The funniest thing about the new competition game show Lego Masters is that it’s kind of hard to believe it exists. Less than four minutes in, contestants are talking about the credentials of the judges and referring to them as “Lego legends.” While it might be pushing to suggest your average viewer is aware of the names of famous chefs or foodie critics on Top Chef, most people can picture what a chef or food critic does. What does a Lego designer do? Is this something that is now considered legendary?
Welcome to the topsy-turvey bizzaro universe of Lego Masters, a game show that seems to be taking place inside of an episode of Arrested Development, with just enough self-aware irony to get away with it.
After about two decades, there’s really no sense pretending that reality TV gameshows are any kind of reflection of reality, and the nice thing about Lego Masters is that it doesn’t even try. In this world, Lego designers are household names, and Will Arnett actually behaves exactly like Gob Bluth, minus the terrible magic tricks. He fakes out contestants with false prizes of cash, affects being disorganized, and even questions if the plural of Lego truly is just…Lego.
If you’re planning on watching with the kids, this is probably good. If your kids are serious Lego-junkies, they’ll probably understand some of the intricacies of the builds better than you. And, if seeing this competition makes kids want to get more creative with Legos, it’s kind of tough to argue with that being a win right there.
So, what’s in it for the parents? If you’re watching for Arnett, you won’t be disappointed. But the funhouse mirror quality to the show means that sometimes he’s not joking, or, to put it another way, things that seem silly or high stakes come across like jokes with no punchline. The various two-person teams of Lego Builders all act like this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to them, sporting plastered smiles so big, they themselves seem like they are constructed of Lego.
This is par for the reality gameshow course, but there’s something extra-hilarious about just how jacked these people are acting about this competition. In a tiny bit of Gob Bluth-anti-climax, Will Arnett reveals a tiny “golden brick,” which is essentially a get-out-jail-free card in case anyone is eliminated later. As soon as one team of bearded dudes declares they need that golden brick, all you’re doing is rooting for them not to get it.
Basically, because the specific rules of Lego Masters are unfolding in the first 15 minutes of the show, you’re mostly rooting against all of them, and rooting for Will Arnett to lie to everyone or somehow screw them over. This isn’t’ to say Lego Masters doesn’t have tension, or that the show won’t create a competitive element that we can really get excited about. But the majority of the tension now relies on editing. Arnett sets a clock for 15-hours at one point, but of course, we’re not going to watch that unfold in real-time. Maybe this will give Lego builders too much credit, but on some level, the rules of this competition aren’t too different from game-show centered on a competition between a dozen painters all doing a still-life oil painting of a live model.
There’s almost no way to make this kind of durational creativity exciting without cheating a little bit. We jump around from the different teams, and their various “builds,” trying to get a sense of who is wowing us with their cool projects. None of this really gets interesting until we actually see what the various teams have completed. And then, again, all you’re really doing is rooting for someone to fail, for something to topple over, for bricks to fall apart.
The idea that all reality-based competition shows are at least half enjoyable because of the train wrecks isn’t unique to Lego Masters. But, for some reason, there’s an extra amount of satisfaction when something doesn’t work out. Most people — parents in particular — are not Lego Masters and have no desire to construct Lego things this complicated. So, when a really nifty Lego Ferris wheel works, it’s kind of annoying. But when something breaks, it’s great.
In that way, Lego Masters is almost like the anti-Great British Baking Show but with bricks. It works. Between watching plastic bricks not do what the builders want them to do, combined with a few Will Arnett fake-outs, Lego Masters has more than enough going for it. Older kids will probably like the dedication some of the builders have, while parents can secretly root for Will Arnett to put a knife in his mouth, start releasing birds, and play “The Final Countdown.” There’s a little something for everyone.
Lego Masters airs on Wednesday nights on Fox. New episodes hit Hulu every Thursday morning.