Developing characters for a story can be challenging. Determining a character’s clothing choices, likes and dislikes, vernacular, and appearance and age is difficult enough, but there are still steps beyond these crucial details. A series should always try to balance the intrigue and personality of a character against the story that the series is trying to tell, and both pieces should naturally bring the best out of each other.
There is nothing like the true synergy of a character’s personality influencing the plot as the plot perfectly challenges the personality behind the character, creating a perpetual motion within the story. Yin and yang – perfectly balanced – and few shows do this as well as Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Avatar: The Last Airbender has some of the most meticulously crafted personalities in all of television. Not only is each character’s personality designed around their storylines, but also around their connection to an element of Water, Earth, Fire, or Wind, and in some cases, specifically designed around their lack of connection to one of the elements.
Let’s dive into some of these characters to learn just how effectively they were developed for this story.
Aang, the protagonist of the series, is the titular “Last Airbender.” He has the ability to “bend” air (which means he can move and control air through his movements. Waterbenders, Earthbenders, and Firebenders can each move their respective elements as well). Aang’s personality is light and fun – he’s adventurous and seeks out joy wherever he goes. On a base level, these traits line up with the concept of air quite well. Aang’s personality is breezy. He just wants to be free to live as he pleases, and he hopes for the same for others.
But the show takes Aang a step further and makes him a pacifist, which makes sense when associated with the element of air since air is the least tangible element. Air on its own cannot hurt you – if it were to harm you in some way it’d most likely be through an object that has been affected by air, and not the air itself. To double down on Aang’s pacifist ways, Aang is a child in the series: only 12-years-old. Children have a much more idyllic view of the world, and Aang’s lack of experience and exposure to the outside world keeps him in a place of innocence and in a mindset that tells him that violence is never the answer.
This is where the perfect synergy of character to plot starts to perpetuate. Aang’s personality is perfectly suited to the element he’s associated with, but the plot challenges that personality in the most vigorous way possible. Aang is alive during a war, as the Fire Nation has attacked and is trying to spread its influence, and Aang is the “Avatar” designed to bring balance to the world. The responsibility of peace is placed on Aang’s shoulders. Aang is a good person at heart, so of course he agrees to help the world and stop the Fire Nation, but what he has to do to help is in direct contrast to his principles and personality. The closer Aang gets to fighting the Fire Nation, the stronger his internal conflict to remain a pacifist becomes, creating a perfect synergy between plot and character.
Once again, Aang’s age doubles down on this synergy. He’s just a kid; he doesn’t want the world’s responsibility. He gets easily distracted along his journey and sometimes avoids fights and training to try to have some fun. Aang is the perfect protagonist because he has to grow and mature to fulfill his role in the war, providing satisfying character growth, but also because his childlike nature and pacifist ideals place value on peace. Combined, this allows for a deep exploration of the association between peace, violence, and responsibility.
We find similar development techniques behind the other major characters in the series. Katara the Waterbender is kind and caring and acts very motherly towards the group. Water’s ability to nurture and heal fits along with this characterization nicely, but it also fits with Katara’s tendency to be stubborn and single-minded. While she’s willing to flow and adapt, sometimes Katara’s personal ideals blind her from other perspectives and she forces her will onto others, like a strong current in the ocean sweeping innocent swimmers away.
Of course, the overarching plot once again perfectly challenges all of Katara’s strongest traits. As Aang and Sokka grow more and more independent on their world-spanning journey (with Aang eventually surpassing Katara’s ability to Waterbend), her motherly instincts and position as the “mature” one become less of a boon and more of a source of conflict, forcing her to reevaluate exactly what it means to be nurturing and caring. Her strict moral code is also challenged by the complexities of war, and as she learns more about the complicated lives and difficult decisions other people have to make, her vision of what’s always “right” is challenged. Yet through all of this, part of what makes the entire team successful is Katara’s singular vision and ability to keep a focus on their goal, helping to continually push them, and the plot, forward.
