There is a truth in the nerd world that lives as a secret to the wider society outside our bubble: Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Not one of the greatest cartoons, but one of the greatest TV shows period. And while its greatness is commonly accepted by anyone who has seen it, the chasm exists for those who see a “kids show,” hung up on its medium of animation. Medium-based stereotypes are powerful agents to the uninitiated… “but we are initiated, aren’t we, Bruce?” We know that simple truth, that Aang on his reluctant journey to battle Fire Lord Ozai is one of the most thoughtful, intense, funny, and iconic adventures you could ever hope for. Yet, you know someone who hasn’t seen it.
We all have that friend. It’s not our fault that they haven’t met Toph, better at Earth bending than Michael Jordan was good at basketball. They don’t deserve our scorn for not knowing Zuko and Azula. They think they know heartbreak? What they know about their lover turning into the moon? We want them to know, because we love them and want the best for them. And there has never been a better day to spread that gospel since Avatar: The Last Airbender ended July 19th, 2008. This is our time. This is our moment. If you need to get hype on its action and animation before talking to your friend, see this anime music video featuring Toph, one of the best hip-hop AMVs on the internet.
First — and this is important — I encourage you to know your friend. Different people choose their media for different reasons, so it’s rarely enough that they would watch it because you call it “good.” If “good” had been enough they would have been initiated already. Consider what speaks to your friend, really think about it, and choose your approach accordingly. Here are a few common motivations for how a viewer picks their shows.
Adherence to Authority
“Authority” in this context means professional critics, people like me who voraciously consume unreal amounts of media so you don’t have to. Our opinions go in articles and online posts and social media feeds, and while it means wading through a lot of sewer water, it often means we have a thoughtful understanding of what might be worth someone’s time and what’s not. And for better or worse, many people’s media choices live and die by critic consensus. They browse Rotten Tomatoes or their favorite media site, magazine, or review show and they decide based on the critics they trust. If this is your friend, let this be known: Avatar: The Last Airbender, to this freaking day, has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Yes, even after all this time, literally no approved critic has disliked it. Not a single recorded one.
Ease of Access
For a long time, Avatar: The Last Airbender was a tough one to find. It aired on cable prior to ubiquitous streaming options when appointment television was the norm, and on a children’s network to boot. Even its follow-up series The Legend of Korra (also 100% worth watching, but choose one battle at a time; win Avatar first before even mentioning Korra; this is often our mistake) had trouble reaching fans who were already bought in, toggling between cable and online streaming on its own platform. Today though, the barrier is gone as Netflix subscriptions are as common as the household microwave, even more common than the recent past given a spike in subscriptions during a global pandemic where media consumers are trapped inside. In its entire history, this is the easiest it’s ever been to watch Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph.
While Avatar’s moment for fear-of-missing-out was first in the early 2000s, this is its revival. And it may be better than the first. Avatar: The Last Airbender is almost certain to trend, flooding social media feeds with articles and memes about how families bonded over its franchise and how the characters it produced might be the greatest fighters of all time. It might crack the Top 10 in Netflix, edging out newer productions by Netflix itself like the Chris Hemsworth-led must-see action-thriller Extraction and Never Have I Ever. If they miss out on this moment, they may never get catch this series at such a fever pitch again.
Just Needing the Time
Well, there’s no better time. We’re in a global pandemic, Netflix subscriptions are at an all-time high, and if you’re being responsible, you’re not going out much. Actually, emotionally, Avatar: The Last Airbender couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s a hopeful message and grand adventure to inspire and entertain in this dark hour of this tragic timeline. We need this. And your friend needs this. Let’s make sure they get it.