Legendary review – HBO Max comes for the Drag Race crown

May 29, 2020
Jonathon Wilson 0
HBO Max, TV Reviews


Legendary is a ballroom celebration and a reality competition series that comes closer to usurping Drag Race than any show before it.



Legendary is a ballroom celebration and a reality competition series that comes closer to usurping Drag Race than any show before it.

This review of Legendary (HBO Max) is spoiler-free.

The more you look at the launch line-up of HBO Max, the more it makes sense. If Love Life was its attempt to compete with adult-skewing scripted content, Looney Tunes Cartoons was its effort to wrest young viewers away from Disney+, and Trigonometry was proof that it could lift interesting dramas from other territories, Legendary is an attempt to dethrone RuPaul’s Drag Race ­and court the queer reality-competition market that has been dominated by one show and its pretenders for much too long.

While that might seem like an impossible task, Legendary comes closer to it than any similar show before it; it also comes closer to embodying the lofty prestige reputation of HBO than any of the other originals in this opening wave. It takes the reality competition format and the underground culture of ballroom and gives both the extravagant big-budget gloss of something that far transcends the usual limitations and aesthetics of network television. While the usual fixtures are in place, including eight groups of five contestants, known as Houses, battling for the title of Legendary House – and a nifty $100,000 – in a series of categories integral to ball culture, the total package is as immersive, comprehensive and transporting as any of its type.

The roles of MC and judges are occupied by vogue legends and seasoned TV personalities: Dashaun Wesley, Jameela Jamil, Law Roach, Megan Thee Stallion, and Leiomy Maldonado. Everyone involved just gets it; gets the vibe, the energy, the enthusiasm of what Legendary is trying to achieve, and has a vested interest in ensuring that every aspect of the show works to ensnare audiences in this vibrant, underexposed subculture.

The effect is pretty dazzling; the performances, bolstered by elaborate costuming and lavish production, are striking, the result of innumerable working parts moving in unison. Legendary understands and respects this. Nothing is played for laughs. Nothing is played for irony. It’s as straight-faced a depiction of sass and ferocity as you could imagine, and all the better for it. Legendary isn’t interested in being the jester in Drag Race’s court – it’s coming for the crown.

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