Lego Masters is a more conventional competition show than Making It or The Great British Baking Show, but is still having a hell of a lot more fun than most conventional cable talent competitions. Yet it’s also winking so hard at its own conventions that I’m sure its face hurts.
In the first few seconds of Lego Masters—well, after the two minute supertease that shows us everything that’s coming, a desperate plea for people to keep watching—Will Arnett stands in the dark, alone, practicing introducing himself as host of the show, and then deadpans, “Am I already the best at this?”
That’s when the set comes to life, lights darting along the floor and then eventually up the walls. It’s a spectacular space, complete with giant Lego brick lamps over each work station, and a towering two-story wall of minifigs, never mind the millions of Lego bricks available to contestants. Lego Masters (Fox, Wednesdays at 9) is a Lego fantasy world, but its master is Will Arnett.
The voice of Lego Batman himself—and BoJack Horseman—shapes the show’s tone even more than actual Lego does. Arnett is not a master builder, he’s an actor, and without a Nick Offerman (expert) to his (novice) Amy Poehler, he’s leaning heavily on wry asides.
Doing his best Jim Halpert, he looks at the camera more than at the Lego bricks. His frequent, knowing winks to the audience are more like head-spasms, that’s how subtle they are.
That creates some distance, and that keeps broadcast TV’s newest reality competition from being the crackling fireplace of warmth and good cheer that Making It is.
But even firmly in Arnett’s sardonic grip, Lego Masters is a dazzling display of talent, creativity, and multicolor spectacle that makes toys literally come to life.
Lego Masters can be a smashing good time
The opening episode, “Dream Park Theme Park,” asks each team of two to create their own Lego theme park, including a moving ride, in 15 hours.
Next week’s episode, “Space Smash,” has the contestants create space-themed objects only to have them be destroyed—and filmed in slow motion—while episode three, “Cut in Two,” gives teams an object that’s literally sliced in half, and they have to re-build the missing part out of Lego.
Future challenges have themes from “Good vs. Evil” to “Movie Genres,” “Story Book” to Star Wars, with guests including Terry Crews, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and Mayim Bialik.
These are inventive challenges, and the contestants mostly deliver, at least in the first episode and in the previews of what’s to come. Even the least-impressive creations are still decent, and well beyond what most of us could probably create, even with a virtually unlimited supply of bricks.
Like most competition shows, Lego Masters skips over the minutiae of creative work, though with a 15-hour challenge, it has a lot more to skip over than a 30-minute quickfire challenge.
We do not see things being built brick by brick. Instead, the (giant Lego) timer loses a few hours and new things appear: a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, a pond, a bunch of ducks.
The first episode gives us more time with the contestants talking about their work—with their partners, with Arnett, or with the judges, Amy Corbett and Jamie Berard, both of whom are designers at Lego—than actually doing that work, but they are a hoot, to use a word my favorite contestant so far, Kara, might use.
While I’m disappointed that the show did not include kid contestants as the UK version did (children have strict limits the amount of time they can spend on set), Lego Masters has been well-cast, though that cast is not exactly well-developed in the first episode. (First episodes are tough; alas, Fox only provided one episode for review, and zero for review before it presented at TCA in January.)
They all seem to know their Lego stuff, though their creativity, ambition, and time management varies wildly.
There’s one pair that’s never worked together before, which seems like an unfortunate set-up; a father-son who bond while building; two bros, who bro; two actual brothers; and two friends, Jessie and Kara, whose team name is “The Higher The Hair the Closer to God.”
Kara’s hair is almost as high as the minifig wall, but it’s her expressions that are as impressive as some of the Lego constructions.
That’s all we’re really left with, though; the minifigs have more dimension than the contestants, either in terms of their backgrounds or their decision-making.
The same is true of the judging, which lands closer to Superficial Commentary Land than the vicinity of Top Chef”s head table.
There are a few specific bits of praise and critique (one team is dinged for just making square, vertical towers), but very little that focuses on the craft and creativity of assembling thousands of tiny pieces of plastic into life-like shapes.
In the first episode, all of the theme parks are pushed together to make one big park, and thanks to special effects, the set dissolves and is replaced by a computer-generated landscape. It’s beautiful to look at, both this post-production addition and all of the work created by the contestants.
Later, when we get to see the final theme park designs up close, several of them get animated, Lego Movie-style, and it’s enchanting—just as it’s magical that the design, concept, and fabrication of these worlds came from just 15 hours of work.
Lego Masters has rich, three-dimensional Lego worlds; animated contestant-characters who create them; a host who sets the tone with witty and aloof asides; and delightful production design that makes all of this into reality TV pyrotechnics. It is just not yet as beguiling as its more charm-forward predecessors.
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