Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TV Tuesday: "Avatar: The Last Airbender"

For Television Tuesday’s first review I thought I’d start on a positive note. I highly recommend the Nickelodeon series Avatar The Last Airbender. It follows the story of a diverse group of children as they solve a major conflict in their world.

The main character (the Avatar) is a child whose station resembles that of the Dalai Lama. In this alternate world people are divided into four nations: earth, water, air, and fire. Within each nation are normal humans who possess no special powers and people who are able to manipulate the element for which their nation is named. The Avatar, while born an “airbender” must master each of the other elements in order to fulfill his office. Throughout the story, the audience encounters people from each nation and with many levels of ability.

Why do I think this is a good program?

  • First of all, each character is distinct and three-dimensional.
  • Second, all the main and secondary characters are well-developed and have to undergo some form of growth or transformation over the course of the story. The interactions between the characters are realistic in that they involve good morals and portray the process of conflict and responsible resolution.
  • Third, while the show does portray violence, it is shown within the context of a just conflict, is not graphic, and does involve real consequences. For example, one character bears a facial scar, which we later learn was received when the character was being assaulted years before.
  • Fourth, the line between the “good guys” and “bad guys” is distinct, although all the characters do have flaws and inner conflicts. And the “bad guys” are not bad simply as a matter of course. The series does ultimately explain how each group ended up the way they did.
  • Finally, while adult authorities do not occupy any of the primary roles in the show, they are present. They serve as guides to be respected and obeyed in many instances, but are also shown as flawed, eccentric, or even bad—just like the youthful characters are. In the cases in which adults are bad guys, subordinate children struggle with their desire to obey and please the adult authority and the desire to do the right thing. In cases where parents are overly protective, resentful children ultimately appreciate their parents’ intent. The Avatar, whose parents are not present, openly misses his parents, as do the children of a man who is serving in his nation’s military.

While each episode contains a complete story or half of a two part story, all of the episodes work together to create an overarching story that has depth and nuance. And while the stories and characters are complex, they are not vague. I recommend using each episode as the launching point for a conversation about the social or moral lessons portrayed therein. As the overall feeling and appearance of the show is inspired by Far Eastern cultures, it could be used as inspiration for exploring Chinese and Indian philosophies. The show is also complex enough to be enjoyed by many age groups, including adults.

Join us next week for another TV Tuesday!

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