Avatar: The Last Airbender debuts a hit for Netflix, beating numbers for One Piece

Showrunner Albert Kim talks about the benefit and burden of fan expectation, and how it felt when the original Avatar: The Last Airbender creators exited the remake.
Avatar: The Last Airbender. (L to R) Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang, Ian Ousley as Sokka in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023
Avatar: The Last Airbender. (L to R) Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang, Ian Ousley as Sokka in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023 /

Last week, Netflix dropped the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, its live-action remake of the beloved animated series from the mid-2000s. The show follows Aang, the only person in this fantasy world capable of bending all four elements. Together with his friends, he must put a stop to an expansionist war perpetrated by the tyrannical Fire Nation.

The original Last Airbender show has remained very popular for well over a decade, and there were lots of eyes on showrunner Albert Kim as the remake approached, particularly after original series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko walked away from the project. "[W]e worked together for a little while, and then they decided they needed to leave and that was a personal decision on their part," Kim told The Hollywood Reporter. "It did bum me out, because I enjoyed working with them and I obviously would have loved to have kept on doing that. But they went through their own process, which started before I was part of the project. And it was a personal decision for them to leave. We just kept on going as best we could without them.  "

Fans worried at the time that this exodus meant that the show was in trouble. Now that the show has been out for a minute, it's clear that the reception is mixed. The show has found fans, but many people — particularly those who loved the original show — have problems with the remake, and by "many people," I mean me. I thought there were some wrong-headed decisions, the pacing is wonky, and some of the acting leaves much to be desired. And I'm not alone; even people who worked on the original show have been shading the new one. The mood is conflicted.

To some degree, that was inevitable, as Kim acknowledges. "Fan expectation is a consequence that goes both ways," he said. "It is a burden at times because you know that there are so many people counting on you to deliver certain things, and at the same time, it’s a bit of a privilege to have such a devoted and passionate fanbase out there who were eagerly waiting to see what you do. I mean I would much rather have that than the opposite, and no one talks about it."

"So, for fans, I just hope that when they come and see the show, they recognize that, even though this isn’t a note-for-note translation of the original, we stay true to the spirit of the original. Because just like them we are fans first and foremost. And that’s how I approached the whole show: as a fan first, and then I sort of put on my producer cap and went about making the show. I hope they realize that none of these decisions were made haphazardly and they were all very carefully considered, and the ultimate test was whether or not it stayed true to what we felt was the spirit of Avatar."

After watching most of the show, I do think that Kim and his team have their hearts in the right place. It's clear they've seen and appreciated the original series. I didn't expect a one-to-one adaptation. I was hoping for something that felt as least as vibrant and fun as the original series, instead of the show we got, where everything feels a bit more dull and dim. I compare it to another live-action series Netflix adapted from a popular animated show: One Piece, which had sense of buoyancy and freedom I don't think The Last Airbender remake possesses, at least not yet.

Chances for Avatar: The Last Airbender season 2 are looking up

The show may get a chance at a second season, though, because according to Netflix the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender amassed 21.2 million views in its first four days of availability, and was among the top 10 most watched shows in 92 countries; as of this writing, it's still at #1 in the U.S.

These are excellent numbers, beating out One Piece, which got 18.5 million views over its first four days of availability last September. (It's unclear exactly what constitutes a "view," but 21.2 is more than 18.5, that's for sure.) Netflix renewed One Piece for a second season just a couple of weeks after it dropped, so things are looking up for Avatar.

The original Last Airbender show ran for three seasons. We're expecting the remake to follow suit, but Kim says he's focused on the now. "[W]e really don’t want to look ahead, I mean for nothing else if not to change its success so, that’s why the focus has just been getting to this finish line," he said.

That sounds like a bit of a line to me, since Kim has talked about changing the show's timeline to account for potential future seasons before. Like, of course the thought of what to do in future seasons must have crossed his mind. But I guess we'll get more details when and if Netflix makes an official announcement.

Next. atla. Avatar: The Last Airbender Episode 1 is a mixed bag with rushed pacing and decent action. dark

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.

Get HBO, Starz, Showtime and MORE for FREE with a no-risk, 7-day free trial of Amazon Channels

h/t IGN