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Second ‘Sharknado’ installment shows power of camp

Ian Ziering, as Fin Shepard, battles a shark on a New York City street in a scene from "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday at 9 p.m.AP Photo/Syfy

In the face of another ‘‘Sharknado’’ TV movie (the even-more-inane ‘‘Sharknado 2: The Second One,’’ premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn’t much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:

‘‘LOOK OUT!!’’

Spectacular buzz storms like these (including shark-filled ones) rarely hit a precise target twice, but these days, you never know.

Everyone, including Syfy (part of NBCUniversal, which is part of Comcast) is hoping to twist again like we did last summer: There are ‘‘Sharknado 2’’ watch parties scheduled in bars and pubs and that sort of thing. Conan O’Brien, who still has a late-night talk show, is promoting his appearance in a similar Syfy project called ‘‘Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda’’ airing this Saturday.


More tellingly, the traffic jam of cameo appearances in ‘‘Sharknado 2’’ (Kelly Osbourne, Perez Hilton, Billy Ray Cyrus, sandwich pitchman Jared Fogle) exude the ever-present fear of missing out among the lower echelons of celebrityville. The ‘‘Today’’ show’s Matt Lauer and Al Roker are in ‘‘Sharknado 2’’ to such an unseemly degree — as the sharknado storm descends in a powerful surge of corporate synergy on 30 Rockefeller Plaza — that one becomes nostalgic for the days not so long ago when we used to tut-tut about journalism ethics whenever news anchors played themselves in disaster flicks.

And, of course, an army of pop-culture bloggers stands at the ready to grab tight onto their own little piece of ‘‘Sharknado’’ on Wednesday night, even if the second film looks and smells a little like a beached carcass.

It’s important to note that some of us tasked with the 24-7 duty of monitoring of our culture’s trash weren’t adequately prepared last July when the first ‘‘Sharknado’’ roared horribly across the Twitterscape with little to no warning, cheered along and amplified by celebrity and cognoscenti Twitter users with high numbers of followers. During ‘‘Sharknado’s’’ live airing, viewers delighted one another in a mutual exchange of sharksnark, making live comments and cracking jokes about the movie’s utter, studied awfulness.


It hardly mattered that ‘‘only’’ about 1.4 million viewers (out of the more than 90 million estimated households that get Syfy) had actually caught ‘‘Sharknado’’ on its first airing, or that ‘‘Sharknado’’ was merely the latest in the network’s largely unnoticed offerings of original, low-budget, B-movie homage. The attention it attracted was just the sort of viral home run that causes paroxysms of envy in the glass offices of all forms of media, where maintaining a daily and even hourly grip on the zeitgeist is seen as the only key to survival.

In ‘‘Sharknado’s’’ wake, critics and writers picked through the debris asking why this particular Syfy film (as opposed to so many others) hit just at the right moment in just the right way. Another question: Can such a thing be replicated? Can it be bottled and sold? If only . . .

‘‘Sharknado’’ created a form of online togetherness that is frequently seen as a way to rescue the experience of television from its perceived inertia as a business model, by relegating content to a means of inviting chatter and reaction. Also, in its ephemeral moment of campy triumph, ‘‘Sharknado’’ made good on the Internet’s initial idealism of bringing us closer rather than keeping us apart.


‘‘Sharknado’’ proves that not every night has to be Oscar night or the Super Bowl to feel communal. It doesn’t even have to be a new episode of ABC’s ‘‘Scandal’’ or HBO’s ‘‘Game of Thrones”; it could be about something as implausibly dumb as watching a couple of washed-up actors (Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, for whom being ‘‘washed up’’ is far from an insult; indeed, it’s a brand attribute) battle a bunch of sharks in a tornado.

Most of all ‘‘Sharknado’’ underscores an important lesson in a whip-smart culture so defined by niches that it occasionally neglects the mainstream: Never underestimate the power of a joke that everyone can easily get.

As it happened, I saw ‘‘Sharknado 2’’ a couple of weeks ago at a screening party that Syfy staged poolside at the Beverly Hilton hotel during the Television Critics Association’s annual summer press tour in La-la Land. The pool area had been decorated in a drive-in movie theme with snack-bar buffets; inflatable sharks bobbed overhead while sharky shadows appeared to swim from the deep end to the shallow. There were lots of network people around, plus bloggers, reporters and we happy few still carrying around the job title of TV critic.

It was understood that evening that ‘‘Sharknado 2’’ is impervious to actual criticism; it knows that you know that it’s merely a good-time exercise in outrageousness, built on decades’ worth of B-movie appreciation and even academic deconstruction, 50 years since Susan Sontag first filed her seminal essay ‘‘Notes on ‘Camp’ ‘‘ for the Partisan Review (“Taste has no system and no proofs . . .”). It was understood that camp is such a diluted concept by now that words are wasted on trying to explain it. It was understood that there is nothing to say about ‘‘Sharknado 2’’ that can’t be said in 140 characters or less.


As hard as we howled at the ghastliness being projected on the wall above us, I didn’t see anyone at the ‘‘Sharknado’’ party who was giving the film his or her full attention, especially after the first 30 minutes. Our phones still had our attention, as we tweeted out and hash-tagged our velvet-rope experience of the almighty sharknado — this constant attempt to take part in a storm without being devoured by it.

‘‘Sharknado 2: The Second One’’ (two hours) premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Syfy.