Mermaids, criminals and cartoons: Netflix’s secret niche exclusives

The odds are pretty good that you, gentle reader, are not the target audience for Mako Mermaids: An H2O Adventure — it is a very specific sort of person, after all, who craves stories about teenage mermaids trying to fit in on land.
However, the Australian fantasy series now exclusively available to international audiences on Netflix (s NFLX) is worth considering for just that reason: As examples go of niche audiences discovering niche content, it’s hard to think of a better case study.
Mako Mermaids is a spin-off of the 2006-2010 series H2O: Just Add Water, which originally ran on Australia’s Network 10, but eventually spread via syndication around the world. It is also technically known as Secrets of Mako Island in Australia, where it originally premiered in 2012 (again, on Network 10) — making it the latest of Netflix’s exclusive content to be sourced from other platforms.
These acquisitions are lower-profile in their release as a rule than, say, Orange is the New Black or Arrested Development, but there are a surprising number of original niche-focused series poking up exclusively this year that have flown under the radar.
For example, take the series Bad Samaritans, which owes clear influence to cult comedy series like Happy Endings, Community and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The Fox Digital-produced (s NWS) story of misfits found a home on Netflix in March this year.
There’s also The Problem Solverz, which initially premiered under the name Neon Chrome in 2011 on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim (s TNT), before getting a more kid-friendly make-over. Solverz also launched in March 2013 on Netflix with the original 18 episodes, plus the unaired second season, which Netflix got the exclusive on.
A video game-influenced hypercolored cartoon with a voice cast familiar to animation fans, including John DiMaggio, George Takei, Mark Hamill and Alia Shawkat, the Netflix reviews range from wildly enthusiastic comments like:

Very underrated and under appreciated. Recommend to anyone with a sense of humor.

To the more negative feedback:

Rubbish. Complete rubbish. Flat, boring characters, humor that’s trying way too hard, eyeball-rupturing animation…

There’s very little middle ground on the show (so far there’s only one three-star review) — which I’d suggest is the very definition of niche content.
In the interest of science, I watched a few episodes of Mako Mermaids to see how it stacked up against Netflix’s other original series. And while it might not get nominated for any Emmys anytime soon, the show is very much of the Disney (s DIS) Channel aesthetic; plus, the Aussie accents are fun.
The plot is simple enough on the surface: Three teen girl mermaids make a mistake while guarding a magic mermaid pond that makes you a mermaid, and a teenage boy gets exposed to it, which means he turns into a mermaid the next day. The teen girl mermaids are then banished to the mainland to take away the boy’s mermaid powers, and learn to fit in among those with legs.
(The scene where young Zac wakes up to discover that he has a mermaid tail is pretty funny, to be honest.)
Reading the plot synopsis out loud might make you feel a bit silly, but the kids today probably would raise an eyebrow when you tried to explain, say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Meanwhile, it has an actively-GIFing Tumblr fandom, and is impressively serialized — the action from the first episode flows right into the second, speaking to the current standards of TV viewing expected by young audiences.
Ultimately, these series speak to the power of niche programming — which is where the real value of services like Netflix can found. Mermaids might not be for you, but there’s something for everybody in that vast ocean we like to call the internet.