h2O200Grade:  B+
Entire family:  Yes
2006, 26 episodes (650 min.), Color
Unrated (would be PG for mild thematic elements)
New Video
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features:  F

H2O: Just Add Water is an Australian-made TV series obviously intended for teen and pre-teen audiences—girls especially. But the creators and writers add a lot more than water.

There’s a little Lost, a little Splash, a little Flipper, some Power Rangers and Wonder Twins, a hint of Gilligan’s Island, an allusion to Baywatch, a bit of Bewitched, some Little Mermaid, and a lighter (more G-rated) twist on Secret Life of the American Teenager. As a result, it also holds appeal for other family members.

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.

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 to the usual teen concerns (like parties and siblings and boyfriends).

h2opromoThe three teens are thrilled to discover they have powers. Rikki (Cariba Heine) is the outsider who  learns 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. Cleo (Phoebe Tonkin) is the shy and awkward daughter of a fisherman who somehow ended up being afraid of water. Now 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 make it easier from them to lead normal lives, despite their very abnormal situations.

Every teen show needs mean girls or 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 and investigate when he suspects something is up. Later, a scientist (Lara Cox as Dr. Denman) also goes down the “gotcha” trail.

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.

H2O works surprisingly well. Not only do you have a teen dramedy that ‘tween and teen girls 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). That might be enough to keep the parents amused. And the boys in the family? They’ll have three reasons to watch.