LEGO Masters provokes tepid response in a household that should love it

From age 4 when he first discovered them until around age 12, the only thing my son wanted for birthdays, Christmas, or any other gift-giving occasion was LEGO. I still had two advanced sets from my own childhood, and it was a significant moment when I handed them down to my son. We as a family have attended brick conventions, played pretty much all of the LEGO videogames, and subscribed to the Lego Club Magazine for years. My son was part of a competitive LEGO club for a time. Now that he is a teenager, we still make it an annual tradition to put together one LEGO set during the holidays.

All of this should clearly establish that we, my son and I as well as my LEGO-adoring wife, are the demographic for Fox’s LEGO Masters reality competition series.

That spells trouble for the series producers because the reaction in our household has been tepid at best. To help figure out why this show, which should be perfect for us, is not working better than it is, my son and I offer the following collaborative review.

Jeff: So James, I think to start with, the idea of a LEGO competition show is perfect in some ways but in other ways completely antithetical to the values LEGO have always represented. On one hand, there are reality shows built around just about everything now, and given the endless creative possibilities LEGO offer, of course there should be a LEGO reality show! On the other hand, LEGO’s defining trait as a brand has always been to support kids’ creativity, not to stifle it with rules or competition. And the LEGO community is by nature nonjudgmental and accepting of everyone. From that perspective, it doesn’t make sense at all to build a show around LEGO. Do you agree?

James: I don’t agree with the stance that it doesn’t make sense to build a show around LEGO, no pun intended. The issue I see is that it’s a competition. LEGO isn’t about seeing who can build the biggest best thing, it’s about embracing your creativity. My creativity showed itself through writing an epic saga of badly written space opera drama about inter-dimensional hijinks, armies clashing, and only history knows what, because it went out of my head as quickly as it came. It wasn’t about judgement, it was just about people embracing their inner creativity.

Jeff: Right, the beautiful thing about the LEGO system is that you can build anything, so it frees up your imagination much more than just about any other toy. The way the show imposes typical reality competition rules on the contestants seems wrong. One of the show’s challenges in particular (in episode 2) was offensive to you and a lot of other people.

Courtesy of Fox

James: WHY WOULD YOU BREAK THE LEGOS!?! THAT IS FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG!!! YOU DON’T JUST BUILD SOMETHING THEN BLOW IT UP!!! I don’t know about you but when I build something cool, I feel accomplishment,which is diminished a great deal if I know this isn’t going on my shelf, it’s going on the floor over there, there, waaay over there, and there.

I think the main issue is the competitive nature, to the point that I’ve come up with an improved version of the show. Imagine, instead of the competition, it’s just a small group of people creating Lego MOCs. They have one week to create something big and cool. The whole thing doesn’t have to be building, it’s not one of those things where you only have “14 hours to make a city” like the 5th episode of LEGO Masters. They can take a break and walk the dog or something else.

Jeff: A lot of people online felt the same way about that episode. (The contestants had to build a creation that was immediately destroyed in one of three ways. The destruction was filmed then played back in slow-motion.)

This is what we both keep doing: generating ideas for how the show could work. I think we want it to work. We were definitely excited for the premiere episode. But there are all these missed opportunities. What you just wrote raises one of them. They could have fun little segments about the jargon that has developed among the LEGO community, like what MOC means (my own creation). Or building tips. Why aren’t the two bona fide LEGO designers, Amy Corbett and Jamie Berard, giving more building tips?

James: I did not know that’s what MOC meant. But you’re totally right! The entire discussion we keep having is relegated to how it could be good because all of those elements don’t help build each other up. It’s just a mess.

Jeff: So let’s assess the show for what it is, not what we wish it was. How about the contestants? Like most competition shows, I think the original teams ranged from very likeable to get-them-off-my-tv annoying (no names). The producers did a fine job of putting together a diverse cast, which is at least as important for a LEGO show as it is in general. The appeal of LEGO is universal, and like we said, that community is very accepting. They had to put together a cast that reflects those things.

I like Will Arnett as a host, and Jamie and Amy as the experts. Arnett is funny by nature, but the show’s style of humor doesn’t work for you, does it?

Jamie Bernad, Amy Corbett, Will Arnett
LEGO MASTERS: L-R: Judges Jamie Berard and Amy Corbett and host Will Arnett in the “Mega City Block” episode of LEGO MASTERS airing Wednesday, March 4 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2020 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

James: Will Arnett has, at least it seems this way to me, become the go-to man for hosting something. For those unaware, he also helped host the first MINECON Earth, a convention that was, for the first time, primarily broadcast online so more Minecraft players could witness it. I’ve seen that he can be funny and he’s an extremely good actor, but for whatever reason, his jokes and smile seem forced in this show. The same goes for the experts, who I feel could leave the show and not much of consequence would really occur. I agree with you that the contestants are diverse, but to me, it feels like they could definitely find more skilled contestants. Some of these people seem to be completely new to the hobby and the fact that I can imagine myself doing better than them with the same theme, style, and resources is not good.

Jeff: But if the experts leave, we’d never hear Amy’s accent again. I hear you on the contestants’ skill levels. A few teams are strong builders, but everyone is a hobbyist or an artist who dabbles in LEGO as one of their mediums. Anyone who has been to one convention knows there are thousands of builders out there with more advanced skills than what we’ve seen on the show.

And I hate to do this again, but we’ve stumbled on a couple more missed opportunities. Why not have some of the pros or designers on the show? I think Nathan Sawaya helped build some of the background pieces for the show – let’s see him at work. They use some LEGO animation on the show – why not bring on David Pagano? (If you’ve never seen Sawaya’s or Pagano’s work, they’re both true artists and nice people.) For that matter, why not showcase some of the amazing things kids do in LEGO clubs around the country? Essentially, why are they not capitalizing on the hugely talented, devoted, existing LEGO community?

The show’s comedy is a missed opportunity, too. Thanks to The LEGO Movie, meta-humor is part of the identity of LEGO. And they do no more than dabble in self-referential jokes. They just toss Arnett out there and ask him to carry most of the show with nothing but his charm and voice.

Okay, on this site, we give things a Fix or No Fix rating. Does LEGO Masters give you your entertainment fix?

James: No Fix.

Jeff: I agree, No Fix. My advice to the producers would be to retool the show for season two. It could be so good, but as it is, this is a show that will limp along with middling ratings and a fan base that isn’t large or enthusiastic enough to carry it.