Friday, October 17, 2014

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Storytelling done right)

Honestly, everyone should just be amazed it took me this long to cave and make a post about this TV show. Avatar: The Last Airbender is by far one of my favorite, possibly my most favorite, television series. There are a lot of things that make this show incredible, but I believe that by far it's strongest quality is it's impeccable storytelling.

If you have never seen this show (which oh my god I know I always tell people to watch things in these posts, but I have never been more serious when I say you need to watch this show) I could waste my time trying to summarize the basic plot, but why do that when you can just watch the show's intro which will explain everything for you in 45 seconds.

So now that everyone has a least some idea of what I'm about to discuss we shall forge on! 

This show is incredibly complex and nuanced for a children's show. It explores themes that most children's programing wouldn't dare touch including but not limited to: sexism, racism, genocide, war, death, murder, religion, environmental awareness, family disfunction,  domestic abuse, disability and many other "adult" themes. 

It is because of the extreme care the shows creators took with the storytelling that they were able to address these themes in a show that is targeted for such a young audience.

Firstly the show's characters are in no way one demential. Most children's shows, and let's face it, many adult shows, have archetypical characters with cliched problems who never develop throughout the show's run. The characters in Avatar, have complex problems and personalities that do not feel contrived or cliched. They grow and evolve through each episode and learn from past failures and events.

Even the shows villains are fleshed out. We understand and learn as much about the villains of the story as we do the heroes. We sometimes find ourselves sympathizing with the villains even more than the heroes. This is something particularly unusual for a children's show, as usually characters are defined as either good or evil, and good always triumphs over evil. In this show the heroes frequently are defeated by villains. It is in these defeats that we are most able to feel for our heroes and connect with their struggle. 

As in most television shows there are some episodes that can be considered "filler", or an episode in which not much is done to advance the plot but instead to simply fill up time because they creators of said show signed a contract with the TV station to make a certain number of episodes. However, unlike most shows the "filler" episodes in Avatar never feel like a waste of time. While not much is being done to advance the plot, these episodes serve to explore and deepen our understanding of the characters and their struggles.

Another unfortunate reality of many TV shows is that they go on for too long. There are too many seasons of the show, because it is popular and making the station money, and they story eventually gets lost as it continues to droll on and on and the writers must continually come up with new problems for the characters to face. This is a problem that Avatar does not have. When the creators of the show pitched their idea to Nickelodeon they already had the entire story planned beginning, middle, and end. Even when they were offered more seasons, the creators refused because they did not want to jeopardize the telling of the story. In result, the story is exactly as long as it needs to be. It does not drag to a point where you lose interest in the characters. I have massive respect for the writers for turning down a potential to make more money in favor of telling the best story possible. It really paid off.

In conclusion, Avatar: The Last Airbender is really a masterpiece of storytelling and everyone should take the time to watch the show at least once. Don't let the fact that it is a children's show stop you, because as I mentioned earlier it deals with adult themes and in no way talks down to it's audience. It is something that people of all ages can enjoy.

I would like to end by linking to a really interesting documentary about the making of Avatar: The Last Airbender. If you are a fan of the show you will definitely find it interesting!

No comments: