There have only been a handful of TV moments that became true social media phenomena, but the original Sharknado certainly qualifies.
The Syfy movie premiered with almost no fanfare two summers ago, but as word quickly spread on Twitter of what was transpiring—Killer sharks in tornadoes! Cheesy effects! Wooden performances! Laughable dialogue! Tara Reid!—viewers tuned in and reveled en masse in the utter ridiculousness.
Syfy doubled down for last year's Sharknado 2: The Second One, and while that movie lacked the novelty of the original, it still had plenty of enjoyably nutty moments, like Ian Ziering proposing to Reid using the ring from her severed hand after retrieving it from a shark's belly.
Now the network is going for a hat trick with Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, which debuts Wednesday at 9 p.m. But the thrill is gone, as this Sharknado is easily the most ludicrous of them all—and not in a good way this time.
In this installment, the killer sharks, outrageous death scenes and questionable acting take a back seat to the franchise's new main objective: promoting Comcast and all its entities. Syfy has essentially assembled two hours of branded content for its parent company, added some fake sharks and gore, and called it Sharknado 3. Given all of its screen time, Universal Studios Florida should rightfully receive top billing over Ziering and Reid. (All together now: "Oh, hell no!")
There were hints that the franchise was heading in this direction last year. Sharknado 2 included Subway product integration and a cameo from spokesman Jared Fogle (Subway is back again, though a return Fogle cameo was axed at the last minute due to his unspecified involvement in a child pornography investigation). In addition to upping those integrations, this third go-round functions as little more than an opportunity to showcase the Comcast family.
Sharknado 3 boasts dozens of cameos—such as Mark Cuban as the president ("They used to call me a shark," he says), with Ann Coulter as his vp. We also get plenty of Comcast-owned NBCUniversal's personalities: E! anchor Maria Menounous, Kim Richards, Reza Farahan and most of the Today show team. Matt Lauer and Al Roker, who appeared in Sharknado 2, are joined by Savannah Guthrie, Natalie Morales, Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford (unlike last year, not all of the Today talent make it out alive).
Oh, and Comcast's Xfinity cable service gets frequent mentions, while its logo also appears on a stock car and several billboards.
But the movie's most egregious use of Comcast-related integration is how it becomes a love letter to Universal Studios Florida in Orlando.
The Florida resort is adoringly featured in multiple scenes throughout the movie, all of which begin with sunny establishing shots of the theme park, lasting up to 20 seconds at a time. When the action moves to Orlando, the film turns into a Universal Studios promo, showcasing three separate rides (Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Disaster! and Twister…Ride It Out), with several scenes and moments of shark-related mayhem taking place on and around each of them.
When she's not strolling through the park, Reid hangs out at the nearby Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Then, in case it hadn't driven the point home, Sharknado 3 sets another scene inside the park's rotating Universal Studios globe, which also receives prominent placement in the movie's key art. Universal Studios Florida: It's a blast, even when half the country is being evacuated!
Take away all the Comcast-related worshiping, and the movie is exactly what you'd expect at this point. The stakes are higher than ever (the action takes place in Washington, D.C.; Charleston, S.C.; and Orlando, as well as a final location I won't reveal) yet yield diminishing returns. Even as Sharknado 3 over-the-tops its predecessors, it feels joyless. Sharknado just isn't as much fun when everyone is in on the joke, as is now the case.
While the film still skimps on its budget in true Syfy fashion (a fog machine does much of the heavy lifting), it feels slicker and less seat-of-your-pants than its predecessors, which was part of their charm. The first Sharknado, channeling Ed Wood's style, just rolled with the punches, shooting the script with little regard for surroundings and weather (hence a film about torrential rain and flooding was packed with scenes where there was no actual precipitation). Sharknado 3 is no longer on the outside looking in; it's now the guest of honor.
"I can sense these storms now," says Ziering's Fin Shepard early in the movie. "These sharks, they have a scent, and it's not a pretty one." This franchise isn't smelling so great either. And it's only going to get worse: without spoiling the ending, the movie makes it clear that a fourth Sharknado will be coming, even though the renegade spirit that made the first one so great is long gone. The Sharknado films used be a guilty pleasure; thanks to all the Comcast integration, all that's left is the guilt.