“Greebling” is fine, detailed texturing added to the surface of a larger Lego object. “Snot” is building with Lego with the “studs not on top.” The plural of Lego is Lego. I learned all this from watching Fox’s compelling new reality competition show, “Lego Masters.”
Will Arnett, who voiced Batman in “The Lego Batman Movie,” serves as host, and he brings a cross between sarcasm and seriousness to the part. “Lego Masters” is a surprisingly fun watch, and it’s an actual family show on a landscape where kids’ shows are barely watchable for adults, and adult shows are terrifying, super gorey, or just plain inappropriate for kids.
“Lego Masters” is a new iteration of Lego’s already robust story. The tiny little building bricks with the satisfying click were invented in Billund, Denmark, by local carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen. After several setbacks, the furniture maker found he could no longer make high-end pieces and had to switch to something that had lower overhead. So Christiansen started making toys.
He changed the name of his company to the Danish for “play well,” leg godt, and Lego was born. The little plastic bricks didn’t come into being until the invention of plastic-injection molding in 1946, and by 1949, Christiansen was selling the Automatic Binding Brick.
The bricks are sensorily satisfying. They are fun to look at, fun to touch. The sound of the bricks snapping together, or a whole handful of Lego cascading together, is almost pristine. The pieces come in sets, which are fun to put together following detailed, user-friendly instructions. But the bricks are equally as fun to create with on your own.
A New Art Medium
In recent years, Lego has gone from a kid’s toy to a high-art building material. In 2019, famed Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei exhibited portraits of missing, feared dead, Mexican students made from Lego. Nathan Sawaya toured his “The Art of the Brick” with huge sculptures made of Lego.
Lego has come into its own as a material for creative expression, and this is the world that “Lego Masters” dives into. The builders on the show are all part of this Lego subculture, where grown-ups and kids alike use Lego the same way artists have used clay, paint, or plaster before them. Each episode offers the teams of two a new opportunity to show off their skills, and the highly specific challenges require contestants to use their creativity in builds, story, and concept.
The format is that of a reality competition show, but where most of these shows sow animosity between teams, “Lego Masters” gives the sense that they’re all at least a little bit in it together. Each highly skilled team has its own dynamic. While it may seem odd that these grown adults are obsessed with Lego building, it makes sense when thinking of Lego as simply a new medium, as intricate and expressive as the artist who uses it.
Adult Lego Masters
The show began with several pairs of teams. At first none were what I expected. Then I realized that I had no real expectations for what a team of adult Lego builders would be like. Turns out they are as different as the creations they come up with.
The builds are judged by Lego masters and toy set creators Amy Corbett and Jamie Berard. They take their task very seriously, and hold the contestants to high standards of story, creativity, and prowess with the bricks.
Two suburban mom friends, Jessie and Kara, discovered a passion for Lego after they became empty nesters. Nestor and Manny, a father and son team, were overjoyed to be doing something like this together. Nestor’s pride in his son is visible and super sweet. Both teams were eliminated. Brothers Travis and Corey were knocked out too, as were cosplayers Aime and Krystle, who showed up to build sessions fully decked out in wings and capes.
I was rooting for the moms, while my son has been rooting for a pair of two goofy 20-something guys who are a little too cocky, as any 20-something guys should be. The moms are out, but the kids are still in.
Watching the show with my son has been pretty great. While we watch, he fiddles with his own Lego bricks, and talks about what he would build for the challenges. The first episode was a “Dream Park Theme Park,” and the creations were big builds with Ferris wheels, bumper cars, and spinning swings. The “Space Smash” episode concluded with Arnett bashing the contestants’ creations with a baseball bat.
At the end of the fifth episode, the challenge was to create a “Mega City Block.” Every creation was an amazing feat of architecture and narrative, but when the lowest-placed team was asked to turn in their mini-figures, Corbett actually shed tears. “Lego Master” is something different than the average reality competition show: it’s adults putting all their heart, passion, and determination into playing with toys.
Lego is one of the greatest toys of all time, and the show is certainly great for marketing. Instead of asking for more electronics for his birthday this year, my son was back to asking for Lego. He asked for “one of those big sets that take all day to put together.”
Usually I say no to the big sets, but I’ve been inspired by “Lego Masters” and their 14-hour build challenges to get him a good one, and I can’t wait to watch him put it together, take it apart, and make something else.