The new Fox reality competition series LEGO Masters is not safe for children. Not because there’s anything inappropriate; it’s actually quite wholesome and fun. But if you think your kids wanted to buy LEGO before, just wait until they’re dazzled by the ingenuity on display from these master builders. Of course, when you’re on a soundstage and all the LEGO you could ever want is at your disposal, there’s no problem. It’s not like host Will Arnett is going to be the one to sit down with your kids and explain why LEGO is expensive and it would probably cost quite a bit of money to make that cool LEGO roller coaster at home. But for adult viewers who like LEGO, LEGO Masters is a joy even if you can recognize it as one long advertisement for LEGO. But since you’re already sold on the product, you can sit back and marvel at what these builders are able to construct.
LEGO Masters follows a tried-and-true reality competition format. There are ten teams of two. They are given a different task each week (in week one, they had to construct a theme park with moving rides, a theme, and a story), a set amount of time to complete their build, and then the judges decide who’s the best, and who’s going home. The teams have different personalities so that you’ll feel inclined to root for certain people, each week someone will be sent home, and at the end the winners get $100,000 and a LEGO trophy.
Watching LEGO Masters is kind of fascinating because it seems like Fox wanted to take some pages from the success of The Great British Bake-Off with people using the same set of tools to show off their imagination and creativity. You even have a little drawing of what the finished product is supposed to look like just like in GBBO. And yet what makes GBBO special is that it’s ultimately a nice show about nice people with relatively low stakes (the winner gets a laser-engraved cake plate). By contrast, LEGO Masters is very much in the Fox mold. The production design is expensive and the show seems uncertain at how much tension it should create between players. For example, one team is a father and son, so Fox goes overboard mining it for emotion. Another team is comprised of two builders who haven’t really worked together before and clearly there’s a bit of friction between them, so Fox goes overboard mining it for drama. While subtlety has no place in reality TV, LEGO Masters seems uncertain about what tone it wants to strike.
When you strip away all the reality show artifice, LEGO Masters works best as a way to highlight a hobby. Yes, there is a drive to get you to buy more LEGO, but the show doesn’t (or at least hasn’t) gone overboard by trying to sell you specific sets or making you feel icky at the consumerism on display. LEGO has been around long enough and is unique enough that it has its own culture that fosters creativity. The reason The LEGO Movie worked is because while there was an acknowledgement that this is branded toy, it’s a unique toy for how it allows people to sculpt and construct what’s in their imagination. When LEGO Masters gets on that wavelength, you can’t help but be awed and excited by these builders’ creations.
If LEGO Masters can ease up on the “Fox”-iness of it all and lean more towards the good-natured creativity of GBBOrather than a cut-throat competition over playing with toys, then it should find success because the talent and production values are there. Arnett makes for a charming host, the judges speak with expertise, and the builders are the real deal. The producers just need to remember that LEGO is all about what you can build; not what you can destroy.