Sokka is the only lead character without an element bending ability, and – shocker – his character is created around this idea. Sokka is a teenager who always looked up to his father, who was a great warrior. When Sokka’s father left to fight in the war, he attempted to assume the mantle as the defender of his small tribe. Sokka is desperate to prove his worth as a leader and warrior, constantly taking on bigger battles than he can handle. This character motivation spirals perfectly with his lack of bending ability, as Sokka is consistently an underdog amongst the several other characters who can control elements. Compared to his companions (and many enemies) he isn’t as well equipped to participate in a battle of the elements, which often sidelines him in battle. This only creates a further complex within him to prove his abilities and establish his place in the war. Once again, this synergy creates a perpetual motion, as the further into the plot we get, the stronger all the characters become, and the stronger Sokka’s internal conflicts manifest, forcing him to grow. This pushes him to take more initiative, which helps push the plot forward – and the cycle continues.
Zuko, the dishonorably banished teenage son of the Fire Lord (the man who leads the Fire Nation and commands the war), is a young teen burdened with insecurity and anger. His goal is to capture Aang the Avatar to regain his honor and return to his home nation. Zuko was an emotional child and didn’t receive the emotional support he needed from his father, who constantly put him down and propped his sister up as better than him. This results in an adolescent unable to properly express his rage, which matches the element of fire perfectly. The fact that he was banished from his home country makes Zuko an “outsider” to the Fire Nation, and his position as an outsider meshes with his position in the narrative.
Zuko’s hunt for Aang pushes Zuko further and further away from his home nation, causing him to see more and more of the damage that his nation has done to the world. The more Zuko sees the flaws in the Fire Nation, the more complicated his journey for acceptance becomes. If he doesn’t belong in the Fire Nation, where does he belong? Will he be accepted by those he has fought against, or should he rejoin the Fire Nation once he gets the chance? These questions are brought up in the narrative naturally by Zuko’s specific personality while allowing the show to explore acceptance and what makes a person truly honorable — be it honor to their nation, their friends, or themselves. Every facet of Zuko’s character is meticulously designed to open the story up to these themes. Imagine instead if he had never been banished and was solely on a quest to please his father – the plot remains exactly the same, but the story of banishment and what it means to belong and exhibit honor completely disappears.
And then there is Toph, the Earthbender, a blind child who was holed up by her parents as a precious gem for her entire life. The thing about Earth, though, is unlike Air, Water, and Fire, it doesn’t move, it doesn’t change – you can’t reshape a mountain in whatever image you’d like. Toph as a character is designed and implemented with this in mind – they could have introduced her in any number of ways, but the decision to show her refusal to be molded by her parents represents the element of Earth more strongly than most plot lines would. All of the characters I’ve mentioned above change and develop, but Toph is mostly a static character, matching her element and providing the series with a “rock.” The further they get into the complications of war, the stronger Toph’s resolution becomes.
Static characters can be boring when done poorly, but when implemented for a purpose they can improve a series by reflecting how other characters are changing. In such a complicated world, there’s a freshness to Toph’s solid outlook on everything. Her principles nor personality ever shift to fit the world around her. She helps provide Aang a foil, or a balance, between what the world wants him to be and what he wants to be. It’s not a coincidence that Aang ends the war in his own non-violent way immediately after using a technique taught to him by Toph, further emphasizing his unwillingness to sacrifice his principles to save the world, just as Toph refuses to change to fit the world around her.
This is incredibly specific character work, and I cannot imagine the work it took to develop these characters behind the scenes. Each one is so perfectly suited to explore different themes within the story on so many levels that it’s almost hard to keep track of all the ways their personalities reflect the stories and elements within the series. Each character creates and perpetuates their own conflicts and plots while working together to make a seamless world, resulting in organic growth and development for the personalities and the story, which is why there is hardly a slow spot throughout the entire run of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Not every television character needs to be designed so meticulously to be great. Some shows are less character-driven or have simpler universes to explore. A comedy, for example, may require a greater emphasis on how characters interact with each other than how they interact with the world around them. There is also always an aspect of character adaptation when it comes to a television series as writers often find disposable or new facets of their characters as a series progresses.
