Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” a show set in a world where people can control, or “bend,” water, earth, fire and air, has enchanted children and adults since its premiere nearly 10 years ago, despite the show’s end in 2008. Many people who remember the series, however, may not know that creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino debuted a follow-up series called “The Legend of Korra,” which is set decades after the events of the original.

“Korra,” now in its final season, follows a teenage waterbender who is the new reincarnated Avatar and must restore balance to the world and protect it from tyranny.

“It’s interesting how they link spirituality to reality at the same time,” chemical engineering junior Dakota Stormer said. “There’s a big link to nature. They relate how everything is related to the basic four elements. It makes you think about people and their surroundings more.”

Despite the popularity of “Korra” and the dedicated following it has received, it seems Nickelodeon is attempting to distance itself from the series. 

Earlier this year, following bad ratings and leaks of several season three episodes online, the company pulled the show off the air and put the remaining episodes on Nick.com. Later, it was announced that the fourth season would premiere less than two months after the season three finale, which will only be aired online.

Before the premiere of the Nov. 20 episode, Konietzko wrote on his blog that the episode would be a clip show, an episode that uses previous footage from past episodes to serve as a recap of previous events. According to Konietzko, Nickelodeon slashed the series’ budget, leaving both creators in a bind.

“We had two options: 1) let go a significant number of crew members several weeks early, or 2) make a clips episode,” Konietzko wrote. “We never considered the first option. We weren’t going to do that to our crew, and even if we were callous enough to do so, we never would have been able to finish the season without them.”

While the clip episode received admirable reviews from critics for its creativity in the face of limitations, fans were still irritated about the latest controversy to surround the series. 

“The fact that the creators had to explain themselves and apologize for the quality [of the clip show episode] is unforgivable on the company’s part,” architecture sophomore Valentina Rodriguez said. “It’s basically saying that something [the fans] appreciate isn’t worth their time.”

Budget cuts aside, it seems that Nick is taking steps to improve its relationship with fans. Late last month, they announced that reruns of season four will run on Nicktoons, Nickelodeon’s sister channel. All the episodes that will not air will still premiere online. However, fans may not be convinced the network will give the series more respect.

“Some people say ‘Korra’ is just a cartoon and I get that, but, in the end, we’ve grown up with these characters,” Rodriguez said. “Nick needs to take the show more seriously and treat it like a quality show should be treated.”

TV Tuesday

Scan the schedule of any kid-centric TV channel these days and it’s impossible to overlook a distressing theme: shows depict young teenagers living glamorous celebrity lives.

Shows such as Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” and “Big Time Rush” feature their young teen stars reveling in their newfound wealth and international stardom. The channels’ millions of young viewers are consuming these images at an alarming rate, learning a damaging lesson: The materialistic celebrity life is not just something to admire, but something to strive for.

This trend seems to have been sparked by the massive popularity of Disney Channel’s 2006 series “Hannah Montana,” starring Miley Cyrus as a country girl living in Los Angeles, trying to handle the pressure of fame of her secret, wig-wearing rock-star alter ego.

“Hannah Montana,” in addition to being incredibly popular, is also still incredibly influential, despite the fact the show aired its final episode last January. Following the show’s explosive rise — “Hannah Montana” ended with 6.2 millions viewers watching the series finale according to TV by the Numbers — both Disney and rival channel Nickelodeon began to follow up on the kids-as-celebrities trend.

In addition to “Hannah Montana,” Disney also aired “Jonas L.A.” starring teen idols The Jonas Brothers as secret agents masquerading as rock stars, and “Sonny with a Chance” with Demi Lovato as a young actress who lands a place on her favorite sketch comedy show.

Nickelodeon shot back with its own kid-celebrity programming with “iCarly,” about a girl who stars in her own popular internet show, and “Big Time Rush,” which follows an up-and-coming boy band trying to make it big in Hollywood and enjoying all the perks of fame.

All the kids depicted on Disney’s and Nickelodeon’s various celebrity-centric programs are teenagers, but the shows are marketed toward adolescents and preteens — a period when most kids are deciding if they want to be an astronaut, a chef, a doctor or even a celebrity.

