Everything we can’t stop loving, hating, and thinking about this week in pop culture.
The finale of HBO Max’s reality competition series Legendary, in which voguing teams (“houses”) compete in ballroom challenges, aired last week, but I didn’t get around to checking it out until recently.
Legendary is a fascinating series, in stark contrast to the age of reality TV talent competitions that birthed the harbinger of creative doom: The Masked Singer. It’s a celebration of authenticity and talent, a series that exists in the cautious tip-toe of outlets bringing the LGBT culture intrinsic to the ballroom scene out into the mainstream.
There was an inelegant balance struck, and never consistently, between educating a new audience and embracing the DGAF attitude of people enjoying the opportunity to revel in the space they created for themselves. That was reflected in one of the more perplexing—and then maybe, too, excellent?—judging panels, which would veer so wildly from insightful to narcissistic to useless that, at the very least, you had extreme feelings about what they had to say.
But somehow, going into my binge of Legendary, I had no idea that the finale would end up being one of the most inspirational yet haunting examples of how the pandemic shutdown affected TV productions in real time.
After an emotional and explosive semi-final episode, the finale starts with somber, dramatic music. In the days leading up to the taping in March, during which the top houses were rehearsing, the first COVID-19 cases in New York City started making news. With that unease shadowing preparations, production was also forced to respond to evolving safety restrictions.
Ultimately, a ban on gatherings of over 500 people meant shooting the finale without an audience, essentially stripping it of what is not only one of the show’s most integral characters, but one of the key elements of ballroom as a whole: the interplay with the crowd.
At first, it was all eerie. (No thanks to the fact that the stage was overrun by performers dressed as demons, adhering to the “Heaven and Hell” theme.)
Ballroom is meant to be a cacophony—of joy, of judgment, of living—and here was total and complete silence, outside of the errant gasp from Meghan Thee Stallion or polite clap from Jameela Jamil, while these performers vogued for their futures.
On the other hand, there was something deeply moving about it…