But for a series that relies so heavily on world-building, mythology, and thematic resonance, the better crafted your characters are at the start, the better the foundation to explore that world will be.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a peak example of this, as there are few shows whose characters are as accessible, deep, and intrinsically tied to plot. The Avatar is designed to bring balance to the world, and the series itself represents that methodology by bringing perfect balance to its character and plot. This is a huge part of why Avatar: The Last Airbender is such a phenomenal series that’s still being watched and discussed 15 years after its release.
9 Shows That Need to Be On Your Radar for 2022
It was bittersweet saying goodbye to plenty of shows in 2021, but the plus side is that it made room for a handful of new shows that are gearing up for their highly-anticipated premieres.
There are plenty of shows that we’re excited about, but since it’s too much for anyone person to take in, we’ve condensed it to a list including the best of the best.
These are all the shows already garnering and generating buzz in 2022 — even before they’ve premiered.
Check out our list of shows (mostly new, but also a few final seasons) that should be on your radar:
How I Met Your Father – Hulu
Fans of How I Met Your Mother can re-live all the magic with a new group of friends with Hilary Duff at the helm. It’s also giving us some Younger vibes, so call it the best of both worlds.
The gender-reversed comedy premieres Tuesday, Jan. 18 with the first two episodes and then on a weekly basis.
House of the Dragon – HBO Max
Even if the final season of “Game of Thrones” left a bad taste in your mouth, don’t worry, the prequel is here to serve as a palate cleanser. Set 200 years before GOT, it’s based on George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood and focuses on the a civil war within House Targaryen. There is no premiere date as of yet, but that hasn’t stopped us from holding our breath.
BEL-AIR – Peacock
Revivals get a bad rap, but they aren’t always terrible. We’ve seen success with Saved by the Bell and Roswell, so fingers-crossed that Bel-Air, a comedy reimagined as an hour-long drama, will deliver in the same way. Will Smith has signed on for the project alongside the original creators. Jabari Banks stars as Will, a young man who moves into the gated mansion of Bel-Air in modern-day America, and explores plenty of conflicts and biases. It has been picked up for two seasons prior to the premiere on Sunday, Feb. 13 with the first two episodes and then weekly episodes.
Ozark – Netflix (Fourth and final season)
We’re crossing the finish line on Ozark this year, which is arguably a good thing because I don’t know how much more my nerves could handle. And the end is likely something the Byrde family definitely wants after getting too wrapped up in a messy situation with the Mexican cartel. Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, and Julia Gardner all make this series an intoxicating binge from beginning to end, even if the fourth and final season is split up into two parts with the first half arriving on Netflix on January 21.
Disney+ saw massive success with their Marvel shows, so it’s not a surprise that there’s a palpable excitement for She-Hulk starring Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany, a lawyer who has one small favor to ask: don’t make her angry. She’s the less-angry-but-just-as-green cousin of Bruce Banner, the Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo, who is expected to make an appearance. No premiere date has been announced yet.
Inventing Anna – Netflix
Shonda Rhines is making her mark on Netflix with a series based on the true and shocking story of fashionable grifter Anna Delvey who faked being a German heiress to scam New York New Yorker’s into thinking she was a German heiress. Ozark’s secret weapon, Julia Gardner, works miracles as Delvey. The cast also stars Scandal’s Katie Lowes and Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox. This is a can’t miss limited series that hits Netflix on February 11.
Lord of the Rings – Amazon Prime
This is a big one for fans of the LOTR films! The television adaptation is a prequel set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and features an ensemble cast — both new and familiar — as they confront an evil unlike ever before in the Second Middle Age. It will make its mark on Amazon Prime on September 22.
Stranger Things – Netflix
We’ve paid our dues waiting to catch up with the residents of Hawkins, Indiana. Only this time, the action will take us to California and Soviet Russia (because, yes, Hopper is alive — spoiler) as the group of friends tries to stop the supernatural entities of the Upside Down once and for all. A premiere date (for the fourth and possible final season) announcement is likely on the horizon, but our money is on late spring or early summer. After all, we’ve waited long enough!
