One of the most impressive things about Nickelodeon’s classic Avatar: The Last Airbender is the immediacy of its storytelling. In fact, we’ve previously argued that Avatar is one of the few “structurally perfect” TV shows because of that immediacy.
Not one to overstay its welcome, the initial run of Avatar: The Last Airbender features three seasons (all with a different element as a subtitle) of 20-21 episodes each. Additionally, the show runs through its plot with admirable economy due to a built in running clock in its premise: Sozin’s Comet.
In the ATLA canon, Sozin’s Comet is a celestial object that passes by Earth every one hundred years. When it does, the Fire Nation’s many firebenders are able to harness its energy, increasing their power as much as a hundredfold. When Avatar: The Last Airbender opens, Sozin’s Comet is roughly a year away, meaning that that new Avatar Aang and his friends have a limited amount of time to defeat Fire Lord Ozai before he and his benders become too powerful to overcome and are able to finish their world-conquering mission.
Naturally, Netflix‘s live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender wants to borrow everything that works from its animated predecessor. But given the timing constraints that live-action faces, is it even possible to incorporate the animation’s tight timeline? Based on a new interview feature from EW, it seems like the answer to that is unfortunately no.
“All three seasons of the animated series essentially take place in the course of one calendar year,” showrunner Albert Kim told EW. “There was no way we could do that. So we had to design this first season, especially, to accommodate the possibility of some time elapsing between the first and the second season.”
Kim specifically goes on to mention Sozin’s Comet as a something the show would have to abandon, saying “The comet was their ticking clock. We removed that particular ticking clock from our show for now because we couldn’t know exactly how old our actors would be for the subsequent seasons.”
While this is certainly disappointing for Avatar fans (and fans of structural perfection on TV) to hear, it just speaks to the inherent differences in mediums. Animation allows for a level of visual and conceptual control that live-action, with all its moving parts, cannot. Live-action comes with limitations, perhaps the most notable limitation being the passage of time itself.
The aforementioned EW feature notes that the live-action Avatar‘s central actors have already aged considerably since production started, due to the strike delays. Aang actor Gordon Cormier was 11 years old when he auditioned and is already 14 now. Katara actress Kiawentiio was cast at age 14 and will be 18 this April.
Given that reality, Avatar: The Last Airbender is wise to leave some room for a time jump or two if it means avoiding an age-related dilemma that Stranger Things season 5 currently faces. The gambit that Netflix is taking with Avatar: The Last Airbender is that the elements that the show will gain in live-action will make up for the elements that it loses. Let’s hope that’s the case because the urgency of Sozin’s Comet is quite the tool to leave on the cutting room floor.
All eight episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender premiere Feb. 22 on Netflix.