Arts & Entertainment

Where the new ‘Avatar’ show succeeds and fails

The Netflix remake falls short on storyline execution and acting performance but wins over viewers with world building skills.

It’s here. Netflix’s new “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series, which recounts the original 2005 Nickelodeon show, has arrived on the streaming platform. And people have mixed opinions about it, although the series details the same events as the original show.  

A young boy named Aang and his friends work together to restore world peace and help him reach his full potential as the “Avatar,” wielder of all four elements. Aang, played by Gordan Comier, is the last airbender, must overcome his fears and learn to work with his newfound powers. With the help of friends Katara, played by actress and singer Kiawentiio Tarbell, and Sokka, played by actor Ian Ousley, Aang and his friends journey alongside one another to help fight off the imperial Fire Nation.  

The Netflix series has done a great job with casting and bringing the four nations to life. Comier does a great job at fitting the young and innocent, often silly boy who is destined to bring world peace. Aang is a prominent staple of the show and is central to making this story believable. They succeeded in solidifying a young star actor who could live up to the high expectations of a beloved personality like Aang without compromising the performance.  

Where the series falls flat is in the mid-tempo acting that rarely conveys the emotion and struggle that these characters face in their challenges. Katara, who is a young, bright and bubbly character, helps support Aang with his fears and anxieties of failing everyone. She wants to keep her people safe while finding her place in the world as a water bender. Unfortunately, the actress playing her doesn’t even come close to portraying the weighted, intense appeal in moments where Katara is supposed to shine the brightest. The emotional, heartfelt acting fell short several times when Katara is essential to reflecting the serious danger of their journey.  

This issue is only exacerbated by fast cut editing which skips over several transitions between important scenes. In one scene where the Fire Nation is temporarily defeated by Aang’s sudden “Avatar” transformation, we skip right to the conclusion where everyone is safe and sound. No reaction or commentary on what just happened, unlike the original show where we do see this. 

Instead, they expect everyone to catch up to speed and with no reaction to what just occurred. The show’s lack of attention to the story is highlighted exponentially in times where they skip over significant plot point reactions. Moments where we are supposed to breathe and reflect on what just happened are often rushed through to get to the next plot point.  

Still, there is no denying that the physical world building of the show is parallel to none. The sites and setting locations truly reflect the visual world that the original show encompasses. “Avatar” is clearly heavily influenced by Asian cultural ties whether it be Japanese style temples and Chinese-inspired décor, as well as Native-inspired clothing and craftsmanship. The show truly embodies the Four Nations’ world of diversity and cultural appreciation through the artwork and decoration.  

In one scene where one of the main characters Zuko, played by actor played by Dallas Liu, walks through a Fire Nation market, we see a heavily inspired East Asian market setting: Rows of bamboo rooftops covering several different vendors selling Asian food items, clothing and utensils. Extremely reminiscent of places like Vietnam or Thailand, the setting felt authentic and unique to the storyline of cultural diversity.  

I think one of the best reasons to watch the show is its strong ties to Asian representation. Nearly all the cast is Asian or of Asian descendent. It’s clear that the creators truly wanted to represent the strong Asian cultural ties this story has. If you were considering tuning in to this show, I’d say it’s worth the watch despite its discrepancies. 

You can stream the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series on Netflix right now with a Netflix subscription.  

Featured Image, Photo of main cast. Photo Distributed by Netflix.