Pose isn't on right now. This is a reality we must face every single week. That FX series with its high production and high gloss has carved out a special place in our hearts that is only filled by epic reading sessions and beautifully filmed voguing. And while the new HBO Max competition show Legendary isn't a one-for-one replacement, it certainly does enough, while also bringing real-life, modern-day ballroom stories into the forefront.
If you haven't heard, Legendary is television's first competition show based on the ballroom scene — if you ask community icon, Pose choreographer and star, as well as Legendary judge Leiomy Maldonado, it's television's only ballroom show. And while that is amazing in and of itself, the series gives a peek into the varied talents of this community supported by an HBO production budget.
Each week — outside of the first episode — houses compete in a variety of categories for the title of "superior house" by the end of the episode. These categories are as varied as in ballroom: there's been a team runway challenge; early on there was face; there's also been ballroom's bizarre category where contestants aim to create something otherworldly. Voguing is obviously a staple of the show.
Before a final elimination, houses have to pick members to go head to head for a vogue battle to live on to compete another day. This is routinely a highlight of the show. Last week, Makayla Lanvin's battle against Shorty Ebony was a no holds barred, acrobat royale where they left everything they had on the floor.
Occasionally these weekly functions are "money balls" where the winners of the various category also go home with cold hard cash; in a particularly emotional moment, Packrat Lanvin took home $5,000 after winning the body category. She begins to cry after winning as a result of never having seen her own body as beautiful — being affirmed as such onstage, and by Meg Thee Stallion no less — is moving.
As with many shows, it's in these small moments that Legendary sings. The personal narratives, when done right, show the true power of the ballroom community. They speak to a myriad of experiences and how the community can help alter one's self-image. But the show has its high points at its shadiest moments.
Image architect Law Roach has etched out a name for himself as the most controversial figure on the series. Period. Week after week he sits on the judging panel and gives the assembled houses his blunt, to-the-point opinion. It is worth noting that when he loves something, he loves it just as much as he hates the next thing. It not only makes for good television but also makes the critique actually mean something as opposed to judges who routinely give out praise.
But in episode three — and in the most recent episode — his attention turned to fellow judges. First, it was Dominique Jackson, an icon of the ballroom community and Elektra Wintour on Pose. She came off just as divisive a character as Roach himself — possibly moreso. It seemed, from footage, that he took issue with her demeanor towards the houses.
"In this house, she's a guest," he says at a particularly spicy moment. The choppy editing made it clear that there was much more there that went unaired.
But this past week Roach got into it with Maldonado in a bit of a bizarre back and forth. Some viewers have criticized him as being aloof, reading as "better than" the houses. The footage that aired last week leaned into that, with Roach seemingly not carrying about anything but the fact that his "check was still going to be cashed." In a particularly contentious exchange, Maldonado brings it all into perspective, dressing Roach down for his attitude and position. In a "perfect for TV" moment, Maldonado brushes off his long resume of fashion credentials.
"We don't need resumes," she says. "A resume means nothing to me mamita." Following the episode's airing, Roach released unaired footage contextualizing his ballroom involvement.
"I know there's been a lot of back and forth about me not being in the ballroom but Ilyana Balenciaga took me to my first ball in 2003," Roach said. "So a lot of balls you girls are watching on YouTube, I was there." In a virtual panel for the ATX Festival, Roach revealed that after that first ball he got on the scene's circuit going to events in Chicago, New York and Atlanta.
"I was blessed to see people like Leiomy and Dashaun and a lot of the real legendary iconic people in the beginning stages of their careers," he said. "What I've done in my career is I've become a storyteller for Black history in fashion and I think that what people don't realize is the ballroom scene is a part of Black and brown history. There are so many historic moments that have come from the ballroom scene and I've just been so blessed to be able to see some of those moments in real life."
In the episode, the momentary tiff ended in air kisses.
Legendary truly gives you it all. While it is not a ball exactly, it's probably the best-televised version of a ball we're going to get — much like RuPaul's Drag Race isn't a direct reflection of how many of us experience drag, or any other competition show isn't a direct reflection of the community is based on. Where the show fails in editing — most times in pacing and context — it makes up with the unbridled talent of participants and heart. Led by awe-inspiring house parents like Erykah Lanvin, Jamari Balmain, London Escada, and Jarrell Gucci, who all clearly have a passion not only for the legacies of their respective houses, but also the children they've brought with them on the show, it's a show that works its way into your emotions and will have you rooting for it week after week.