Obi-Wan Kenobi – Disney+
Disney and Star Wars go hand-in-hand, and with the success of the recent The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian, it only makes sense that they would dive into Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi. The series is set a decade after the events of Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith. In a real treat, Ewan McGregor will reprise the titular role, while Hayden Christensen will return as Darth Vader. No premiere date has been announced.
13 Year-Defining Shows You Have to Watch Before 2021 Comes to an End
2021 was a great year for television!
With several streaming services providing top-notch content alongside primetime, there was always something buzz-worthy gracing our screens.
And while it was hard to narrow down the best offerings of the year, there were some shows that defined the year.
These are the shows everyone was watching and everyone was obsessed with!
Check out our list and let us know if there’s a show you’d add!
Only Murders in the Building – Hulu
When Selena Gomez, Steve Martin, and Martin Short come together, shenanigans (and murders) are sure to follow. These murder mystery aficionados pursued a murder in their own building and turned it into a groundbreaking podcast… and more.
Squid Game – Netflix
Move over, Tiger King. This Korean drama took the world by storm and kept viewers on the edge of their seats as contestants engaged in deadly versions of beloved children’s games.
Money Heist – Netflix
After five action-packed seasons, Money Heist took its final bow, but not before delivering several jaw-dropping twists. Did the Dalia mask wearing gang manage to pull off the biggest heist in the world?
The Chair – Netflix
Sandra Oh spearheads the drama about the first woman of color as the head of the English department at a prestigious university.
Sex/Life – Netflix
Is there anyone who didn’t watch Netflix’s steamy Sex/Life and oogle Adam Demos’s package? A suburban wife goes down a fantasy memory-lane, which reconnects her to a past lover.
Loki – Disney+
Another Disney+ film – post Avengers: Endgame – follows the adventures of Tom Hiddleston’s character Loki, Thor’s adopted brother and god of mischief.
Ted Lasso – Apple TV+
The comedy’s second feel-good season explores the reason behind soccer coach Ted Lasso’s (played by Jason Sudeikis) kindness and its effect on everyone around him.
Yellowstone – Paramount
If you’ve been hearing more and more about Yellowstone, that’s because everyone and their parents are obsessed with the Western drama about the Dutton family, a powerful family of ranchers. It even spawned a prequel titled 1883.
Maid – Netflix
The limited series focuses on a single mom’s willingness to survive as she who works as a cleaning lady to escape an abusive relationship and create a better life for her daughter.
La Brea – NBC
In a TV landscape that doesn’t favor post-apocalyptic, supernatural dramas, La Brea found its groove and a dedicated audience. A sinkhole opens up in Los Angeles that transports a group of people to 10,000 B.C. A father’s quest to find his family fuels a rescue mission and reveals a deeper connection.
The Other Two – HBO Max
After Schitt’s Creek comes The Other Two, a comedy about two siblings hailing from former SNL head writers . Cary and Brooke are both looking to find their big break, and find their lives turned upside down when their younger brother becomes a viral sensation instead.
Cruel Summer – Freeform
A teen drama set over three summers in the 1990s explores a young girl’s disappearance and how it affects the rest of her small-town.
WandaVision – Disney+
The mini-series and sequel to Avengers: Endgame finds Wanda Maximoff and Vision living their ideal lives in the suburbs only to find that not everything is as it seems.
When Do All Your Favorite TV Shows Return After the Holidays?
After you celebrate the holidays and ring in the new year, it might seem difficult to find something to look forward to.
But a brand new year means that all of your favorite TV shows are back from the dreaded hiatus!
New shows, old shows, and hit shows will be making their way onto your screen to provide hours of entertainment!
