I purposely avoided the previews for LEGO Masters so I could watch the show with an open, unbiased mind. Before tonight, all I knew about LEGO Masters is that it’s based on the British and Australian reality shows of the same name, where teams compete against each other in LEGO building challenges.
LEGO fans on social media naturally rave about the show and I always wondered whether the show would live up to the hype. I got my chance to find out when LEGO Masters debuted this week on the Fox television network in America.
The American version of LEGO Masters is hosted by LEGO Batman himself, Will Arnett. Joining Arnett as the judges are Amy Corbett, a senior design manager at Lego who works on the Friends line and the new LEGO Dots, and Jamie Berard, another LEGO designer who created many of the iconic sets in the LEGO Creator series.
LEGO Masters is reminiscent of the many cooking competitions on TV, where contestants (teams of two, in this case) are given a special challenge to complete in a set amount of time. The best teams are safe from elimination and the top team generally receives some kind of advantage that can be used later in the show. The bottom teams are at risk of being eliminated from the program.
The theme of the first episode is “Dream Park Theme Park”. The teams are presented with a massive LEGO landscape that includes trees and lakes and a working monorail track. It turns out the LEGO table breaks apart into 10 separate sections, and each team is tasked with creating their own LEGO theme park on their section of the table. Adding to the challenge, each team must incorporate at least one motorized ride in their design. The teams are given 15 hours to complete the challenge.
I won’t spoil the results here, but like many reality shows, LEGO Masters focuses on the top and bottom teams of the night, so it’s easy to predict where everyone will end up. Unfortunately that means the teams that are in the middle, which are half of the teams in this episode, don’t get a lot of significant screen time.
At the top of the pack are Aaron and Christian, who build a giant Ferris Wheel that is the focus of their alien-invasion theme park. Joining them are the “bearded builders” team of Mark and Boone who construct a lumberjack themed park with a huge lift-powered roller coaster as the centerpiece of their design. Both of these teams come across as confident and ambitious, following the advice of the judges to move fast and make quick decisions. They both incorporate the most “height” in their builds, which quickly make them stand out from the pack in more ways than one.
At the bottom of the group are Manny and Nestor, a father and son team who struggle to build a working roller coaster; and married couple Tyler and Amy, who spend hours planning their idea before finally starting on a farm-themed design with a silo-based drop tower ride. Sam and Jessica also struggle early on, spending half their time on a duck-themed park that they eventually abandon in favor of a dream-themed park featuring a pirate ship and castle.
Will Arnett proves to be a very capable host. Thankfully the “LEGO Batman” gimmick is downplayed as Arnett allows the contestants and judges to take center-stage. Arnett adds just the right amount of dry humor to the program, such as coming back from a commercial break with this awesomely self-aware zinger: “No more commercials, no more companies trying to present their products in a fun and imaginative way. Welcome back to LEGO Masters.”
LEGO Masters does suffer from a few shortcomings. For example, a gimmick that reveals the special advantage given to the winning team – a golden LEGO brick that can be used to avoid elimination later in a later episode – falls completely flat. The 15-hour build time is a long period to cover in a 1-hour episode. Also, near the end of the episode, the show adds some bizarre animation to the reveals of some (but not all) of the final designs, which only distracts from the excellent work done by the teams.
One additional issue, which is common with any reality competition, is that it’s hard to get to know the contestants when there is so much going on. That will surely change as the program goes on and teams are eliminated. But the show leaves you wanting to know more about the contestants, and I guess that can be a good thing.
And for LEGO builders like myself, I wanted to know more about the techniques that the teams used, especially to build the motorized theme park rides. I found myself pausing and rewinding the show on my DVR to try to get a good look at what parts they were using to construct their designs. The show is geared for the casual television viewer and that can leave the hard-core LEGO fans like you and me feeling a bit left out.
Overall, however, LEGO Masters is an enjoyable hour of harmless television fun. It won’t make you a master builder yourself, but it may just inspire you to pull out your box of LEGO and build something new.