REVIEW: Avatar: The Last Airbender – Season 1 (2024)

Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is my favorite TV series. I love plenty of others, like Gargoyles and Batman: The Animated SeriesPenny Dreadful would have made the list were it not for its third and final season. But Avatar has original characters that have become iconic in less than twenty years, stunning worldbuilding that Star Wars could learn from, a fascinating magic system, and moving things to say about spirituality, destiny, and basic human empathy. Much like Gargoyles and Batman, I didn’t see Avatar when it was new. I wasn’t alive when Batman aired; I only say this to emphasize that I don’t have nostalgia” for Avatar. I saw it as an adult and was blown away by its sophistication and how well-thought-out everything was. I tried to be open-minded when (another) live-action remake was announced, but it was a hard sell. When original Avatar creators Bryan Koneitzko and Michael Dante DiMartino dropped out of the project, hope was lost. And honestly, if something I love has to be redone, Netflix wouldn’t be my first choice to handle it. All I’ve seen is ire for this show, that it’s an insult to the original that completely misses the point. Honestly, I was delighted to hear this; it reinforced my “Avatar can’t be remade” mindset. I’m moving and had other, better things to worry about, so it’s taken me nearly a week to watch the season, but here we are. Time to dig in (earthbend?) and find out once and for all if Avatar can be recreated in live-action.

I’m not writing a synopsis of this show. I know it, you know it, and I can’t say it better than (animated) Katara: 

“Water. Earth. Fire. Air. My grandmother used to tell me stories about the old days, a time of peace when the Avatar kept balance between the Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads. But that all changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar mastered all four elements. Only he could stop the ruthless firebenders. But when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years have passed and the Fire Nation is nearing victory in the War. Two years ago, my father and the men of my tribe journeyed to the Earth Kingdom to help fight against the Fire Nation, leaving me and my brother to look after our tribe. Some people believe that the Avatar was never reborn into the Air Nomads, and that the cycle is broken. But I haven’t lost hope. I still believe that somehow, the Avatar will return to save the world.”

Avatar Review

Much of the hype (fear?) surrounding this show has concerned the casting, so let’s take a look at that first. Returning voice actors from Avatar and Legend of Korra include Daniel Dae Kim, who played General Fong (ATLA) and Asami’s father, Hiroshi (LOK). Here, he plays Firelord Ozai in place of Mark Hamill, who I imagine won’t be in this remake. George Takei voiced the warden on the prison rig in “Imprisoned” on the original show, and he voices Koh, the face-stealer, here. James Sie returns to reprise his role as the cabbage merchant. I have to give kudos here; I appreciate it whenever they get the original performer back, and he’s HILARIOUS in this. I love the way Cabbage Man is used in this version, full stop. Actors of note include Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (The MandalorianKim’s Convenience) as Uncle Iroh, Irene Bedard (Pocahontas) as Yagoda, and Amber Midthunder (LegionPrey) as Princess Yue. Gordon Cormier stars as Aang alongside Kiawentiio Tarbell and Ian Ousley as Katara and Sokka, respectively. Ken Leung plays Admiral Zhao, and Elizabeth Yu, Thalia Tran, and Momona Tamada appear as Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee. Dallas Liu portrays Zuko. For the most part, I have to commend the casting. It goes without saying that this is leagues above M. Night Shyamalan’s embarrassment in terms of casting and CGI. I still feel Sokka and Katara are too pale; I’m picky and a perfectionist. I can’t help it. 

Avatar Review

As for the performances themselves, they range from serviceable to pretty good. The standouts are Dallas Liu as Zuko, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Uncle Iroh, and Ian Ousley as Sokka. I’m not thrilled with Sokka’s characterization in this series (I’ll get back to this), but Ousley’s comedic timing is impeccable, and I don’t find fault in his performance of what material he was given. Aang may be the main character, and I love him, don’t get me wrong. But Netflix must have gone into this knowing that you can’t mess up Zuko and Uncle; that would be the #1 way to lose your audience before you even start. Dev Patel was one of the only forgivable performances in the last live-action adaptation, but I’m still wincing from Uncle’s silly lines about cake. The relationship between these two characters is relatively intact here. I would have liked more outward emotion from Uncle and to see Zuko lash out more; he’s more passive-aggressive here, which doesn’t feel right. But I like the actors for the parts, and their performances are generally good. 