By creating these fantastical, wish-fulfillment situations in which fictional teenagers maintain glamorous Hollywood lives while also doing “normal” teenage things, kids’ channels are promoting a false image of fame to kids. Stardom is depicted as fun and unpredictably exciting. It’s easy to imagine that young television audiences see the celebrity life as not only entertaining to watch on TV, but as a goal that they can (and should) achieve.

To be fair, most of these shows make a point to demonstrate the drawbacks of fame and the importance of remaining grounded with the support of friends and family. That doesn’t make the image of a young, wealthy teen living the celebrity life, going to exclusive parties and being worshipped by a crowd of screaming fans any less bewitching to Disney’s and Nickelodeon’s hordes of young viewers.

Shows like “Hannah Montana” and “Big Time Rush” aren’t exactly quality programming. They’re unrelentingly loud, obnoxious and painfully unfunny, which “Saturday Night Live” parodied last weekend in a sketch entitled “Disney Channel Acting School,” featuring former Disney star Miley Cyrus herself.

The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon aren’t looking to make masterpieces. They simply follow the grating, cringe-worthy “Hannah Montana” formula that has made them so much money in the past few years.

Maybe it’s just the nostalgia talking, but the scarcity of quality programming for kids is all the more obvious when compared to the live-action shows that Nickelodeon aired just 10 or 15 years ago, many of which were reasonably well-written, creative and quirky as well as being entertaining for kids. Think “Clarissa Explains It All,” “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” and “The Secret World of Alex Mack.” With ratings at an all-time high, perhaps it’s too optimistic to hope that these channels will abandon their obsession with child fame and return to form anytime soon.
 

Director Gore Verbinski turned a lot of heads when he abandoned his “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise to make “Rango,” an animated Nickelodeon Western populated entirely with talking animals. However, “Rango” is the perfect fit for Verbinski, a genre-based hilarious film that’s just as much for adults as it is for kids.

Johnny Depp voices Rango, a chameleon who loses his owners after his aquarium is launched out of the backseat of a car. He sets off into the desert trying to find water, and eventually, he arrives at the dried-up town of Dirt. His theatrical nature earns him the title of best gunfighter in the Old West. The town buys his schtick, half from luck and half from Rango’s pure charisma, and Rango is made sheriff just in time to deal with an impending water shortage.

The cast is great all around, with each voice actor completely disappearing into his or her roles. With the likes of Depp, Alfred Molina, Timothy Olyphant and Ray Winstone, a lesser director might be inclined to capitalize on his or her actors, but with “Rango,” the characters and the voice actors are more or less indistinguishable, making the audience wait until the end credits to match the voice to the character. Depp, in particular, is phenomenal, creating a character just as fascinating as anyone he’s played before, without the added bonus of actually being on screen.

Much of what makes “Rango” memorable is the sheer amount of creativity infused into every frame and character. From the titular chameleon that only wants to stand out to the villainous rattlesnake with a machine gun for a tail to the bats that double as attack planes, there isn’t a moment in “Rango” when there’s nothing to marvel at or be entertained by.

Verbinski guarantees this by also packing the film with hilarious references for adults and bombastic, frantic action scenes for the kids. A sequence halfway through the film in which Rango outruns of a posse of bats is a magnificent sequence of barely controlled chaos and proves to be the best action scene of the year so far.

Perhaps what’s most surprising about “Rango” is that, while it’s kid-friendly, it’s very much a Western at heart. The film has all the tropes of a classic Western in the vein of “High Noon,” but what could be predictable is revitalized by the sheer amount of energy on screen and the director and cast’s obvious commitment to the material.

On the other hand, “Rango” does have a handful of flaws. The story stalls a bit too often, and most of the background characters are undefined, blending together to form a shapeless mass of one-liners and exposition. However, these are minor quibbles with a gorgeously animated film.

“Rango” stands as 2011’s first truly great movie. It’s a vividly animated, wonderful film that will entertain kids and adults on equal levels thanks to Verbinski’s confident direction and Depp’s top-of-his-game vocal performance.