BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Last summer’s social media phenomenon, Syfy’s “Sharknado,” returns for what appears to be a bigger, sillier sequel with “Sharknado 2: The Second One” (9 tonight, Syfy).
This time director Anthony C. Ferrante and writer Thunder Levin lean more heavily into comedy, particularly in casting. When you hire a veteran of “Airplane!” to play a pilot of a jetliner in an opening scene that turns into “Sharks on a Plane,” it’s clear the tongue is planted firmly in cheek.
Some curators of schlock TV may be put off by all the celebrity cameos this time — it appears everyone from Kelly Osbourne to Judd Hirsch to Matt Lauer and Al Roker were eager to be shark bait — but for the most part the cameos add to the fun rather than detract from it.
The new film picks up not too long after events in the first movie. April (Tara Reid) has written a book (“How to Survive a Sharknado,” which is actually for sale in the real world from Three Rivers Press), so she and ex-husband Fin (Ian Ziering) are flying to New York together for her book signing and so he can see his sister (Kari Wuhrer) and his brother-in-law (Mark McGrath), with whom there’s some bad blood.
Soon there’s lots of red blood as characters lose limbs (“The next time you lend a hand, don’t be so literal about it,” Fin jokes), get rained on by sharks at a baseball game and find themselves under attack on the New York subway. (Don’t ask how the sharks get in the New York sewers, a feat that proves unlucky for at least one alligator.)
“Sharknado 2” includes the obligatory “jump the shark” joke, and it repurposes the chainsaw gambit from the first film while throwing in a bunch of new set pieces including use of the head of the Statue of Liberty in an homage to “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
There’s also a character who fashions a handy, Inspector Gadget-style addition to her arsenal. And the audacity of circumstances around a wedding proposal atop the Empire State Building in the closing minutes is a wonder to behold.
Technically, “Sharknado 2” is pretty much just as sloppy as the first film, with scenes that supposedly take place during a storm filled with streams of natural sunlight, but the amateurish quality is part of the franchise’s charm.
At a screening of the film earlier this month at a shark-themed party at The Beverly Hilton pool, the stars of “Sharknado” expressed surprise at the success of the first film. Mr. Ziering admitted he agreed to star in the film only to cover his insurance through SAG-AFTRA.
“I told my wife, I don’t think this is something I should do, and she said, with daughter Mia on her lap and Penna still in her belly, ‘Look, you need to go to work, we’re gonna have a baby in April.’ I thought, damn, I better take one for the team,” Mr. Ziering said. “You have to make so much to get the insurance with SAG, and this met that requirement, but I did it begrudgingly.”
When Mr. Ziering and Ms. Reid signed on for the first film it was called “Dark Skies.” A week into filming when producers told them the title was changing to “Sharknado,” they were concerned.
“ ‘Dark Skies’ sounded legit, that wouldn’t be bad on the resume,” Ms. Reid said. “When they told us the title was changing to ‘Sharknado,’ I was on the phone with my agent, Ian’s on the phone with his agent. We had a conversation, ‘Let’s pull out. We can’t put ‘Sharknado’ on our resumes. It’s gonna ruin everything.’ ”
Instead, “Sharknado” became a sensation. The director has his own theories on why his little movie became a hit thanks to social media last year.
“All the summer movies last year, while there were a lot of good ones, were really dark. ‘Man of Steel,’ not a bad movie, but there was no joy,” Mr. Ferrante said. “There was nothing like ‘The Avengers’ that exploded, that was fun. And then here’s this movie with the most ridiculous title. We put up the trailer that made it look like a big-budget movie, and I think people wanted to see it fail. And it was free [to viewers with basic cable] so families could watch a movie that looked like a summer blockbuster and it looked silly and fun.”
And then there’s the concept — Sharks! In tornadoes! — which is what got viewer attention and made it a sensation among the online chattering class, propelling the first “Sharknado” to better ratings for subsequent broadcasts after its premiere, something that almost never happens these days.
Syfy has already committed to a “Sharknado 3,” although no one’s been signed to the threequel. But Mr. Ferrante said he’s game once he gets done putting final touches on the Blu-ray edition of “Sharknado 2.”
“The Second One” was shot over 18 days in New York in February working with something similar to the first’s film’s $2 million budget. Mr. Ferrante acknowledged a greater emphasis on humor this time around.
“The first movie had humor in it, but I think that there’s a little more meta-ness on this one,” Mr. Ferrante said. “They allowed us to do more, but it’s a very dry sense of humor, and I’m glad we were able to do a little of that because I think that’s part of the fun.”
A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.