H2O: Just Add Water

If you would have asked me in middle school what my favorite tv show was, easily hands down the answer would have been the Aussie tv show H2O: Just Add Water.

H2O: Just Add Water is a show about 3 different girls who live on the beaches of the Gold Coast. Emma Gilbert (Claire Holt), Cleo Sertori (Phoebe Tonkin), and Rikki Chadwick (Cariba Heine) (and later Bella Hartley (Indiana Evans)) are our heroines and together they navigate through normal teen life all while hiding their secret: they are mermaids with powers over water. Emma can freeze water, Cleo can shape water, and Rikki can boil water. No one execpt Cleo’s childhood friend (and love interest) science brainiac Lewis McCartney (Angus McLaren) knows about their secret and he helps them navigate everyday problems all while balancing it with mermaid adventures. The show ran from 2006 – 2010 with 3 seasons and 78 episodes.

When H2O premeired in the USA, it was March 2008. I was 11 1/2, and I believe I was the perfect age to get hooked on the show. H2O stood out from all the other teen shows I was watching because the show actually had a serialized storyline that was engaging. I made my own little scrapbook for the show (its gone now!), got the season 2 cd for my 12th birthday, and even had the dolls (they went to goodwill!).

Season 1 is certianly the best, as it had the most stakes and was organic for the story they were telling. With the transformation into mermaids needing to be kept secret, the biggest storyline is the fear of exposure, and the antagonist is a scientist, Dr Denman, who would exploit the girls for fame and money. The season also sees the best character journey of, “bad boy”, Zane Bennett (Burgess Aberthany) from rich snobby jerk, to being more caring and sensitive… especially after he almost drowns in a shipwreck (only to be saved by Emma, but after he catches a glimpse of a “sea monster”) and has a relationship with Rikki (ZIKKI IS MY FAVORITE relationship of the entire show!). Season 1 also has the best mythology backstory building, concerning the dynamics of how the girls powers work. 

Season 2 is pretty good, with the introduction of the infamous Charlotte Watsford (Brittney Byrnes) who becomes a third point in a love triangle with Lewis and Cleo. It’s kind of painful, as their relationship takes up some screentime that was dedicated to the girls friendship in season 1, but its really engaging and keeps you watching and asking when Cleo and Lewis will get back together. Season 2 also continues the myth building with Mako Island and the girls powers, as their powers change to also control weather. The biggest plot of the season is Charlotte becoming a mermaid and the girls having to accept her in their group, while she’s a bully to Cleo and alienating Lewis from having contact with her (and the rest of the girls). Season 2 is still enjoyable and it really strengthens the friendships and ups the ante on everything: the danger, the romance, the fun. I remember bootlegging episodes 14-26 on YouTube because they failed to play on Nickelodeon in America, and I was insanely upset about it. Nothing was going to keep me from this show!

Season 3 is honestly my least favorite. At the time of release, in 2009-2010, in the UK (it aired there first before Australia), I was one of the bootleg viewers. I would get home from 8th grade, and a recording of the new episode would be uploaded. I recall I had to be quick about it because they would be deleted for copyright claims, so that was always a problem. Nonetheless, I made sure exactly right when the videos were uploaded I was at the computer screen.
What I hate about season 3 is the whole friendship dynamic changes. Claire Holt left the cast due to a scheduling conflict being replaced by Bella, a new girl who moves to town with her never seen on screen family (I’m team Emma over Bella!).  Angus McLaren has reduced episodes and left the main cast, and Lewis was “replaced” by Will (Luke Mitchell), who in comparison is a dull character. The friendship of the 3 girls just doesn’t gel properly and it’s basically the case of, “Oh Bella! You’re a mermaid too, we must be friends!”.
The show also starts chasing some trends of other teen shows around this time: Bella has her own band and sings! Will takes of his shirt a ton! Zane now owns the local cafe (no boss to answer to) and calls it Rikki’s!

Add in Zane’s character just completely reverting back to being a total jerk due to lazy writing and it just sucks. Not to mention the overall plot of the water tentacle being the enemy and the payoff completely not following what they set up, this season is a frustrating watch. There are some highlights however: as Cleo and Lewis (Clewis!) are so adorable (until they write him out) this season, and Rikki has some strong emotional  development.

I’m no ordinary girl

Overall, H2O will always be that special show in my heart. It’s the only show from my childhood preteen years I genuinely still care about, and do not regret watching. I may have come to it only because mermaids are my favorite mythological creature, but in the end, this is what got me open to Australian TV. It planted the seeds for me to watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, A Place to Call Home, Dance Academy and for that I’m really grateful.

This post was written for the March 2023 Genre Grandeur of beaches hosted by MovieRob.


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