
When Slammu went to that convention , despite everyone mocking him for being different, sticking a middle-fin up at his haters, you feel invested in his emotional journey: What was my comic convention? What did I, pale thin child of East London who only liked West Ham and peanut butter and sharks, have on my horizon? I won’t pretend to remember, pretend that memories are like old Tweets you can just tap into your search bar. But what I do remember is that Street Sharks was one of the first shows that made me feel like a grown-up, and I’ll always respect it for that.
In the end, when Street Sharks died, I didn’t really notice. Nobody did. Shows like that seemed to drop off the face of the earth without a trace in those days: there were no Change.org petitions or hashtags of support. It was just gone. Its spin-off Extreme Dinosaurs - man-dinosaurs who also wore jorts and fought crime - barely registered on my consciousness. The brain of a six-year-old boy is a washing machine filled with rubber balls. There would soon be new, shinier things on my television; humour more nuanced and detailed; drama more full and round; but while there’d always be more, there’s only one first. I wouldn’t remember that until it was almost too late.
But thanks, Street Sharks. It was jawsome.