“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, which ran three seasons, will remind you of other TV shows and films.
Like “Lost” there’s a mysterious island that holds secrets, and this final season there’s a water monster that comes to life.
As in “Flipper,” there are plenty of dolphins and a dolphin-training element, because one of the main characters gets a job as an assistant dolphin trainer at Australia’s Sea World, where much of the series was filmed.
Like “Bewitched,” the main character (three here, actually) have powers that they try to conceal from everyone, and that leads to comic situations.
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.
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, like family life, friends, boyfriends, and, this season, the conniving sister of a boyfriend.
Only two seasons with a 52-episode arc were planned, but fan demand forced the producers to come up with this third series. As with the first two, these are not stand-alone episodes, but rather a continuing storyline. The mermaid thing sounds gimmicky, but it really adds a fun level to an otherwise typical teen and family comedy-drama.
Two new characters are introduced this season. Bella (Indiana Evans) replaces Emma (Claire Holt) as the third mermaid, and of course that means a new love interest has to come into the picture. Enter Will (Luke Mitchell), a competitive free-diver whose passion is collecting rocks and shells and other bounty from the sea. Mermaids Rikki (Cariba Heine) and Cleo (Phoebe Tonkin) return, as do their sometimes boyfriends Lewis (Angus McLaren) and Zane (Burgess Abernethy).
This season Phoebe’s family takes center stage, with Phoebe getting that new position at Sea World and her father finding romance. But the big difference is that the show’s producers really ramp up the sci-fi/fantasy aspect and special effects this final season, creating the water equivalent of the smoke monster in “Lost.” The explanation behind the monster may not be totally satisfying and the series end can seem a little rushed, but again, this show has enough going for it that it makes up for any shortcomings.
“H2O” is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and there seems to be less grain this season than the first or second, possibly because of the addition of new and more elaborate special effects. Colors are true-looking, as are skin tones, and, as I said, 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. And yet when those songs play, the sound system is robust enough to satisfy most young viewers.
I don’t see the purpose of the 90-minute telemovie that was edited for each season, because what you gain in no commercials, intros, or outros you lose in content. But if condensed movies appeal, there’s another one here. Better is an under 50-minute making-of tour of the set and secrets behind “H2O: Just Add Water,” which, for any kids who secretly (or not so secretly) aspire to become actors, really provides a sense of what it’s like. And those mermaid outfits? They have to be fitted into them by a crew, who takes great care because each one has a surface of 5000 individually applied scales. Good stuff here.
Our whole family enjoyed all three seasons. A word of warning, though. The show’s theme song—“No Ordinary Girl”—is so catchy it’s tough to get it out of your head. This last season the song is sung by Evans, who performs with a band at the re-imagined JuiceNet (re-named Rikki’s) during several episodes.