Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Nickelodeon Releases Trailer for 'Avatar: Braving the Elements' Podcast


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Nickelodeon today released a trailer for its all-new iHeartRadio original podcast, Avatar: Braving the Elements, the official companion podcast for Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra. Hosted by original series voice actors Janet Varney (the voice of Korra) and Dante Basco (the voice of Prince Zuko), this weekly podcast will extend the Avatarverse for loyal fans who grew up with the beloved franchise. Co-produced by Nickelodeon and iHeartRadio, Avatar: Braving the Elements will be available on iHeartRadio, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever else podcasts are heard starting Tuesday, June 22.

Joining Janet and Dante this season as guests are Jack De Sena (the voice of Sokka), Jennie Kwan (the voice of Suki), Kevin Michael Richardson (the voice of Tyro), fighting instructor and consultant Sifu Kisu, and original creators and executive producers Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Additional guest stars will be announced in the coming months. 

In Avatar: Braving the Elements, hosts Janet Varney and Dante Basco re-watch every episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender and break down key themes, notable battles, and behind-the-scenes trivia. Special guests from cast members to producers join them to explore elements of the Avatarverse, including the origins of the story and how Avatar was brought to life.

Avatar: Braving the Elements is distributed by the iHeartPodcast Network.

About Avatar: The Last Airbender

Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender emerged from its three-season run (61 episodes), from February 2005 to July 2008, as one of the most beloved animated properties in history. Honored with a Peabody Award and Primetime Emmy, along with multiple Annie Awards and Genesis Awards, the series follows the adventures of the main protagonist Aang and his friends, who must save the world by defeating Fire Lord Ozai and ending the destructive war with the Fire Nation.

In addition to the series’ success, the property has spawned into several bestselling book series, which continue to roll out new original stories. The graphic novel series most recently spent two months on the New York Times Graphic Books Bestseller list in 2020, and the young adult novels have spent 22 cumulative weeks on the New York Times Young Adult Bestseller list and have shipped over a quarter million copies. The DVD and Blu-rays are also incredibly successful, with the “Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Complete Series” generating nearly $38MM in retail sales since its 2015 release.


Avatar actors Dante Basco, Janet Varney tease Braving the Elements podcast in trailer

Plus, watch EW's exclusive trailer for Dante Basco and Janet Varney's rewatch podcast, Avatar: Braving the Elements.

It's not enough that they've worked to bring peace to the four nations; Zuko and Korra are embarking on another adventure together: starting their own podcast!

In Avatar: Braving the Elements, Dante Basco and Janet Varney, who voiced the two beloved characters from the Avatarverse, will recap every episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender and break down key themes, notable battles, and behind-the-scenes trivia.

EW can exclusively premiere the trailer above, in which the co-hosts are joined by Avatar co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, plus voice actors Jack DeSena (Sokka), Jennie Kwan (Suki), and André Sogliuzzo (Hakoda/Bumi). They're among the talents who'll be stopping by the weekly podcast, which will air around 40 episodes. Basco and Varney say the goal is to recap the sequel, The Legend of Korra, right after ATLA.

"We never run out of potential guests; there's just so much to talk about. For us, getting to nerd out and be fans, even with our own peers, has just been a total blast," Varney, a veteran podcaster who also hosts The JV Club, tells EW.

Nickelodeon's Avatar: Braving the Elements debuts Tuesday, June 22 on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other platforms. Before you tune into the podcast, check out EW's interview with Basco and Varney below. The two chat about what people can expect from the podcast, how fans can get involved, Uncle Iroh's voice actor mentoring Basco in real life, and more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long has the podcast been in the works?

JANET VARNEY: Well, for me, it was fortuitous because it was something that I had talked about with Mike and Bryan a really long time ago, and so the timing just ended up being right. And when we started talking about what that would look like, it was like, "Gotta get Basco immediately. I need my Basco." I knew for a really long time, like last year, it was so hard. I'm so bad at keeping secrets. Mike and Bryan knew to never tell me anything about what was happening on Korra because I get in front of a fan, and I'm like, "I can't lie to you." I don't have any idea what's happening with Avatar Studios, really. Dante and I have to be kept in the dark because we are very bad at spilling secrets.

Have you prepped at all to recap the show?

