I never really understood the people who would watch talent-focused reality competitions by fast-forwarding to the end, when the things have all been made. They might fast-forwarding to the runway show on Project Runway, or skip to the critiques on Top Chef. I attribute that to how much I love watching the creative process unfold, especially when that creativity involves a craft that I’m not good at, such as sewing or pottery-making or baking.
Then I met Fox’s Lego Masters. I watched most of season one, all the way to that frustrating finale, and tuned back in when season two premiered a few weeks ago. But what I quickly realized is that I have no patience for its nonsense this season, and I’m now just fast-forwarding to the end. That’s because the editing has damaged what could have been a terrific show.
The builds on Lego Masters (Fox, Tuesdays at 8) are nearly always spectacular, whether they are massive, scaled-up characters or dioramas with detailed environments and characters. There’s no question about the contestants’ talent, even if there is a question about why some of them are teams who just met and others met in the womb. But I do have questions about how the hell they created these spectacular Lego creations. Things just appear out of nowhere! And the editing shows us next to nothing of the actual building.
In season two, episode two’s explosion challenge, “Hero Shot,” judge Jamie Berard explained in an interview that the key was figuring out where to put break points. Then the editing cut to a team talking about something else. I don’t understand why the show is uninterested in the choices Lego builders make, and how Lego bricks come together. Of course, with a 10- or 15-hour challenge, only a small fraction of that can end up in a 43-minute episode. And we do get tiny fragments of building or choices. But the actual building is constantly interrupted, usually by cutaways to interview segments, which focus on biographical details, not the build. Or, the editing focuses on the teams’ conversations in the workroom with the judges and host Will Arnett. Arnett can certainly be funny, especially when he’s just reacting, but an attempt at comedy shouldn’t be replacing the actual craft.
Other shows have figured out how to condense process effectively while still highlighting and developing characters, both contestants and judges. The Great British Bake-Off shows us all parts of the baking process—even the contestants sitting and watching things bake!—and still manages to fit three challenges into its one hour. Project Runway shows us fabric selection, draping, sewing, model fitting, and finishing before actually presenting something on a runway. Top Chef certainly skips over parts of the cooking process, especially early in the season, but still manages to show us key moments and critical decisions that affect the outcome.
In the second and third episodes of Lego Masters season 2, there’s been more time given to destroying the builds than to watching them come together. I actually liked both of those challenges: “Hero Shot” asked the builders to create something that would explode in an intentional way, while “Make and Shake” was about creating sturdy structures that could withstand earthquake-like shaking. Both challenges give more of the slow-motion visuals that Fox clearly demanded more of, rather than rich, detail-filled dioramas that could come to life with CGI. (Next week’s challenge, “Hats Incredible,” asks the contestants to make wearable hats, hoping they won’t fall apart while being modeled on a runway, so it seems similar.)
All of this means I’m just fast-forwarding to see the completed builds—and, often, their destruction. Alas, the judging on Lego Masters is even worse than the editing. I wrote about during season one, and nothing has changed between seasons. We have the same two judges, Lego’s Amy Corbett and Jamie Berard, and they are saying the same things.
In Project Runway’s last Bravo season before moving to Lifetime, and then in the first Lifetime season, Tim Gunn seemed to have been replaced by a robot version of himself who just walked around the workroom repeating his catchphrases: “I’m concerned.” “Make it work.”
The Lego Masters judges are somehow even more robotic, just saying the word “story” and “storytelling” all the time, as if that’s a substitute for meaningful critique. (Alas, some teams don’t even get critiques, at least in the edit.) When the judges do critique something, such as the lack of detail, or flat color, they don’t go further than that word. Detail, color. Okay, but what about it? Teach me! Help me understand! What elements are you weighing most heavily in the elimination decisions? What are the criteria? Does it change completely from challenge to challenge, or are there certain core Lego building fundamentals that always need to be present? I don’t know, and I’ve watched more than an entire season.
This may not be the fault of the judges. Perhaps, on set, they offer fantastic, thoughtful, helpful critiques, and the editing deletes all of that. Or perhaps the judges might be getting terrible directions from producers. Likewise, the editors could be getting terrible notes from network executives, and having to replace their thoughtfully crafted scenes with more and more character beats. It is clear the network is happy with what it got last season, and isn’t interested in changing except to add more smashing and exploding.
Lego Masters has some absolutely terrific artists who create impressive Lego builds, and they are unquestionably the best part. But I really want to put the show itself on a pedestal and have Will Arnett smash it with a bat, so someone who knows what they’re doing can pick up the pieces and put them together in a more artful way.
Lego Masters: C
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