Tonight at 7 p.m. (6 Central), Nickelodeon will premiere the second season of one of its biggest breakout shows - The Legend of Korra - with a 60-minute special combining a pair of Book Two: Spirits episodes: Rebel Spirits and The Dancing Lights.
The series - a spin-off/sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender - has been one of Nickelodeon's ratings winners. As for the new season, we'll keep the spoilers to a minimum - but suffice to say that new characters appear, others are given more screen time and there’s a lot of humor and action. It’s not revealing too much to say that Korra herself is going to grow to understand spirits and help build a bridge between them and her people. And there’s a crazy big fair, too.
It's kind of nice that The Legend of Korra breaks its seasons out as "books," because that really describes the way the series unfolds. It also points up how a TV series, when done well, can do something even the most spectacular, multi-million-dollar, star-studded tent pole movie cannot do.
TV series can take advantage of serialization. There is no way that all of the story arcs, character arcs and "small" moments could fit into even an overlong big screen epic. It’s an advantage that the creative team relishes. These characters grow, change and - most importantly - stop and think. An action series sometimes is best judged on what happens between the arena games, battles and explosions. If you can’t get invested in the stakes involved and the character’s issues, it can become a cacophonous video arcade.
If you haven't watched The Legend of Korra: Book One, recently released on DVD, it's worth seeing to get grounded into the situations and relationships. There are a lot of them. So much for the myth that TV viewers (particularly kids) are too dippy or lack the attention span to keep track!
The series, created and executive produced by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, is a paean to anime, though it’s production originates in the U.S. Because of that, the voice work is done before the animation and you get to watch the lips movement synch to the words, rather then being crafted to fit after the fact.
Judging from the DVD audio commentaries, the voice actors are having a ball with their meaty roles. Janet Varney sounds sincerely elated at the opportunity to play Korra and work alongside actors she has long admired. And clearly, Konietzko and DiMartino work hard to see their vision through. They even mention being challenged about the whole idea of Korra being female and whether quiet, pensive music should be used in a specific battle scene.
"One of the biggest inspirations for the entire Avatar universe was the work of Hayao Miyazaki," said Bryan Konietzko on the commentary of the first episode. "I just remember at a time in my career when I was particularly disenchanted with working on American animated sitcoms which, you know, obviously millions of people love. Just as an artist, it really didn’t speak to me and the kind of stuff I wanted to put out there in the world. It was usually just really sarcastic, insincere, mostly parodies and things and I just wanted to make something really earnest and kind of heartfelt and sincere. So when I saw Princess Mononoke, it was like, there are really no clear-cut good guys and bad guys. It was just people with conflicting agendas, interests and philosophies. [Miyazaki] set up the villain, but then you realize that she’s just taking care of these lepers and what not.
"It's not the first time I'd seen a story like that but it hit me at a time in my career when I needed to see that. That's the kind of stuff that really resonates with me. The older you get you realize that there really are no absolutes, most of life is just this grey area. It’s not 'good versus evil' kids. the only 'good versus evil' is inside of you."
Voice actors returning to the series include Varney as Korra; David Faustino (Married…With Children) as Mako; J.K. Simmons (Law & Order, Spiderman) as Tenzin; P.J. Byrne as Bolin; Seychelle Gabriel as Asami Sato; Mindy Sterling as Lin Beifong; and Oscar-winner Eva Marie Saint as Katara, plus voice vets like Grey DeLisle, Dee Bradley Baker and Jeff Bennett (doing those wonderful Walter Winchell-ish newsreel intros). Mad Men fans: listen for Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper) as Jinora.