VARNEY: I've really been hitting the books. I've spent a lot of time on the Avatar fan wiki. It's extraordinary. You could live there for a year and never come out again. There's so much hard work put into that. And reading the books and going back to the show, and really just in service of trying to show up Dante. [Laughs]

DANTE BASCO: I love talking about Avatar, but I don't know outside of what Prince Zuko did. I was Prince Zuko, and I walked around and did what I did. And so part of my goal going through it this time with Varney is really to help myself become a connoisseur or just a very knowledgeable person about the world that I voiced one of the cool characters in. 

When do the Mike and Bryan episodes roll out?

VARNEY: I would say we wouldn't want the podcast to go very far in without hearing from them. Because obviously, none of this would exist without them. And so, we wanted to let them help lay the groundwork as we continue on. So I would say you won't have to wait very long.

Can you tease what kind of things you asked them?

VARNEY: Oh, my gosh, so much. And there's so much that we want to still have to talk about with them.

BASCO: Yeah, inspirations of how this all came about, questions of certain characters, everything. We're just fans asking them what a fan would ask them. You know, "What were you thinking about this? Why do you draw it like this? What does that mean?" I hope we weren't annoying them.

VARNEY: We don't want fans to think that we forgot to ask a bunch of questions; we literally ran out of time. So we will be hitting them up again because there are a million things that we still would like to know.

The fandom is so big - are you assuming people will have seen ATLA before tuning into the podcast?

VARNEY: You will want to have watched at least Book One to listen to the podcast. There's just way too many references. And believe me, I feel like we do an okay job recapping what happens in an episode - please do not take what we say happens in the episode as like, "It's almost as if I've seen it."

Dante, you rewatched ATLA for your Honor Society Twitch stream. For fans who've watched that, how will this experience be different?

BASCO: I love what we did on Honor Society, and that was my first time rewatching it. It was more just hanging out with cast members in COVID that we have not seen in a long time, with Avatar playing in the background of the party. And that was a lot of fun. This is a little bit more like going back to high school. It's like having an Avatar class, Avatar 101.

Having listened to the first episode, you have so many fun recurring segments like Animal Crossing and Most Valuable Bender during the recap.

VARNEY: Yeah, there's more too; we have so many that we keep rolling out as the episodes go. So there's some new ones that come out.

Will you address any of the longstanding fan theories that have come up about the Avatar world?

BASCO: Yeah. I mean, we go dive into some of those ideas sometimes, right?

VARNEY: Yeah, and I think that'll be an opportunity for us too. We've recorded some episodes without being able to engage in social media yet and without being able to do as much fan interaction as we want. And we've been so excited for this part of the reveal to the world happening because then we can really kick in and start getting some suggestions from fans. And I think that's going to be a great one. We're going to take a bunch of questions like that from fans. And we've already said, we will fully exploit our relationship with Mike and Bryan as much as possible. We are the ambassadors. We are happy to try to get answers that heretofore have not been answered. 

Do you have a favorite episode you've recorded so far?

VARNEY: I do not feel like I can pick a favorite. You know, I love the Jennie Kwan episode because I love Suki so much. And I love Jennie, and I really fangirled, and she's such a positive person. We had this great conversation with her and recapped an episode; there's a ton there. So we talk about her career, we talk about racism and deep stuff that's happening not just in the Avatar world but in the real world, and really positive messages from her that are very inspiring towards how to cope with stuff like that. And then also just nerding out on Avatar because she too is a huge fan and feels so lucky to have been part of it. And then hearing about Jennie and Dante's experience in the moment, feeling like a fly on the wall for that.

BASCO: The Jennie Kwan episode was amazing. I mean, Jack DeSena was amazing. Got to hang out with Jack, shout out to Jack. He's so funny. And then Janet and Jack are like improv masters. They start riffing, and I'm just sitting there like, "Hello?"

VARNEY: Super fun. My face always hurts after we finish recording; my face hurts from laughing. So that's gotta be a good sign.

During the ATLA cast reunion in January, Jennie brought up her connection to Mako Iwamatsu's [original voice of Iroh] daughter and Dante, you've talked about knowing him even before working on ATLA. Does Mako come up in the Jennie episode?