Avatar Review

I believe most of the acting problems I have come from the writing. Sokka gets nerfed in this series big time. I was already concerned when they mentioned removing his sexism, and that’s a problem, too. But they also remove most of his relevant skills and conclude that he “doesn’t have to be a warrior to be a hero.” But he was a proud warrior and a skilled strategist in the cartoon! He had things to work through, like lightening up and seeing women’s value on the battlefield. But he was a strong, formidable character who made up for his lack of bending in many valuable ways. I hate to say this, but I worry that they did this to avoid having too many badass male characters in this or something. I associate Zuko more with having to hone his fighting skills. Sokka didn’t start out as the warrior he became, but he was always capable and willing. They did your boy dirty here. This also factors into Sokka’s relationship with Suki, as she’s the pursuer and makes every decision in the episode she appears in, “Warriors.” They also gave her an overbearing mother character for some reason. It’s not that interesting and doesn’t tie into anything. I would describe Katara and Aang in this version as muted. Their primary traits are filed down (Katara) or just gone (Aang). Katara isn’t nearly as emotional in this version, and in their obsession with removing “sexism,” Katara is also no longer motherly towards the other characters. I found this cheap and cowardly, and it gave me a new appreciation for Katara. She’s my least favorite main character in Avatar: The Last Airbender, but seeing her void of most of the traits that compose her character, I have to admit she was at least very well-written and well-rounded in the original. As for Aang, they remove his major character flaw from Book 1 by making him eager to fulfill his destiny. The character struggled with this for most of the show, but it’s just not a thing here. And he’s way too serious. Where is the goofy, immature little boy who asked Katara, “Will you go penguin sledding with me?”

Avatar Review

Events are told out of order in this show, as compared to the original. Locations and characters that shouldn’t factor in until Book 2 or 3 are nonetheless included here. Examples of this include Wan Shi Tong, who’s in the Spirit World for some reason. Nothing about this can compare to his appearance in “The Library” in the original show. Likewise, Jet and the Mechanist appear in the same episode and in Omashu, of all places. So Jet isn’t out in the woods with his freedom fighters, and the Mechanist’s people haven’t repurposed the Northern Air Temple. I really wonder how this will impact the show going forward.

Avatar Review

There’s also less subtlety in the script than there was in the animated version. This is odd, considering they seem to have aimed at making the characters more subtle, albeit not in good ways. I say this because Katara says “The Legend of Aang” (and I cringe), and characters give long speeches at the end of some episodes to summarize them. We understand the moral of the story without this; it’s not needed. They also show the genocide of the Airbenders, which isn’t needed and is just gratuitous. I get that this was to appeal to Game of Thrones fans, but it doesn’t belong in Avatar.

Avatar Review

I’d like to talk about some good things the new Avatar does. They use some of the same themes as the animated show, such as the background music for the end credits and the Avatar theme. This was a good decision and makes some scenes very satisfying. The costuming, wigs, etc. are also much better than the movie. The bending and other effects are a big improvement as well, though they still look less cinematic than in the animated series. The scenes in red or gray scale in the North come to mind; this was striking in animation, and doesn’t have the same punch in live-action. It doesn’t shock and grab your attention in the same way.

Avatar Review

Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is an odd bird. It’s considerably better than M. Night Shyamalan’s movie, but as expected, can’t hold a candle to the animated original. There are some fun callbacks to the Fog of Lost Souls from Legend of Korra and the Mother of Faces from the comics. I’ll admit this much: I couldn’t help but smile in the finale when Uncle said, “A man needs his rest.” This line is spoken by him in the original series both in the pilot episode and the Book 1 finale. I also liked how Zuko and Zhao’s fight in the finale harkened back to their Agni Kai in the animated series. I don’t hate this show, but I don’t love it, either. They clearly tried to pay homage to a great show, but they got some crucial elements wrong. You can’t recreate lightning in a bottle.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Season 1 (2024)

Plot - 6
Acting - 8
Progression - 6
Production Design - 8
Action - 7



Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is considerably better than M. Night Shyamalan’s movie, but as expected, can’t hold a candle to the animated original.

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