Pop Culture Confessional is a weekly column where our writers can divulge and indulge in their most deeply embarrassing cultural passion — and then tell you why it actually rocks. Everyone has a few dirty little secrets. Only the truth shall set us free.
I have been obsessed with mermaids since the age of three, when my dad rented The Little Mermaid from Blockbuster. I was hooked as soon as I saw King Triton’s glimmering castle. As I watched Ariel sing about her dreams of being human, I couldn’t understand why on earth she would want to be part of my world when hers was much more fascinating.
So when I discovered H2O: Just Add Water on a particularly dull July afternoon before my freshman year, I knew I couldn’t change the channel. And I’m glad I didn’t. An Australian show that premiered in 2008 in the United States, H2O: Just Add Water is about three teenage girls living on Australia’s Gold Coast who turn into mermaids when their skin touches water (they become human again once they dry off). I’m sure you can see how this might be a problem.
It is, admittedly, an absurd premise, which is something I encounter whenever I try to explain this show. After they laugh at my taste in television, they usually ask, “How do they take a shower?” This is typically followed by, “How do they drink water?” On a surface level, these questions are a critique of the logic of the show. However, they also pose a deeper philosophical quandary: how do individuals deal with the loss of agency?
Part of what makes H2O so fun and intriguing (other than the fact that it’s about teenage mermaids and is filmed at Sea World) is the fact that it really makes me think about the parts of life that I normally take for granted. How much harder would life be if I couldn’t dance in the rain, walk past sprinklers on my neighbor’s lawn or even grasp a cold can of soda without sprouting a tail? It’s definitely something worth considering, for as much as I would like to see what it’s like to be a mermaid, I would definitely want control over when it happens.
In the pilot, Emma, Cleo and Rikki find themselves stranded on Mako Island, a sketchy, mysterious islet. As the girls search for a way to get off the island, they wander into a pool lying underneath a dormant volcano just as the full moon appears overhead, causing the water to bubble. The girls have little time to wonder what has happened to them, however, as they are soon rescued by the coast guard. The next morning, the girls discover through both amusing and mortifying incidents what has happened to them. Realizing that their lives will never be the same, the girls do everything they can to keep their new problem under wraps. With the exception of Lewis, Cleo’s friend and love interest, no other person knows their secret.
Of course, being a mermaid also comes with its perks; the girls eventually develop powers that reflect their personalities. Calm and reserved Emma has the power to turn water into ice, hot-blooded Rikki can make it boil, and insecure Cleo learns how to manipulate water into different shapes. As awesome as these powers are, however, there is one downside to them — they cause strange things to happen whenever the full moon rises. If they make eye contact with the moon, Emma, Cleo and Rikki experience a sort of madness that lasts for roughly 24 hours, and it changes every time. Among the side effects: turning into a flirty siren, developing an insatiable appetite for raw fish and pyrokinesis.
Like other shows about magical teenagers such as Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and Wizards of Waverly Place, H2O dives into typical teenage discourses about fashion, boys, popularity and how having special abilities can both simplify and complicate these challenges. However, what sets this show apart from others in its genre is the fact that these concerns are not treated lightly. Furthermore, H2O addresses real teenage issues such as sibling rivalry, divorce and poverty. It really delves into the psychology of these three girls, who ultimately learn to work as a team and become true friends.
Over the course of 78 episodes, they learn to embrace the quirks of their new lives and just have fun. Ultimately this, along with the great soundtrack and the beautiful backdrop of the Australian Gold Coast, is what makes H2O: Just Add Water such a great television series. So if you’ve ever dreamed about living under the sea, or even just need a fun way to spend your summer afternoons, you should definitely give this show a chance. It just might surprise you.