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4 of the biggest and best Netflix new releases you need to watch, like Avatar: The Last Airbender

Published Feb 17th, 2024 12:05PM EST
Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix
Image: Robert Falconer/Netflix

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People are really underestimating how big Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender is going to be.

That’s not my assessment, by the way. That’s the title of a Reddit thread from just a few days ago, but you can find similarly breathless opining about this highly anticipated Netflix release basically all over the internet — from YouTube comments attached to the show’s official Netflix trailer to the first reactions from critics that have started trickling in following the show’s Los Angeles premiere at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.

One reviewer, for example, has already called the eight-episode series (which debuts on Feb. 22) a “fun new take on a timeless classic.” Much of the credit for it goes to showrunner Albert Kim, for whom this project was as much work as it was a labor of love (he got introduced to the original through his daughter, and he even thought at first that the original was too perfect to be improved-upon). “But then I realized it was less about improving upon it and more about introducing this incredible world to a new generation of viewers in a new way,” Kim said in an interview with the streamer.

Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix
Gordon Cormier as Aang in Season 1 of “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Image source: Netflix

“VFX technology has reached a point where we can really do justice in bringing this fantastic world to life. Plus this was an opportunity to establish a new benchmark in representation, featuring Asian and indigenous characters in a way we’d never seen in live action. That was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Meanwhile, there are at least two things that are probably worth noting about this particular Netflix release, which is far and away the biggest and most eagerly awaited of the upcoming week’s slate:

First, it was quite a risky adaptation for Netflix, given the widespread affection that endures for the original Nickelodeon animated series than ran from 2005 to 2008. This kind of undertaking can easily go so wrong, as it did in 2010 when M. Night Shyamalan directed a feature film adaptation (which remains stuck with a crazy-bad 5% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes).

Secondly, the Netflix series has also made some changes here and there as a result of having to compress everything into just eight episodes. For example, Aang in this series will reportedly tackle things more head-on, as opposed to pursuing side adventures like he did in the animated original. As with any adaptation of a beloved story, it remains to be seen whether viewers will accept the use of creative license or if they’ll recoil at any unfamiliar elements that become part of the story.

Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix
Elizabeth Yu as Azula in “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Image source: Netflix

And speaking of the story, in case you’re new to this series:

Avatar: The Last Airbender is a fantasy wherein the four nations of Water, Earth, Fire, and Air once lived in harmony — with a peace between them that’s maintained by the Avatar, the master of all four elements. The Fire nation, meanwhile, breaks that peace when it attacks and wipes out the Air Nomads en route to the fire benders trying to conquer the entire world.

Continues Netflix: “With the current incarnation of the Avatar yet to emerge, the world has lost hope. But like a light in the darkness, hope springs forth when Aang (Gordon Cormier), a young Air Nomad — and the last of his kind — reawakens to take his rightful place as the next Avatar. Alongside his newfound friends Sokka (Ian Ousley) and Katara (Kiawentiio), siblings and members of the Southern Water Tribe, Aang embarks on a fantastical, action-packed quest to save the world and fight back against the fearsome onslaught of Fire Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim).”

Coming into February, this was one of the most-anticipated Netflix releases of the month — and it’s certainly the biggest that we’ll get over the next week. There are also, of course, a few other titles worthy of inclusion in our latest week-ahead Netflix snapshot that aren’t necessarily Avatar-big, but you’ll nonetheless find all the details you need to know about them below:

Mea Culpa: In this steamy new thriller from Tyler Perry that’s set in Chicago, the mesmerizing Kelly Rowland plays a criminal defense attorney who takes on the case of a cagey-yet-seductive artist accused of murdering his girlfriend. “This idea came to me because I love all of those older thrillers from the ’80s and ’90s,” Perry said in a Netflix promotional interview. “It was fun to explore the best and worst of humanity through the genre of an exotic thriller.” Release date: Feb. 23.

Formula 1: Drive to Survive (Season 6): In the new season of this docuseries, viewers will once again venture behind the scenes to see how drivers and teams prepare to do battle on the track during the FIA Formula 1 world racing championship. In this cutthroat sport, everyone — from drivers to managers to team owners — lives life in the fast lane. Release date: Feb. 23.

The 2024 SAG Awards: Finally, we have another live-streamed Netflix event on the way, and this one is a doozy. For the first time, the annual Screen Actors Guild Awards show will stream live on Netflix as part of a partnership between the streamer and the SAG Awards — and it follows, incidentally, Netflix live-streaming the awards last year on the Netflix YouTube channel.

The awards are a celebration of the best movies and TV shows over the past year, and Netflix’s effort here follows an continuing ramp-up in its live event capabilities (which have thus far included everything from a Chris Rock standup special to a star-studded tournament at the 18-hole Wynn Golf Club at Wynn Las Vegas). Release date: Feb. 24.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.