For a scene as visually striking as that of ballroom, it’s surprising how few productions have capitalized on its inherent appeal. Its most famous offering, Paris Is Burning, is also one of its oldest — the award-winning Jennie Livingston documentary came out in 1990 — and since then, productions have been few and far between. Viceland aired its My House docu-series for one ten-episode season in 2018 before giving it the axe. That same year, FX premiered the Ryan Murphy-produced Pose, which has luckily been granted a longer shelf-life (no doubt thanks to the Emmy it holds up its immaculately bedazzled sleeve). Still, one wonders why it took so long for something like Legendary to emerge. Premiering on the freshly-debuted HBO Max streaming service, the new competition series follows eight houses from across the world as they compete for a Grand Prize of $100,000. Combining death-defying vogue routines with drool-worthy fashion, it is the ultimate reality competition (and I watch a lot of reality TV.)
On the whole, Legendary is stunning, offering a peek into the once-underground culture of ballroom while giving a platform to the LGBTQ+ people of color that are responsible for its rise. The series is shot in a muted soft palette, helping to replicate the atmosphere of an after-dark party (most balls traditionally begin well after midnight) while still taking advantage of the HD quality that modern-day reality TV mandates. Save for the series premiere, which serves as an introduction to the competing houses, each episode functions as a self-contained ball, featuring four distinct parts (three category challenges and a final face-off between the bottom two houses) that all fall under a given theme. (The show’s first theme is “Once Upon a Time,” inspiring a whole host of Disney-fied villains and fairytale-inspired costumes.) Amidst the on-set action, Legendary also dedicates a sizable amount of time to cluing audiences into the nuances of ballroom in a way that doesn’t come across as didactic, using the competitors themselves to explain their personal connections to different categories and key elements of the culture….