BASCO: Yeah, we touched base on Mako because he's a part of the first book, and this is his last project that he got to do, so I'm so honored to get to do this with him, and he was very much an Uncle Iroh my whole life and my career. Being that I was able to work with him throughout my career, starting at age 12 in The Perfect Weapon and throughout my teenage years, and then my 20s and then my 30s. He's just one of those artists that is just a legend in our community in town, and the Asian American community, and someone that I've had the good fortune to get to touch base with as a younger actor to ask advice and have laughs and tell stories and just be a mentor throughout my career.

Did you get to record with Mako when you were doing The Last Airbender?

BASCO: A lot, all the time. I mean, we were there until he got sick. He got sick, and then he's out. I remember he passed away, which is very emotional for everybody. And then there were episodes where Uncle Iroh didn't talk, which was very odd where I was talking to him, right, and Uncle Iroh has no lines because he's in prison at that time. And then the episode where [Iroh's new voice actor] Greg Baldwin came in, and he did Mako's voice, and Greg was in the other room. So you can't see him, and then he starts talking, and everyone started crying. It was like chills, and I look up, and [voice director] Andrea Romano is crying; we're all crying. It was like Mako coming from the grave. It was crazy.

I loved Greg and Andrea's appearance in the cast reunion. Will you be having them on the pod too? What can fans expect, in terms of the guests segments?

VARNEY: I'll tell you what, I promise you every single person you could possibly imagine wanting to have on the podcast, we got on a big fat list. We are like, "Oh no, we will have to do a billion episodes," because there are so many amazing people who are part of it. I will say they are both an absolute must. So if for some reason that doesn't happen, it will not be because we did not pursue it with every fiber of our being, and we love both of them, and they love us too. We never run out of potential guests; there's just so much to talk about. For us getting to nerd out and be fans, even with our own peers, has just been a total blast.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Why The Legend of Korra Found New Life on Netflix

When The Legend of Korra first aired it had a fair share of detractors but its arrival on Netflix has led to a new reaction, according to lead voice actress Janet Varney.

When The Legend of Korra first debuted on Nickelodeon in 2012 it was hotly anticipated. A sequel to the popular Avatar: The Last Airbender, fans had waited four years for the show and with that came expectations. How would Korra tie into ATLA? Would any of the old characters show up? Could it live up to the high level of storytelling ATLA maintained? Would they reveal what happened to Zuko’s mom?!

While the show instantly won over a large group of fans there were still some detractors who blasted the show for “controversial” choices in relation to those questions and more. Adult Aang, seen in flashbacks, was much more serious than his goofy younger self. Certain characters weren’t as instantly beloved as the previous cast. Korra getting her bending back at the end of season one was seen as a huge waste of story potential. They made fun of fans wanting to know what happened to Zuko’s mom.

In retrospect these “controversial” choices weren’t as big as fans made them out to be and much of their reactions were driven by not willing to give the new show a chance. It’s hard to live up to four plus years of nostalgia after all.

Even still, Korra voice actress Janet Varney understands why fans reacted this way when the show first aired.

“When you have something that is so beloved, the way the Last Airbender series was, people felt this emotional connection to it and they had this resistance (to Korra,)” Varney tells Den of Geek.

Varney equates it to a child’s reaction to a divorced parent finding a new spouse. No matter how great that new spouse is, they’re still not one of your original parents. 

“I know that there are still people who feel that it was a betrayal,” Varney states. She’s also quick to add that for all the detractors there were many fans that got something they loved out of Korra that ATLA didn’t have. She lists the concept of a lead female Avatar as one but another that fans have also resonated with was the confirmation that Korra and Asami were queer and in a relationship at the end of the series.

As the years have gone on and Korra finished its four-season run, fans have had the chance to reevaluate the title by watching it all in one go. This was especially the case last year when both ATLA and Korra were brought to Netflix, many experiencing both for the first time.

For Varney, this led to a completely different reaction because these new fans didn’t have to wait four years between ATLA and Korra. She describes the experiences of new fans as,

“Here’s one adventure, here’s this next adventure, wow these are both so great. It’s just two great TV shows and nobody needs to fight about it. I think it’s been nice to have that reprieve.”’

Varney, along with Zuko voice actor Dante Basco, are launching an Avatar rewatch podcast titled Avatar: Braving the Elements on June 22. If you want to know more about the behind the scenes of Avatar, that podcast will be for you.


Originally published: June 15, 2021 at 17:35 BST.

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