The other day the TV series “The Legend of Korra” ended its first season in a climactic two-part finale.
It’s a show about a girl who can move rocks and water with her mind and shoot fire out of her hands but is trying to learn how to do the same with wind, and struggling. On top of that, she has to struggle against a group that wants to take away her and others’ abilities to do what essentially is magic because many with those abilities have abused the power over those who don’t have it.
“Korra” is unsurprisingly aimed at children or young teenagers, but includes smart humor, plotting and generally witty writing so that adults don’t feel like wanting to inflict terminal harm upon themselves (see: “Pokemon: The Movie”). The Wall Street Journal runs a recap and analysis after each Saturday’s airing, the same as with more traditional adult programs like AMC’s “Mad Men.”
Saturday’s airing was originally supposed to be the end of the show itself before its popularity convinced Nickelodeon, the network airing it, to order additional seasons.
It’s a good program in that truly difficult way because it creates different shows for different levels of audience. In that way it’s a more than worthy successor to the three-season “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which was a breakout hit for Nickelodeon and for my money the best American cartoon since “Batman: The Animated Series” of the ‘90s.
Cartoons are probably more popular now than they’ve been since the days of primetime “The Flintstones” or shorts preceding feature films. But most of that is expressed in adult-oriented “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy” or low-budget stoner toons like “Squidbillies.” Or in juvenile, but still not really child-oriented Japanese cartoons. That makes them not better or worse, but narrower than when people 8 to 80 could legitimately be expected to comprise a viewership and have expectations of being entertained.
“Korra” is stretched by these demographic demands in a way that’s not really fair, but it managed to do well at including the proper mixture of things blowing up, 5-year-olds farting in self-defense, teen romantic angst and some serious philosophical quandaries (Look, it’s only 12 episodes and most of them are streamed online legally at Nick.com. You could find worse ways to spend your time.) But the real reason I enjoy watching it is that while it is not without flaw, it’s a production of creativity that often knocks at the gate of perfection, a higher state of human effort that makes you feel good in the awe that someone, or several or a gaggle of people, with practically the same DNA as you and only marginally more brainpower or not even that could make all of what you’re witnessing.
It is the joy of reading a book that is good, or hearing a new song, or watching an athletic feat that is “transcendent,” something that transcends what it is to be fulfilling in an abstract way. Or heck, ironing a shirt in a really skilled way. There’s a series of YouTube videos that’s nothing but that. People doing menial, everyday tasks with practiced proficiency. And it’s amazing.
While we don’t nearly enough recognize the people that make it possible for us to do each day the things necessary to keep us alive and comfortable, it’s hard to overstate the value of the “artist,” someone who does something so well you feel good just to have witnessed it.
Anyway, I can’t wait for the second season, but even until then there will be a lot of really amazing things people are doing.