Why I love Avatar: The Last Airbender.
It's the Summer of Love—and we're loving these TV favorites. Read up on why our contributors picked these shows as their favorites in our series of love letters—an ode to the best of the best on Paramount+.
My biggest issue with sci-fi and fantasy is the obsession with plot. These writers spend the first third of a story arc building the most fascinating, interesting world. A government, a social system, a history, maybe a religion or two—and then the rest of the story is about the well-meaning teenager setting out to destroy it. The government always deserves it, of course, but I always wish, when reading, that I could have stepped into the story a few years earlier, or a few thousand miles away from the action. Sometimes I just want to sit in the other world for a while.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is, of course, about well-meaning teenagers overthrowing a tyrannical government, but my love for the show is less about plot and more about the vast, colorful world that surrounds it. In the midst of infiltrating the Fire Nation, the gang enrolls in public school and throws a house party for their repressed classmates. A perilous journey to the Northern Water Tribe is interrupted by an obsession with a fortune teller, and they demand advice on their future love lives.
My favorite episode, perhaps because it exists for no other reason than to paint layers over the characters’ lives, is “The Tales of Ba Sing Se.” This series of vignettes occupies the space in between the plot points, those slow days when no battles are being fought or roads traversed. Katara and Toph go to the spa, and we remember they are girls of middle school age with wants and insecurities outside their plotlines. We spend a few days in a poetry class with Sokka, and it’s comforting to know there’s a snooty art world even here, even as the world order shifts around the city. Iroh navigates the marketplace in preparation for his late son’s birthday, and the price of war narrows from the abstract to this one moment, this illustration of loss and grief, in a quiet moment on a hillside.
We’re all self-centered (or at least I am), and I always want to know what I would be doing in a fantasy land. What are all the college girls up to, the ones without singular powers and oversized destinies? Maybe I could be the fortune teller’s assistant with her maniacal crush; maybe I could be one of the struggling poets; maybe I’d be one of the catty girls at the spa gossiping about others’ makeup. Every place had its young women, and its noisy toddlers, and its elderly stoop sitters, and its showy teenagers—people you’d find in any world, real or imagined.
I always felt that if I could only peel back the screen from the TV and step inside, I could wander far from the action, far from the main characters, and never reach that place where the land dissolves into sketches, into storyboard. The world would unfold before me, endless, vivid, even as the heroes and the war and everything of importance faded behind me.
— Annabelle Davis
Want another Love Letter from our contributors? Try Love Letter: Chef’s Kiss.