For most television series, the goal has always been to go out with a bang, not a whimper. But according to Legendary, HBO Max’s ballroom voguing competition, which just capped off its excellent first season last week, it can sometimes be just as effective to go out with a whimper — or at the very least, be unafraid to lower the stakes. At the start of its ninth and final episode, “Heaven and Hell,” it was clear that something was different. Gone was the big, screaming crowd; gone were any guest judges and excess trappings. In its place was a comparatively stripped-back set, devoid of outside distractions — just the competitors, the judges, the MC, and the DJ.

As several title cards would later confirm, this shift was not by design, but rather a last-minute response to the novel coronavirus, which had just started to become a real growing concern in early March, when the episode filmed. “The producers of Legendary decided to film the season’s last ball without an audience,” one card noted. And as such, the finale felt like an entirely new show.

But without making light of the ongoing pandemic, it was this rapidfire reaction that proved just how strong Legendary had become. Even without a buzzing crowd, Legendary’s finale was electrifying, a nonstop ride of gag-worthy performances, good-natured shade, and solemn goodbyes; the fanfare was minimal, but Legendary’s final hour was every bit as engaging as it had been since the beginning. Under certain light, this pared-back set-up even felt like a boon. After eight episodes defined by bustling energy and (sometimes distracting) audience interaction, there was something oddly comforting about stripping everything back at the end and redirecting all attention towards the remaining contestants — who, of course, brought it…

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