"Jabberjaw": Finally Getting Some Respect
Scooby-Doo is one of the most beloved and famous cartoon characters of all time, and Hanna-Barbera certainly collected a lot of dividends on the popularity of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? in the early 70s. And what better way to milk it than to create imitation after imitation? And thus was born 1976’s Jabberjaw, the self-proclaimed “Most Futuristic Shark You Ever Saw”. Personally, I’ve been lead to believe that futuristic sharks would be hyper-intelligent and shoot lasers, but Hanna-Barbera went in a different direction, creating a barely intelligent shark who plays drums in a band and fights crime on the side.
Jabberjaw basically follows the standard 1970’s teen hijinx format where a group of meddling kids find themselves learning of some sort of crazy crime that only they can foil for whatever reason. In this case, it’s a musical group called The Neptunes who live in a future where the cities are not only underwater, they also have punny water-based names such as Aquapulco and Aqualaska. Although at times you have to question just how advanced this future is if some comedic stereotypes exist, such as those seen in the genie-riddled Middle Eastern underwater city.
Aside from the whole talking shark and underwater band thing, there’s nothing incredibly unique about the show. In addition to being Scooby-Doo in shark form, Jabberjaw’s personality is essentially a blend of Rodney Dangerfield, the Cowardly Lion, and Curly from The Three Stooges, often spouting the catchphrase “I don’t get no respect” and ending many sentences with a hearty “NYUK NYUK NYUK”. That isn’t to say he isn’t entertaining. Frank Welker is at the top of his game voicing the shark, and, if you don’t find him incredibly annoying, he is pretty funny. Jabberjaw almost feels like the precursor to Futurama‘s Dr. Zoidberg.
The Neptunes are cardboard cutouts of the typical Hanna-Barbera teenage gang, particularly their leader, Biff, who has no defining trait I can find besides “straight man”. Bubbles is the ditzy blonde who often has trouble understanding the situation and constructing basic sentences. Shelly is the bossy, attention-seeking egotist who is supposedly attractive. (Yet I can’t help but find her constantly sleepy-looking eyes to be odd looking.) Clamhead is the thin, overly excitable best friend of Jabber. His real name is apparently “Cleveland Rogers”, which makes it possible that he’s not only a copy of Scooby Doo’s Shaggy, a.k.a. “Norville Rogers”, but perhaps a descendant of his.
There are a lot of laughs in Jabberjaw; the characters may not have a lot of originality, but at least they’re amusing. Bubbles’ wordplay, Shelly’s insults, and Jabber’s reaction to anything is funny. It’s a shame that there’s a laugh track, because it can be a little distracting. Ditto the weird musical montage chase scenes. The Neptunes are a band and go from city to city because of their gigs, but I find it strange that we hear more music when they’re being chased by supervillains than when they’re giving actual performances. Not that I wanted to hear more of their bland not-so-futuristic music or anything. The crimebusting they do is entertaining enough. The supervillains they face on the show are kind of cool in a fun, goofy way. They even end up fighting what appears to be Space Ghost’s Zorak and his race of alien insects in one episode.
The Neptunes work fairly well as a team. Many times they will think to call the police first, but they still manage to get into deeper trouble. Oftentimes they have to come up with some crazy scheme or disguise themselves or formulate an escape plan. It’s interesting that it’s not always the same person who comes up with the plan, and even Bubbles gets a good idea now and then. This is probably why Biff is the least interesting character since he’s not always in command, but at least no one is completely useless.
Jabberjaw, being the star of the show and all, is the most useful at getting out of a tough situation. Now, you’d think that a 15-foot-long great white shark could simply turn around and rip human pursuers apart with his sharp teeth, but he never does. Granted, it’s a lot funnier to see him run away, using his tiny tail fins as feet, and hide by squeezing into small spots, but it makes you wonder. At least he puts those jaws to good use when he gets the chance to rip apart the doors of any cage he gets put in. Apparently, he also has the ability to contort and transform his body in many ways which lets him turn into things like a bridge or a trampoline, whatever the plot calls for. Maybe he can do that because sharks don’t actually have bones, but at least this can be a justification for the fact that he’s shown off-model so many times. Jabber can also be a liability to the group, being the target of futuristic shark ejectors, which seem to be everywhere and come complete with wacky mechanical arms. It makes sense: cities are underwater and public places do need protection from some of the more deadly creatures in the sea. However, I can only conclude from what we’re shown that shark ejectors were built, not because sharks are so dangerous, but because they have evolved to the point where they’re incredibly irritating.
All things considered, Jabberjaw is a pretty good show. It can be cheesy, it isn’t terribly unique, and watching it now shows how dated it is, but it can actually be very amusing, and there are plenty of laughs to be had. As a character, Jabberjaw has made some re-appearances in other Hanna-Barbera material (including an episode of Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law). A DVD-release of the complete 16 episode series has been a long-time coming, and Jabberjaw himself will be happy that he’s finally getting some respect.
Jabberjaw: The Complete Series can be ordered directly from Warner Archive.