Nickelodeon went in a brand new direction back in 2005 with the debut of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and that direction proved to be a huge success that has continued growing more than 15 years later with the Legend of Korra series, comics, books, and an expanding Avatarverse. Now, Dante Basco of The Last Airbender and Janet Varney of The Legend of Korra are joining forces for a new project, and they opened up about discovering fandom and – of course – "honor" ahead of its premiere.
Dante Basco and Janet Varney – best known among Avatar fans as Prince Zuko and Avatar Korra – are teaming up for the Avatar: Braving the Elements podcast that will follow them as they rewatch every episode of The Last Airbender and eventually Legend of Korra and deliver some unique commentary, complete with special guests. The Avatar universe has only gotten more popular in recent years, with the shows finding a new audience thanks to streaming and more projects on the way. The hosts spoke with CinemaBlend about their experiences with all things Avatarverse.
With this brand new audience finding the fandom thanks to Netflix in a very different pop culture climate than when the series first aired, Dante Basco and Janet Varney weighed in on what kind of reactions they see with people getting to binge-watch compared to back in the day of the live broadcasts. Basco, who debuted as Zuko all the way back in 2005, explained:
We didn't really have social media when we were doing the original run of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I mean, I don't think we had, no one in the cast had even a Facebook at the time, let alone Twitter existing yet. And so it just kind of came out in the way old, traditional media would come out and we didn't really experience kind of what happened to it until months later, maybe the end of the first season, and little by little trickling in, people being excited about the show. And me and some of the other actors would meet up later on and would not really understand how people were taking it. I've been on other sets of other movies and people have been really excited about this animation project I'm a part of. It's kind of fascinating for me to kind of experience it like, really. Again, it's how we used to experience stuff back in the day, delayed response to anything that we did. Super delayed response.
For the Avatar: The Last Airbender team back when the three seasons of the show aired from 2005-2008, social media didn't exist nearly on the scale as today, so Dante Basco's experience with fandom was very different than it would be if the show was airing for the first time in 2021. The Last Airbender was a hit with critics and won a loyal following back in its original day to cement its legacy, but the huge boom in popularity thanks to Netflix guaranteed a much larger fandom than before. Basco continued, saying:
Whereas now, when it came back on Netflix, it was like, literally, all my social media is blowing up, so much traffic and people being so excited about something that our cast did, you know, 15 years ago, which is wild. But I mean, Janet, when you guys did Korra, that was the beginning of social media. So you guys were having a different experience than we did. Right?
The Avatar universe returned to television in 2012 with the premiere of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, centered on Janet Varney's Korra as the first Avatar following the death of Aang. Although Korra shares a universe and some of the same characters, it certainly wasn't The Last Airbender 2.0 and expanded the world that fans may have thought they already knew front to back from the original show and comics. Varney shared her perspective on fandom reactions, with Korra releasing more recently but still several years ago:
I think it was definitely more immediate. It was more immediate feedback. Even just in the process of like, from Book 1 to Book 4 to even now, I think there's a more pervasive awareness of voice actors, and what characters they voice and stuff. And that's not necessarily something that I understood or had a sense of, until I started doing conventions. So even via social media, I didn't realize that it would have such an impact on me personally, with getting a chance to actually engage with people who wanted to talk to the person who was the voice of Korra. And talk about what the experience of watching the show was like. I wasn't really prepared for that.
The Avatar universe has become enough of a hit that voice actors are being recognized for their roles playing animated characters, which undoubtedly isn't the case for every animated project. Of course, Legend of Korra had a built-in group of fans invested in the universe already, so the reactions were bound to be passionate. And, in Janet Varney's words that echo those of Prince Zuko, the Avatar TV stars and podcast hosts want to "honor" the fandom.
Janet Varney: And so that has been this huge, huge gift that I know Dante and I take both very seriously. Because we love the shows, and we're very proud of being a part of the shows, and we want to honor that – [impersonates Zuko] honor! – by being those ambassadors at the conventions. I think he and I are both always careful to kind of say, 'Well, on behalf of [creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko] and Nickelodeon, and the real reason that the shows exist, and the characters we played exist, thank you.' The love is there, and we feel it back for you guys.
Dante Basco: And the artists that we share this performance with. We share the performance of the character with all the artists and the creators, the writers and everything like that, but it is fascinating.
Dante Basco and Janet Varney will bring those efforts as Avatar ambassadors to the podcast arena in the not-too-distant future thanks to Avatar: Braving the Elements. The Nickelodeon podcast will feature the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra stars going back through every episode of The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra in a rewatch to break down themes, battles, and behind-the-scenes trivia. They'll even bring in special guests, including Jack De Sena (Sokka), Jennie Kwan (Suki), Kevin Michael Richardson (Tyro), fighting instructor and consultant Sifu Kisu, and co-creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, with more on the way.
New installments of the Braving the Elements podcast will release weekly starting with the first on Tuesday, June 22, available on iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and more. If you want to rewatch along with Dante Basco and Janet Varney (or just dive into the series on your own time), you can find both Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend of Korra streaming on Netflix and on Paramount+. For some more viewing options now and in the coming weeks, check out our 2021 summer TV premiere schedule!