Tens across the board for this new ballroom reality competition that pits participating houses—Balmain, Ebony, Escada, Gorgeous Gucci, Ninja, St. Laurent, West and Xlusive Lanvin—against each other for a $100,000 prize and the title of superior house. Scene icons Leiomy Maldonado Amazon and Deshaun Wesley Lanvin have collaborated with HBO Max to bring the celebrated queer subculture to the small screen. Maldonado is joined by British actor Jameela Jamil (The Good Place), stylist Law Roach and rapper Megan Thee Stallion on the judging panel, flanked by a rotating pool of guest judges. Live music is provided by none other than MikeQ and Divoli S’vere, two of the scene’s most prized DJs and producers.
The show captures the essence of ballroom and offers a heartwarming look at the lives of the queer and trans black and latinx people that make up the scene.
Legendary eschews authenticity to make ballroom culture more palatable to a mainstream audience. This approach pays off with the introduction of a new voting system; the panel collectively selects the best house of the episode and saves them from “the chop”. Each judge then chooses their favoured house to save until the last two are left to battle it out. Similar to underground balls, walkers are mainly judged on their effect (i.e. fashion), choreography and performance. However, the addition of an elimination round where houses are assessed on their collective performance across all categories creates an unconventional but exciting dynamic. While Maldonado is the only judge directly involved in ballroom, the show banks on the others’ celebrity status to lure viewers. This is understandable but doesn’t excuse the entitlement of Law Roach who acts like a diva in a scene that he doesn’t participate in—luckily MC Dashaun Lanvin cuts that bullshit swiftly.
Throughout the series, houses also have access to professional designers, music producers and performance coaches—this creates a level playing field, placing the emphasis on creativity and the execution of performances. However, not all efforts to bring ball culture to the screen translate: the voguing battle sequences are reduced to jump cuts of stunts and dips and the beats and chants are often dubbed and sometimes fail to sync with the performance.
Ballroom is a space where self-love is valued above fancy effects and Legendary reflects this.
Nonetheless, Legendary captures the essence of ballroom and offers a heartwarming look at the lives of the queer and trans black and latinx people that make up the scene. The houses’ backstories are revealed throughout the show, emphasising the sense of community, cultivated in the face of systemic racism, fuelling the fiery performances.
Ballroom is a space where self-love is valued above fancy effects and Legendary reflects this. It joins the ranks of documentaries like Paris is Burning and Kiki, along with TV drama Pose, in shining a light on a scene’s politics; empowering experiences that are considered taboo in colonial spaces by enabling marginalised people to exercise power and resilience through art.
While the show delivers raw talent and emotion, it isn’t perfect (yet) and that makes for entertaining TV. The gags increase and the drama elevates as the series continues, showing the potential for the show to live up to its name.