After Katara and her brother Sokka extract young Aang from his hibernation inside an iceberg, they discover he’s the new Avatar: the only being who possesses the air-bending powers needed to defeat the predatory Fire Nation.
Uhhhh how have we not talked about this yet? Megan pimped out A:TLA’s sequel, Legend of Korra, and I reviewed some A:TLA comics a while back (and then there was also that time that Megan only gave Zuko an HONORABLE MENTION for cartoon hotness WHAT?!). Strangely enough, we’ve never actually told you to go watch A:TLA. Bizarre.
Anyway, in the Avatar universe, there are four main races: Air Nomads, Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom, and Fire Nation. Within each group, certain individuals are benders—that is, they can manipulate the element associated with their people. One person—the avatar—can control all four elements, and it is her or his job to maintain peace and harmony across the four nations. The avatar is reincarnated, Dalai Lama style, within each nation, one generation at a time.
Before A:TLA begins, the new avatar is born into the Air Nomads. Unfortunately, this young Avatar, Aang, suddenly disappears for 100 years. Meanwhile, the Fire Nation, being genocidal fucks, kill all the remaining Air Nomads and attack the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes, while they’re at it. A century into the war, two Water Tribe teenagers discover Aang frozen in a block of ice. Together, they must figure out how to stop the Fire Nation and return balance to the world.
Familiar Voices Faces:
There are lots of famous voice actors involved in A:TLA, but you might also recognize a couple people’s faces, too.
Mae Whitman as Katara
Mae Whitman voices Katara, one of the two Water Tribe kids who finds Aang. She is alternately badass and insufferably preachy, and you will love her regardless of which mode she occupies.
Dante Basco as Prince Zuko
The real star, however, is Dante “Rufio” Basco. Basco voices Prince Zuko, the exiled Fire Nation prince who must find the avatar to regain his psychotic father’s approval. With Basco’s help, Zuko somehow transforms from least appealing character into your unbelievably attractive cartoon boyfriend over the course of three seasons. I’m not sure how he accomplishes this feat, but I suspect sorcery is involved.
Couch-Sharing Capability: Low initially, then really, really high
At first, A:TLA might be kind of difficult to get into. The show doesn’t really find its groove until the second half of the first season. It might be hard to convince yourself, let alone other people, to keep watching this.
But watch it you must, and force some like-minded friends to watch it, too. Because when you get to the arms-flailing, freaking-the-hell-out, action-packed moments of later seasons, you’re going to want someone on that couch with you.
Recommended Level of Inebriation: Low
There’s just no need for booze. A:TLA is perfection on its own. Why mess with perfection?
Use of Your Streaming Subscription: Invaluable
The format of our Netflix posts doesn’t adequately provide me the space in which to talk about how much I love this show, so I’ll just shove it all down here. If you are not already an Avatar fan, this is your new favorite show. Megan, a long-time fan and evangelist, introduced me to it. About a year ago, she started pushing it to the DC book club hard, saying, “You might not think that you would get really addicted to a kiddie cartoon, and YOU WOULD BE WRONG.” One by one, we each rolled into Teaism on Sunday afternoon and were like, “OMG AVATAAAARRRRR,” because seriously y’all, this show is so good.
While the basic premise and action are compelling, what really elevates this show to amazing status is the characterization. My favorite episodes are the weird, experimental ones that have nothing to do with the plot—notably, “Tales of Ba Sing Se” in the second season and “The Ember Islands Players” at the end of season three. This largely because they are so character-driven, revealing some of the more subtle motivations and nuances of the characters.
The best part of Avatar is the supporting cast. There’s Sokka, Katara’s brother and comic relief, always making jokes about meat. Aang’s air bison, Appa, and winged Lemur, Momo, fulfill the loyal pet quota. Toph doesn’t come about until the second season, but she is THE VERY BEST. And Zuko’s sister, Azula, is one of the most excellent and terrifying villains ever written.
And that’s just how she reacts to winning a volleyball game. You should see her try to pick up men.
But without a doubt, the best character in this OR ANY story is Prince Zuko’s genial, tea-loving Uncle Iroh, who can make you laugh, cry, and laugh again, all in the same breath. Mostly laugh, though:
Seriously though, you need this show in your life.