By Proma Khosla, Daily Arts Writer
Published July 2, 2012
If every TV writer took notes from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and its new spinoff “The Legend of Korra,” the world would be a better place. It’s been four years since the flawless AtLA series finale aired on Nickelodeon, and in the interim creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have been hard at work tantalizing fans with whispers of a new series. Expectations for “Korra” were through the roof by the April 14 premiere, and by the season finale last week, the show proved every bit as epic and calculated as its predecessor.
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“Korra” showcases superb evolution by the creators of the AtLA universe. Republic City is modern, complete with tall buildings and early 20th century cars, but it’s still clearly part of the spiritual world introduced in the original series. The rise of pro-bending is the perfect illustration of life in the elemental nations during peacetime; bending becomes a sport instead of just a tool for survival and combat. Even the weekly episode recap — with black-and-white animation and narration that sounds like an auctioneer in the ’50s — is a decidedly modern (and charming) innovation.
Perhaps DiMartino and Konietzko are aware of the resonance their series had with audiences across age demographics. In “Korra,” the characters are older, the moral dilemmas greater and the political allusions more overt. Amon, (Steve Blum, “Lilo & Stitch”) like many a madman of historical significance, wants to “cleanse the impurity” of his society. Of course this is senseless; different kinds of people should be able to coexist. Yet there are moments in the show — such as councilman Tarrlok (Dee Bradley Baker, “Adventure Time”) arresting innocent protesters — when benders abuse their power and you see a shadow of Amon’s point.
Similar to AtLA, almost every single character on “Korra” is complex and absurdly likable. Most notably: Lin Beifong (Mindy Sterling, “iCarly”), chief of Republic City’s metalbending police force. Like her mother Toph (Kate Higgins, “Naruto: Shippuden”), Lin likes to stay emotionally uninvolved — but when she cares, she will risk everything in her power to do the right thing. At first, she opposes the Avatar, seeing Korra (Janet Varney, “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer”) as an entitled hothead, but takes her side in the fight against Amon. Her heroic deeds in the penultimate episode are more poignant than most primetime dramas — between that and the fact that Zuko’s grandson is called General Iroh (and both are voiced by Dante Basco, “The Debut”), you may just tearbend.
The characters of the original series make appearances, but only where appropriate. An elderly Katara (Eva Marie Saint, “North by Northwest”) sends Korra off as she embarks for Republic City from the Southern Water Tribe. Aang (D.B. Sweeney, “The Event”), Sokka and Toph appear in flashbacks as seen by Korra while she meditates — it’s a pretty awesome way of making us forget that they’re dead. There are also a few ingenious nods to AtLA, like “Flameo Instant Noodles” and the fantastic organization known as CabbageCorp.
If there’s one complaint to be made about “Korra,” it’s that the show had to be a miniseries. Ten episodes in a season isn’t enough for the kind of undetectable and masterful character development in AtLA. Asami’s (Seychelle Gabriel, “Falling Skies”) transformation from I-want-to-hate-her-but-she-has-no-flaws to pouty girlfriend is not only abrupt, but mildly disappointing; after introducing a bad-ass non-bender with brains and beauty, reducing her to stock jealous female is unfair to the character and the audience.
The same can be said of councilman Tarrlok, whose role demands total reevaluation after the backstory revealed in the finale. The rushed storytelling can be forgiven in his case, if only because the flashback was so utterly riveting.