Remember...?: Ocean Girl

Way before LOST was this thriller: a strange girl living alone in the Great Barrier Reef
January 04, 2008

Ocean Girl (broadcast as Ocean Odyssey in the UK) was one of the few reasons I look back on the mid-90s as the Golden Age of the Disney Channel (another reason we'll tackle next installment). It was an interesting take on such issues as friendship, morality, adolescent growth and environmental awareness, all in a setting that was as majestic yet dangerous as outer space, but grounded in familiar locales seen through new eyes.

Jason and Brett Bates are two brothers who have been forced to leave their lives on the Australian mainland to join their marine biologist mother on ORCA, a state-of-the-art undersea research center. While Brett enjoys the high-tech ambience and exotic locale, Jason regrets leaving his former life behind to live in a bubble. His new life takes a sudden turn, however, when assisting his mother to tag a local whale for study.

Out swimming in the middle of the ocean, with no means of support, is Neri, a young girl in tatters with some protective relationship over the whale the family is tracking. Before Jason can speak with her, she disappears. Sometime later, after Brett is accidentally set adrift in a small boat during a storm and lands on an island secretly inhabited by Neri. Brett devours some poisonous berries, but is cured by Neri who then sets his boat back out to sea to be found by ORCA personnel.

It's after meeting Neri a third time, freeing her from some illegal nets along the reef, that the boys are invited back to her island where they hear some of her story: Neri was raised on the island by her father, who later drowned, leaving her by herself. He had warned her to hide from humans, because they are "different." Neri shares a special mental bond with "Charlie," the whale the boys' mother has been studying; in addition Neri can hold her breathe for an exceptionally long time and is a naturally gifted swimmer. Jason and Brett agree to protect Charlie as well as Neri's secret existence, which proves to be a significant problem.

In later episodes, the rival organization UBRI is introduced, a far more sinsister and underhanded group in their research practices, and quite interested in both Charlie and Neri, once they learn of her existence. Neri's origins are also made further enigmatic by evidence of unfamiliar artifacts and structures hidden throughout her island. I'd say more about the surprises this show had, but it would ruin a lot of the fun :)
One of the reasons I enjoyed watching this show so much was because of how well-paced and laid out it was. Each week had a short-term problem for the group to tackle, some immediate danger (usually mortal), compounded by the isolation of the environment. At the same time, each episode added a little bit to a larger plot running throughout the season.

Another important element was the wealth of characters on the show. Neri (played to perfection by Polish actress Marzena Godecki) was of course the main draw for the show, playing an alienated but curious young girl, whose emotional innocence was often a moral compass in times of crisis. But there was also an entire community of people living in ORCA and the other actors made this concept work, with numerous other relationships and misadventures going on in the installation. A small debacle I remember was several of Brett's friends trying to hack the supply orders to get contraband chocolate. Unfortunately, the order gets a bit...fudged.

"How many did you order?"
"Only six bars..."
"This isn't six bars! You ordered six BOXES!"

Lastly, the unique setting of a scenic real-world location mixed with sci-fi sets gave the production a feeling of easy introduction, but also eliciting great emotion from the beauty and grandeur of the untouched (while Neri saw to it) ocean.

Ocean Girl ran for four seasons, two of which aired here in the U.S. If you enjoy shows with suspense, mystery, intricate relationships, and occasional lighthearted fun, check out Ocean Girl at the following link:

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