An illustration of the cover of the television show H2O: Just Add Water for an article about remembering this old series. (Illustration by Sonja Vasiljeva, San Jose State University)

The Magical Nostalgia of ‘H2O: Just Add Water’

Reminiscing about the early 2000s? Try binge-watching this hilarious show about teenage mermaids.
April 17, 2021
8 mins read

Fifteen years ago, the first episode of the famous children’s show “H2O: Just Add Water” premiered. The episode starts out like any other show that follows overly dramatic teenage girls. Cleo, Emma and Rikki — the show’s main characters — are young adults with their own separate lives. They aren’t a close-knit group of friends, but by chance, they end up in a boat traveling toward Mako Island together.

Mako Island is a dangerous island off the coast of Australia, where all three girls live. The water surrounding the island is infested with sharks, and the land is filled with jungles and rocky terrain. Of course, the boat breaks down near the shore, and the girls decide to swim to the land. Nobody knows that they’ve taken the boat out that far, so they need to find a way to survive on the island until someone comes to rescue them.

While exploring the island, Cleo, Emma and Rikki find themselves in even more trouble. Cleo accidentally falls into a hidden, underground cavern. While trying to rescue her, both Emma and Rikki wind up in the cavern, too. The slope is too slippery and steep to climb out of, but the girls find a pool of water that leads out to the ocean.

When they all jump in, ready to swim back to their boat, something magical happens. The full moon shines exactly overhead, and the pool begins to bubble and steam. When the weird occurrence passes, the girls find themselves out in the ocean and are rescued by a helicopter that has been searching for them all evening.

The next day, everything is normal while the girls are recovering from their night out at Mako Island. There’s only one problem: Whenever the girls get even a drop of water on them, they turn into mermaids. The rest of the show follows Cleo, Emma and Rikki adjusting to their new lives and abilities while they try to keep it a secret from everyone else around them.

No matter which way you spin it, “H2O: Just Add Water” was bound to be a successful children’s show. I mean, who doesn’t dream about being a mermaid in the pool when they’re six years old? The show’s mythology builds upon normal mermaid myths as well. The girls each have a different magical power relating to water. Cleo can move water with her mind, Emma can freeze water and Rikki can heat water up.

They use their powers to get out of tough situations. Rikki uses her heat powers to dry herself and her friends off after they accidentally turn into mermaids in a public area, and she scares sharks away from a swimmer in the water. Cleo and Emma both use their powers as a way to distract other people from finding out about their secret mermaid life and to prevent water from getting onto their skin at inopportune times. Their powers are essential to the storyline because, without them, the girls would have a much harder time staying safe from the water.

Revisiting “H2O: Just Add Water” as an adult is entertaining because of all of the petty drama and mermaid shenanigans that the girls get up to throughout the series. In the episode “Something Fishy,” Cleo competes against a girl named Miriam in the Miss Sea Queen Pageant, which is a beauty pageant where all of the costumes are based around sea creatures. Miriam is portrayed as a shallow, vain and manipulative teenage girl who every viewer wants to see fail.

And boy, do the girls make sure that Mariam falls flat. Earlier in the episode, Cleo’s little sister, Kim, finds Cleo’s diary and becomes convinced that Cleo is a mermaid. She devises a plan to expose Cleo in front of everyone during the pageant. The girls find out about Kim’s plan, so they manipulate her into believing that Miriam is actually the queen of the mermaids. So at the pageant, Kim hoses down all of the contestants.

Using her powers to divert the water away from herself, Cleo avoids getting soaked. When Miriam — the supposed queen of the mermaids — doesn’t transition into one, Cleo’s little sister realizes that she let her imagination get the best of her. The lengths that Cleo, Emma and Rikki go to protect their secret identities leads to outlandish and outrageously funny incidents just like the one mentioned. Every episode is chock-full of them.

I’m not the only adult who enjoys the magical nostalgia of “H2O: Just Add Water.” To see how many other mature viewers enjoy the show, just check out the reviews on Google. Reviewer Will Gavette wrote, “To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand H20 just add water. The humour is extremely subtle, and without a solid grasp of theoretical mermaidology most of the jokes will go over a typical viewer’s head. There’s also Cleo’s nihilistic outlook, which is deftly woven into her characterization.”

There are so many ways to enjoy the series, whether you’re still a kid, an adult who used to love the show or even if you’re an adult who has never seen the show before. The nostalgia isn’t just for people who have watched the series before; “H2O: Just Add Water” has strong, late 2000s vibes. From the outfits the girls wear to the way they act, everything is reminiscent of the shows that were popular during the time period.

So if you’re looking for a show that will help you travel back in time and explore the world of teenage mermaids, “H2O: Just Add Water” is the perfect series for you. Grab some popcorn, turn on Netflix and binge the first season. Trust me, you’ll be happy that you did. There’s no better way to escape from the stress of the real world than watching three mermaids glide through the ocean looking for adventure.

Emma Watts, University of Arizona

Writer Profile

Emma Watts

University of Arizona
English and Political Science

My name is Emma Watts and I go to school at the University of Arizona. My majors are political science and English, so I spend about 80% of my time writing and reading.

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