The Monday Review- the Avatar TV Series

Ok, you’re looking at this and you’re thinking: “The Avatar TV series, wasn’t that like a kids show from a million years ago? What a weird thing to be talking about…”

Well, you answer your quesiton: Yes, it was (nominally) a kids’ show and yes it has been off the air for a few years. But now, thanks to the wonders of Netflix Watch Instantly, the whole series is available online with the click of your mouse.

I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender for the first time almost exactly a year ago. My sister had bought the DVDs for my nephew and ended up watching them with him because the show was so, so good. She told me to try it myself, and I put it off and put it off and put it off. Not because I didn’t believe her but because I thought I had to be in just the right mood to watch a kids’ show.

Then, I broke up with my boyfriend of six years on Halloween morning. I was in a black despair. I didn’t know how I could make it through the day without devolving into some kind of wailing madwoman. So, I crawled upstairs to the couch in my place, and I turned on my laptop for something to watch, something that wouldn’t be too emotional or violent or anything that might set off my emotional timebomb. And there was Avatar in my queue.

I started watching the first season and I couldn’t stop. For the rest of that weekend I didn’t do anything else but watch Avatar and let it sooth the raw places in my soul.

Ok, so why is Avatar so awesome?

Let’s do a top-five list, because I like lists.

You should watch Avatar:
1. For the multicultural cast.

Yes, it’s a cartoon show, but it is very clear from the way the characters are drawn and colored that this is not a pack of little white children running around and saving the world. And I’m all about promoting diversity in children’s entertainment. (Which is why the white-washed casting of the movie was SO upsetting…anyway!)

2. The non-Western World View
The show is very obviously based on the Chinese, Japanese and other Asian cultures, and Aang, the main character’s, philosophies on life are based on the Buddhist and Taoist traditions (such as his vegetarianism. Isn’t that awesome? A boy vegetarian on a kids show!) I can’t tell you enough how great it was to watch a fantasy show that wasn’t just regurgitating the old tried and true Western medieval setting. And one that didn’t have the bad guy just magically fall to his death offscreen. The show actually has Aang wrestle with the dilemma of whether he should kill to save the greater good or not. Pretty heavy stuff but it’s handled with delicacy and without feeling preachy or like a cop-out.

3. For Uncle Iroh
Now, there are a lot of great characters on this show. They all are unique and interesting, and they feel very “real” and well-motivated. Much more than you might expect on a kids’ show.  But Uncle Iroh stands out. He’s both the comic relief and the moral center of the show, and one of the scenes between him and his nephew Zuko actually got me a bit verklempt, I have to say. He’s great character, not just for a cartoon show, but for any show.

4. The Story
Yes, it’s a riff on the old tried and true “The Chosen One Must Save the Day” but there are some really interesting twists and turns along the way, and the characters all actually arc and grow, and how many kids’ show (or even adult shows) can you really say that about, hmm?

5. Prince Zuko
He’s tortured. He’s angsty. He’s honorable. And, in the end, Avatar: The Last Airbender is a show as much about his arc as Aang’s. I love Zuko to bits. He’s so lost and confused, but he still tries to do what he thinks is right. Even when it is horribly, horribly wrong. He’s all kinds of awesome and I just can’t squee about him enough.

Ok, are you convinced you should watch this show yet? Because you should. You really, really should. 🙂

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