The Arts Desk’s weekly picks for television, movies, books and music
TV Show: “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (2005)
When “Avatar” was added back to Netflix on May 15, I, and many other people who were kids when the show was running from 2005 to 2008, promptly rewatched the series. The perfectly paced plot, the spectacular concept of “benders” (people who can manipulate one of the four elements) and the dazzling universe brought back a childlike sense of awe. I got a chance to appreciate the complex journey undertaken by Aang, the titular Avatar who has the ability to bend all four elements, as he seeks to restore balance to a war-torn world. With more serious themes interspersed in the generally lighthearted, humorous storyline, it is the type of show that can be enjoyed by viewers of any age and doesn’t seem overly childish. Unlike other shows of its time, “Avatar” has been lauded for a more respectful approach to worldbuilding. The show draws from specific Asian cultures without relying on Orientalism, and each element bending style is inspired by a different martial arts discipline. Spoiler alert ahead—the show celebrated its 15th anniversary this year though, so if you haven’t watched it yet, that’s rough, buddy. The final episode involves the classic good defeating evil trope, yet rather than the villain being killed, his bending is taken away. The show approaches redemption with nuance and, alongside heartwarming storylines with copious amounts of humor, proves to be a thoroughly delightful, thought-provoking watch for children and adults alike.
Movie: “The Parent Trap” dir. by Nancy Meyers (1998)
The iconic Lindsay Lohan movie is everything a comfort movie needs to be. It is full of family favorite songs, endlessly rewatchable and so easily quoted and referenced (though perhaps that is due to how many times I’ve rewatched it). The ear-piercing scene that Roger Ebert suspected would “lead to an epidemic of do-it-yourself home surgery” in 1998? Terrifying, but in a good way. The pure cinematic experience of Elaine Hendrix’s Meredith Blake and the lizard? Unmatched, but perhaps the origin of my overwhelming fear of lizards. Annie and Martin’s secret handshake? Inimitable, though we ALL try. I’m lucky enough to have a roommate who is ready to do the handshake at the drop of a hat if I play the Young-Holt Trio’s “Soulful Strut.” I would recommend you start the year off right by watching the movie a few times and practicing each time the handshake happens.
Book: “Dessert Person” by Claire Saffitz (2020)
Having witnessed—and participated in—many stress baking adventures over the past four months, one of my roommates gifted me Claire Saffitz’s cookbook for Christmas. Although I had quite an unfruitful attempt at making the cover recipe, an upside-down blood orange olive oil cake, the tomato tart with spices and herby feta was so wonderful that it seems sacrilegious not to recommend this book. I am a huge fan of the recipe matrix that details the amount of time and skill required to make a recipe—perhaps one day I will be brave enough to attempt a kouign-amann. If the aesthetic pictures are not enough to convince you to check this book out, Questlove provides a glowing review on the inside cover that is a must-read.
Album: “Sing To Me Instead” by Ben Platt (2019)
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that it is hard to do things alone. To me, “Grow As We Go” is the poster song of this sentiment. Ben Platt has said that the song is about the desperation of wanting a relationship to work while still needing personal growth, but every time I listen to it I am reminded of the ultimate best friend song “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. “Bad Habit” is the perfect opening track and “New” showcases his incredible voice and range. The aching ballad “In Case You Don’t Live Forever” combines gentle piano with painfully raw lyrics. Platt’s theater kid roots are on display with his skillfully constructed debut album; it is genuinely vulnerable and wholly deserves devoted attention for all 44 minutes.
Written by: Anjini Venugopal — firstname.lastname@example.org