Here’s when and where you can reconnect with your favorite TV characters:
SUNDAY, JAN. 2, 2022
8 pm NEXT LEVEL CHEF (series premiere)
MONDAY, JAN. 3
8 pm: 9-1-1: Lone Star (Season 3 premiere)
9 pm: THE CLEANING LADY (series premiere)
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 5
8 pm: I Can See Your Voice (Season 2 premiere)
9 pm: NEXT LEVEL CHEF (regular time slot premiere)
THURSDAY, JAN. 6
8 pm: JOE MILLIONAIRE: FOR RICHER OR POORER (2-hour series premiere)
SUNDAY, JAN. 9
8 pm (5 pm PT): Call Me Kat (Season 2 premiere)
8:30 pm (5:30 pm PT): PIVOTING (series premiere)
9 pm: Bob’s Burgers
THURSDAY, JAN. 13
8 pm: JOE MILLIONAIRE: FOR RICHER OR POORER
9 pm: Call Me Kat (regular time slot)
9:30 pm: PIVOTING (regular time slot premiere)
SUNDAY, JAN. 30
10 pm (7 pm PT): MONARCH (series premiere)
TUESDAY, FEB. 1
8 pm: The Resident
9 pm: MONARCH (regular time slot premiere)
TUESDAY, DEC. 7
9:30-10 pm: ABBOTT ELEMENTARY
SUNDAY, JAN 2
10 pm: The Rookie
MONDAY, JAN. 3
8 pm: The Bachelor
TUESDAY, JAN. 4
9 pm: ABBOTT ELEMENTARY
9:30 pm: black-ish
10 pm: Queens
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 5
8 pm: The Goldbergs
8:30 pm The Wonder Years
9 pm: The Conners
9:31 pm: Home Economics
10 pm: The Chase
THURSDAY, JAN. 6
8 pm: WOMEN OF THE MOVEMENT
MONDAY, JAN. 24
1o pm: PROMISED LAND
WEDNESDAY, FEB 23
10 pm: A Million Little Things
THURSDAY, FEB. 24
8 pm: Station 19
9 pm: Grey’s Anatomy
10 pm: Big Sky
FRIDAY, JAN 7
9 pm: Nancy Drew
TUESDAY, JAN. 11
8 pm: Superman & Lois
9 pm: NAOMI
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 12
8 pm: Legends of Tomorrow
9 pm: Batwoman
THURSDAY, JAN 13
8 pm: Walker
SUNDAY, JAN. 16
9 pm: Two Sentence Horror Stories
MONDAY, JAN. 17
9 pm: 4400
THURSDAY, JAN 27
8 pm: Legacies
MONDAY, FEB. 21
9 pm: All American: Homecoming
SUNDAY, MARCH 6
8 pm: Riverdale (new night)
WEDNESDAY, March 9
8 pm: The Flash (new night)
9 pm: Kung Fu
FRIDAY, MARCH 11
8 pm: Charmed
9 pm: Dynasty (new night)
MONDAY, Jan. 3
8 p.m.: Kenan
9 p.m.: That’s My Jam
10 p.m.: Ordinary Joe
TUESDAY, Jan. 4
8 p.m.: American Auto (time period premiere)
8:30 p.m.: Grand Crew (time period premiere)
9 p.m.: This Is Us
WEDNESDAY, Jan 5
8 pm: Chicago Med
9 pm: Chicago Fire
10pm: Chicago PD
MONDAY, Feb. 21
8 p.m.: American Song Contest
10 p.m.: The Endgame
THURSDAY, Feb. 24
8 p.m.: Law & Order
FRIDAY, Feb. 25
8 p.m.: The Blacklist (new time period)
FRIDAY, March 8
10 p.m.: The Thing About Pam
TUESDAY, March 15
8 p.m.: Young Rock
8:30 p.m.: Mr. Mayor
SUNDAY, Jan. 2
8 p.m.: The Equalizer
10 p.m.: SWAT (new time period)
MONDAY, Jan 3
8:30 p.m.: Bob Hearts Abishola
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 5
8 p.m.: The Amazing Race
10 p.m.: Good Sam
THURSDAY, Jan 6
8:30 p.m.: United States of AI
9 p.m.: Ghosts
9:30 p.m.: B Positive
10 p.m.: Bull
FRIDAY, Jan. 7
8 p.m.: Undercover Boss
10 p.m.: Blue Bloods
MONDAY, Jan. 31
8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT: Grammy Awards
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 2
8 p.m.: Celebrity Big Brother
WEDNESDAY, March 9
8 p.m.: Survivor
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