This document is part of the Ocean Girl Archive — Last update: 2009-08-14 — sourcemeta

Author:John J. O’Connor (The New York Times)

Television Review

Civilization Discovers A Wild Child of the Sea

Chalk up another coup for the less-is-more brigades. While NBC’s overproduced “Seaquest DSV” lumbers along with top-heavy sets and lightweight scripts, a relatively modest series called “Ocean Girl” covers similar territory and ideas far more imaginatively. The series was made in Australia, off the Great Barrier Reef, and begins a 13-week run on the Disney Channel tonight.

The girl of the title is Neri (Marzena Godecki), who lives on a tree branch on a deserted island. Not only can Neri swim to extraordinary depths at extraordinary speed, but she can also communicate telepathically with a 40-ton humpback whale she calls Charley. Neri’s spiritual family obviously includes Tarzan, who could chat up elephants, Francois Truffaut’s wild child and, in her aquatic mode, Esther Williams.

Enter the Bates family. Dr. Dianne Bates (Kerry Armstrong), recently divorced, is a marine biologist recruited to work on ORCA, an underwater research colony not far from Neri’s island. She is accompanied by her two sons, the teen-ager Jason (David Hoflin) and the pre-teen Brett (Jeffrey Walker). Dianne is studying the brain patterns of humpback whales and will, of course, zero in on Charley. Her sons, of course, will eventually make contact with Neri, and all these lives will be changed forever.

Created and produced by Jonathan M. Shiff, “Ocean Girl” does not fret about special effects and fancy costumes. The underwater ORCA station is a low-budget, low-tech environment, its biggest gimmick being a computer named Helen. The futuristic aspects are somewhat casual. “Who knows?” someone asks. “One day people might live in places like this permanently.”

“Ocean Girl” is clearly more interested in protecting Neri and the entire environment from corporate polluters and land developers. And then there’s the question of Neri’s very existence and whether so special a creature should be turned over to science for dissection. These various themes are easily worked into a framework that includes tropical storms and innumerable narrow escapes. The series is, after all, billed as “a fantasy adventure.”

All right, where did this lovely nature girl learn English, even if it is standard Johnny Weissmuller (“I go wet. If I stay away from water too long I feel bad.”)? Forget the niggling questions. “Ocean Girl,” not to mention Miss Godecki, is charming. Little wonder the smitten Jason swears, “I’m not leaving until I find her, even if I have to stay here for the rest of my life.” Well, maybe 13 episodes. OCEAN GIRL Disney Channel, tonight at 7:30 Created and produced by Jonathan M. Shiff; premiere written by Peter Hepworth and directed by Mark DeFriest; music by Garry McDonald and Laurie Stone; Craig Barden, director of photography; Tracy Watt, production designer; Mr. Hepworth, story editor. Produced in association with Network 10 Australia, Beyond Distribution and Tele Images/ITI. Mr. Shif and Jennifer Clevers, executive producers. With: Marzena Godecki (Neri), Kerry Armstrong (Dr. Dianne Bates), David Hoflin (Jason Bates), Jeffrey Walker (Brett Bates) and Alex Pinder (Dr. Winston Seth).