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Sharknado and the limits of “so bad, it’s good”

By Matthew Singer 07/25/2013

A few weeks ago, a little film called Sharknado took the country by, um, storm. SyFy Network cranks out original movies like sausages on an assembly line — every other week there’s a new crudely computer-generated mega-shark, giant octopus or mega-giant sharktopus to feast our eyes upon — and usually, the public barely takes notice. This thing, though, was too outrageous to ignore. A fucking tornado full of sharks? And it’s got Tara Reid and Steve Sanders? Are you kidding me? Seemingly everyone with a Twitter account (which, if the ratings are to be believed, isn’t as many people as you’d think) settled in for the premiere. Two hours later, the rest of the country came to the conclusion I had arrived at years earlier: It’s a lot more fun to say the titles of these movies than it is to actually watch them.

As a purveyor of trash TV, you’d think something like Sharknado would be right up my alley. But SyFy doesn’t make real trash. It makes post-modernist trash: trash fully aware of its own trashiness. I enjoy earnest failures, but, like following an NBA team tanking for draft positioning, watching something suck on purpose just isn’t entertaining. Something can only arrive at being “so bad, it’s good” on accident. Increasingly, though, filmmakers are trying to cheat the system.

Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, for example, or Birdemic — both are self-aware disasters that have managed to engender cult followings, and their relative success has created a cottage industry of true hacks masquerading as ironic “hacks,” and SyFy is giving them an outlet to receive a regular paycheck. (Sharknado, for instance, was written by a guy named Thunder Levin, whose other credits include AE: Apocalypse Earth and Mutant Zombie Vampires from the ’Hood, which I’m sure isn’t casually racist at all.) In other words, it’s allowed a culture of sheer laziness to foment in the filmmaking world.

There’s only so much incompetence I can take, and Sharknado may be the tipping point. The Windows 98-era special effects, high-school A/V-club set pieces, porn-level acting and totally incoherent plot are on par with the rest of the SyFy oeuvre, but are vomited onscreen with astoundingly new levels of indifference toward sense. I can suspend disbelief enough to accept a rare West Coast hurricane ravaging Los Angeles, and a water spout turning into a tornado that sends thousand of man-eating sharks flying through the streets with their jaws open. But when floodwater comes bursting through the windows of a Beverly Hills mansion while exterior shots remain totally dry, and the establishing shots switch from rain to sunshine in the span of a single scene, that’s when I tune out. I mean, it’s hard to have a good laugh when you can’t even tell what the hell is going on half the time.

Of course, the fact that I’m writing this, and that Sharknado was a top trending topic for a day, means someone else is eventually going to come along and try lowering the bar even further. Thus, I eagerly anticipate SyFy’s Rabid-Mongoose Monsoon, starring Nicole Eggert and Jared from the Subway commercials.

I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter @mpsinger.


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