“H2O: Just Add Water” is an Australian TV series obviously intended for teen and pre-teen audiences. But the creators and writers add a lot more than water. Every episode of this 2006 series will remind you of other TV shows and films.
Like “Lost” there’s a mysterious island and a mysterious older woman who keeps turning up to give the three main characters advice.
As in “Flipper,” there are plenty of dolphins and a subplot about eco-friendly fishermen and bad ones who don’t care about the environment—in this case, endangered sea turtles who’ll get caught in their nets if they don’t avoid certain areas.
Like “Bewitched,” the main character (three here, actually) have powers that they try to conceal from everyone, and that leads to comic situations.
Like “Power Rangers” and “Wonder Twins,” the effects that signal their transformation are a little cheesy.
Plus, you can’t watch the three heroines’ dorky friend—with his beachcomber hat and slump-along naiveté—without thinking of Gilligan of the old “Gilligan’s Island” TV series.
The original music by Ricky Edwards and Ric Formosa features the kind of mischievous plucked strings that will remind you of Danny Elfman’s scores for shows like “Desperate Housewives,” and as we see the exteriors and interiors of various Australian homes, why, it’s almost like catching an episode of “House Hunters International” without the realtor.
The acting is no better or no worse than what you see on the Disney Channel, but the tone is closer to the series that air on ABC Family.
In this show, filmed on location on Australia’s Gold Coast, three 16-year-old girls end up in a boat that drifts out to sea, forcing them to swim to mysterious Mako Island. As a result of an incident in an ancient cave (during a full moon, of course), they’re somehow transformed so that any time afterwards that they touch water—even the tiniest drop—they turn into mermaids with heavy, golden tails and a golden fish-scaled crop top.
Their midriffs are bare, of course, because as they run in bikinis toward the water in a title sequence that will remind you of the old “Baywatch” opening, the obvious hope is that pre-teen and teenage brothers of the mermaid lovers watching the series will sit down and join them.
Unlike Daryll Hannah’s character in “Splash,” these kids know exactly what will happen if they’re discovered. They’ll end up being dissected as a science experiment or exhibited as freaks of nature. But they have more immediate problems, in addition parties and boyfriends.
Like all characters who learn they’ve got powers, these teens become exhilarated by each discovery, but then have to learn how to use them. Rikki (Cariba Heine) comes from a lower class than the others and learns that she has the ability to make water boil. Emma (Claire Holt) was on the swim team before her transformation forced her to give it up, and she’s now able to make water freeze. The third girl, Cleo (Phoebe Tonkin), is the shy and awkward one who lives on the Gold Coast but somehow ended up being afraid of water and never learned to swim. She can control the form that water takes and also manipulate the wind.
When Cleo’s friend, Lewis (Angus McLaren), finds out their secret, he uses his interest in science to try to help them figure out the secrets of their transformations and make it easier from them to lead normal lives, despite their very abnormal situations.
Every teen show needs either mean girls or a boys, and Burgess Abernethy channels his inner Eddie Haskell by being nice around parents but a real you-know-what to the three girls. His apparent goal in life is to torment them or investigate when he suspects something is up. Later, a scientist (Lara Cox as Dr. Denman) also goes down the “gotcha” trail.
When you put it all together, though, it works surprisingly well. Not only do you have a teen dramedy that the target age group can relate to, but you also have a fantasy element that adds interest in the tradition of dozens of series, like “I Dream of Jeannie,” or “My Favorite Martian,” or . . . . (fill in the blank).
Total runtime for all 26 episodes—presented on four single-sided discs and housed in a standard size keep-case on plastic “pages”—is 650 minutes.
“H2O” is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and though there’s considerable grain in some scenes and a little noise, your eyes get quickly used to it. Colors are true-looking, as are skin tones, and the Australian scenery is fun to look at.
The audio is nothing special—what appears to be an English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no frills and no additional audio options or subtitles.
Two bonus features are included: a 90-minute “telemovie” in which Season 1 is edited to make for a movie version, and a behind-the-scenes special that gives fans a chance to meet the actors.
As teen and children’s shows go, “H2O: Just Add Water” is nicely done. It’s not the sort of thing that adults would view on their own, but when the kids are watching they’ll find themselves lingering . . . and probably sitting down to spend time with the family. I suspect that it’s because there are so MANY recognizable similarities and allusions to other TV shows that there’s a comfort factor subtly involved.