In these uncertain times, many are desperately looking for entertainment that brings a smile to our faces. Legendary — one of the first six original series on the new HBO Max streaming service — does this in a powerful, uplifting way that mostly works.
Legendary is a high-energy voguing reality competition that highlights the world of ball culture. Made up of mostly Black and Latino members of the LGBTQ+ community, the 10-part series features eight ballroom "houses" of five members each as they compete for $100,000 through weekly competitions.
The Bottom Line: The ballroom community of Legendary is talented, empowering, and exciting to watch. And yet, you'll leave wanting to learn more about each performer than you did.
- A great escape
- Each House is unique and oh-so-stylish
- Uplifting at a dangerous time
What's not so good
- The judges are nails on a 20th-century chalkboard
- Where's the intimacy?
Most aren't familiar with ball culture, and the Legendary producers clearly understand this. From the moment "Welcome to My House" begins and continues for 49 minutes, the first episode takes viewers on a fast-paced, immersive ride that's one part celebratory, another part voguing 101.
As newbies like myself quickly learn, the ballroom culture is less about winning a competition than it is about providing a creative and emotional support system for younger members of the LGBTQ+ community. Each performance (big and small) is designed to elevate and celebrate each individual's self-worth as it relates to being in a larger group. Each week, the Voguers, as they are called, must create and perform a new mix of dance, lip-syncing, modeling, the occasional hair toss, and more.
Legendary is best when it focuses on the varied backgrounds of the voguers and their performances. It's much messer when it tilts the cameras to the judges who are a motley crew, at best. The most familiar of these is actress Jameela Jamil, one of the stars of the late, great The Good Place.
When casting was announced for Legendary last winter, Jamil was highly criticized in some circles for not being representative of the black LGBT community. Soon after, she announced that she identified "as queer" for the first time, although critics remain.
You'll also find America's Next Top Model Law Roach, American rapper Megan Thee Stallion, and Leiomy Maldonado, known as the "Wonder Woman of Vogue." Rounding out the cast is the MC for each competition, Dashaun Wesley, who has been seen in Pose, Magic Mike XXL, and Hit the Floor.
Each week, except for the first, the judges declare a superior house of the episode and others that are safe. The bottom two houses then battle it out one-on-one with the lowest-rated house of the night being sent home.
What the houses are asked to do each week is nothing short of unbelievable. Think acrobatics and gymnastics with colorful sequins and hairstyles thrown in. Everyone here is good at what they do, and no doubt great, when compared to the average viewer. As you would expect from TV judges, these mouthpieces know how to please and criticize, sometimes in the same sentence.
Whether actual or merely the result of poor editing, the judge's comments seem more often for show than constructive. When useful comments are made, we rarely see what kind of effect they have on the contestants.
By design, no individual member of a ballroom house is looked upon as better or more important than the whole. And yet, behind the flashy costumes and makeup are personal stories to tell. Through two episodes of viewing, regrettably, these stories are rare and mostly surface. Hopefully, as the number of houses remaining in the competition drops, more about each contestant will be revealed. Otherwise, the series is missing an opportunity.
What little I have gathered in the early episodes is that each contestant has experienced the familiar rejection, and at times, abandonment that comes for many in the community when they come out and share their sexuality or gender identity. Some have also experienced homelessness.
Legendary comes at a difficult time on our nation's history with much uncertainty, illness, and death. Uplifting stories are much more valuable in times like these, and Legendary delivers. Come and watch unique dance routines from fascinating people that will both wow you, and also make you think more about the world in which we live. Stay and recognize that better days are ahead, if only because we have so much to give to make the world a better place.
Stories to tell, through movement and voice
Welcome the ballroom, where anything possible
The inclusive party atmosphere of Legendary always leaves you wanting for more. Each week, watch as one house gets eliminated and the rest march closer to winning $100,000.