Tired of re-watching The Office over and over again? Looking for a new show to binge watch?
Avatar: The Last Airbender landed on the service in the US on Netflix now.
I am really a big fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender and let’s check why this Nickelodeon show, originally for kids, is actually one of the great American TV shows of our time.
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7 Reasons why I recommend it:
1. The Writing is Just Good
I’m consistently impressed by just how bad writing from “professionals” can be (cough, Game of Thrones, cough). Nothing is more depressing than a show with great effects, music, acting, animation, and more that just falls short due to terrible writing, plot holes, or more. The variety in episodes still impresses me today, at time it’s action packed, other times a comedy, other times a political drama, even a horror show for a while, and all of it feels organic.
The Last Airbender is just consistently well-written from just about every aspect. It was a kid’s show, so occasionally you get a childish fart joke or two, but it’s rare (by my count, 90% of episodes had no immature content). The show can be compared to a lot of recent dystopian young adult fiction, but it generally does a better job. The dystopia they live in makes sense and lacks plot holes.
2. Great Use of Foreign Cultures
Avatar is an American show, but it borrows heavily from Asian cultures, and is clearly influenced by Japanese anime and Chinese kung-fu films. The art makes great use of Asian themes and styles while mixing them with the Western style animation. Many character names are from foreign languages (Yue really does mean “moon” in Mandarin).
The mix of so many different cultures makes the show a melting pot, and truly worthy of being called one of the USA’s best TV shows.
3. Themes That Are Worth Watching
If you see this is a kid’s show, you are probably worried that as an adult the themes will seem, well, childish. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. The background of the show is a war, and you constantly face complex questions coming from that war. Concepts such as racism, corruption in government, the ends-justifying-the-means, and more all stem naturally from the ongoing conflict and are explored in detail. Characters betray each other and consider changing sides, and it’s always believable.
4. Not Too Long, Not Too Short
One thing that is great about Avatar (and not so great about a lot of anime) is the lack of filler episodes. To be clear, there are some, but they are compelling stories told quickly that contribute to characterization, rather than just padding for time. Each arch introduces new themes and avoids retreading on established ground.
The show leaves you wanting more while still having explored everything in good detail, and leaves just enough mysteries unsolved to get your curiosity going.
5. Strong Female Characters
Katara, Toph, and Azula may be the best female characters of recent years. Their quality of writing just crushes the quality in a lot of recent Hollywood films. Issues like sibling rivalries, disabilities, and more can easily by understood by someone of any gender. The show also tackles gender issues too, the episode on Kyoshi Island gives a tale of overcoming sexism that is completely accessible even to young kids. They aren’t just strong literally in the sense of “powerful”, they are actually well written, with complex motivations. All seasons of the show pass the Bechdel test!
The sequel’s lead, Korra, succeeded so much, even among young boys, it actually changed how studios approached female action leads.
6. Compelling Villains
Ever since Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight, people have realized how villains are often more important than heroes. Avatar’s villains put together an all star cast of voice actors with compelling storylines. Rather than being evil just for the sake of being evil, they have actual motivations. We can see how and why these people would consider themselves to be good guys. While the Fire Nation is generally the evil nation, you get villains from everywhere.
The line between a hero and a bad guy is blurred, with characters changing sides in believable ways throughout the show. Very few adult dramas are able to tackle the moral grey areas involved in war so well.
7. Great Sequels and A Great Fan Base
Gosh it’s nice to describe a group of fans in a positive way for a change. Avatar is always positive, with consistently nice fans who come together just to enjoy the show.
The sequel’s first season is rushed, however it later becomes a better and overall strong show. The sequels manage to introduce enough new things while keeping enough the same, and explore some tough themes well (in a kid’s show!), including LGBT issues, industrialization and pollution, cults, and dealing with the fall out of a 100 year long war.
Please don’t watch the feature film though, most people choose to pretend it never happened.
These are my 7 reasons. Avatar is on Netflix now. One of the best iterations of the classic chosen-one story, it is worth watching and re-watching, and deserves to be viewed as one of the best American contributions to TV or film. Give this good show on Netflix a chance today.