The year is 1976. Thanks to Jaws, people are still scared of the water. The darn shark. Swimsuit sales are experiencing major shrinkage and fewer kids are taking their swimming lessons.
The national swim team sits around a table, debating how exactly they’re going to get the kiddies back in the pool.
“Kids like cartoons, right?” says gold medalist Matt Vogel. The rest of the team shook their heads in agreement.
“And music, and the Stooges and Scooby-Doo,” chimes in John Naber. It’s a good thing none of his teammates needed to read his lips as they were completely obstructed by his manly mustache.
“That’s it!” screams Brian Goodell, who can always be depended on for a something good. It’s almost like a super power for the 1500-meter expert to take a tense situation and put a smile on everyone’s face.
“Our hero is Jaws, a giant shark who always smiles and laughs like Curly Howard,” Goodell rambles. “He plays drums for a band. Give him a few teenage sidekicks and have them solve some mysteries.
“I dub him Jabberjaw!”
With that, the swim team took their ultra-original idea and passed it onto the folks at Hanna-Barbera. The idea of a singing shark was met with some skepticism at first but after a dirty look from Vogel and the specter of Naber’s jungle-stache taking over the office, the powerful animation company took on the challenge. A classic cartoon was born. Tragedy struck two minutes later when reality set in and it was discovered that Jabberjaw was simply a bizarre mash-up of different pieces of pop culture and not the hit everyone was hoping for.
Fast forward to today. Jabberjaw lasted but one season of 16 episodes before be relegated to the Hanna-Barbera vault of forgotten cartoons only to appear about as often as a leap year for a split-second cameo in a cartoon all-stars special.
It’s one of those cartoons that is so bizarre and horrible at the same time, it’s hard to turn it off (at least in doses of two episodes at a time). The pop culture pandering is so obvious that I suspect nobody even tried to cover up the, um, inspirations.
The highlight of the show is definitely the mix of oddball villains that threaten the underwater harmony of Jabberjaw and is human band mates. The bad guys all seem to be more akin to selfish three-year-olds than brainiacs poised to take over humanity. Jabberjaw is also a solid character, although his constant Curly chuckles get annoying very quickly.
I am curious as to how Jabberjaw would be received today if it were lumped into the Cartoon Network’s block of Adult Swim cartoons. Although not quite as random as a talking milkshake, Jabberjaw can be enjoyable in the right mindset (probably one where bizarre nonsense replaces intentional comedy).
Jabberjaw is ultimately a failed effort in trying to capture what’s popular during a given period. This show feels like ideas and inspirations were pulled out of a hat and the creators were dared to make it work. But no matter how hard you work with a horrible concept, not much can be done to fix it.
You probably thought that you never see Jabberjaw on DVD? Think again. Released through the Warner Archive collection, the four-disc set is printed on-demand. The set includes all 16 episodes in the short-lived series and no bonus features.