The show “Avatar: The Last Airbender” recently celebrated its tenth anniversary and because of this I feel like it’s time to look back at what some consider the pinnacle of childrens television.
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” was a show on Nickelodeon that lasted for three seasons. It was a massive success and managed to reach both adults and children. It was a nice story with likable characters that weren’t just one dimensional stereotypes. The show follows the adventures of Aang, a 12 year boy who can control water, fire, earth and air.
Aang and his friends Katara, Sokka and Toph must defeat the Fire Lord before he destroys the world. While this summary makes the show sound like a cliched battle between good and evil, Avatar has more nuance than most other children’s TV shows.
The two sides are not strictly black and white, and all characters are portrayed in shades of grey. For example, the character Zuko is portrayed as the main villain of the show in the first episode. However, as the show progresses we learn about Zuko’s past, and he gradually becomes more and more relatable. You can even find yourself rooting for Zuko despite his quest to capture the Avatar.
The mix between child and adult themes truly becomes apparent with the show’s humor. Most kids’ shows like to use “adult” humor by making subtle nods to sex or other adult activities, but “Avatar” doesn’t do that. While there are jokes that appeal to young children, adults can enjoy the intricacies of the stories, and the characters are written well enough for adults to enjoy the show despite some of the more childish jokes.
“Avatar” also has many cultural influences. From Imperial Japan to Inuit villages, “Avatar” represents many cultures, represents them all.
Fortunately, “Avatar” isn’t the only good kids show out there. There are many kids shows that are mature and well written, from older shows like The Batman Animated Series to relatively newer shows like Adventure Time.
Children’s TV shows writers should learn from the legacy that “Avatar” left behind. Children’s shows don’t have to be mindless toilet humor. Shows like “Avatar”, “Adventure Time” and “The Regular Show” all show how good children’s TV can be. Adult shows like “Game of Thrones”, “Breaking Bad” and “Hannibal” are all excellently written and acted. Kids shows don’t have to be different.
While I’ve pointed out many good children’s TV shows, they are the exception to the rule. Most kids shows aren’t funny or interesting at watchers. However, these shows don’t have to be uninteresting. It seems like the term “kid friendly” is synonymous with “low quality” these days and that’s a shame. For every “Avatar: The Last Airbender” there are two “Madagascar” TV spinoffs.
Children’s TV has potential to be excellent and it’s a shame to see that potential wasted. Kids don’t deserve bad TV, they deserve shows that are just as intelligent and nuanced as adult television.