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THE LEGEND OF MASTER LEGEND Delusionally Saves the Day (Review)

THE LEGEND OF MASTER LEGEND Delusionally Saves the Day (Review)

Tangled raven locks flowing in the wind, uncomfortably deep commitment to fighting the forces of evil tucked into his back pocket, Master Legend races through the touristic danger of Las Vegas as if his soul is on fire. Sporting a homemade black tank top boasting a Dio logo draped over his scrawny frame, he cares. Really cares. Cares probably too much.

One of Amazon’s latest pilots, the John Hawkes-starring The Legend of Master Legend comes straight from the real-life story of one of the first people to publicly emerge out of the Real Life Superhero movement. Within its first few moments, the show vibes off the natural absurdity that comes with someone dressing up in puncture-proof rubber to roam the night—as if the dude wearing hockey pads in The Dark Knight was the star of the show.

Master Legend is one part The Dude, one part Brampton Batman, and simultaneously stone-cold serious about beating bad guys (even if it’s a bit bumbling in that mission). Hawkes (no surprise) brings a heightened level of sincerity necessary to the character such that you feel an uncomfortable sense of respect among the pity as he flails his way through local mascot status.

He’s got a beat-to-hell panel van. He jams out to heavy metal. He’s registered as a superhero in two counties. Whatever that means.

Master Legend (whose ex-wife annoyingly keeps calling “Frank”) spends most of the episode unmasked, poorly navigating a shaky personal life with the ease of the oblivious. His ex-wife Tana (Dawnn Lewis) works two jobs and hopes in desperation that Frank will leave Master Legend behind, all while raising their daughter Cody (Anjelika Washington), who is on the cusp of flirtation with her STEM partner Ashleigh (Giorgia Whigham).

When Master Legend discovers his underage daughter drinking beer with Ashleigh and a college-aged crew, he goes into full-on superhero/embarrassing dad mode, busting up a pizzeria and ending up in the back of a police cruiser. The scene is exacerbated by his fresh-out-of-prison brother Peanut Head (the glorious Shea Whigham), who appears to have snorted jet fuel before physically assaulting the bad guys.

Legend of Master Legend

The physicality of the show is surprisingly intense, shot with a street-level grit that wakes you up from the melancholy normal life of the muscle-less hero. Likewise, the episode ends with a tease that proves how seriously director James Ponsoldt and the crew are taking the darker parts of vigilantism.

On top of the main problems facing our lovably delusional moron, there are also little threads of the story to come. A few incipient romances, a hidden wad of money, a crew of fellow supers who have since moved on with their lives. And at the center: a guy who can’t win a fight, but can hand out bagged goods to the homeless and pay for strangers’ cab fare.

More hurt puppy than adult male, nothing sums up Master Legend’s existence better than his friend Ray (Robert Longstreet) day-drunkenly belching “Life could be easier for you my friend.”

There’s a slight Breaking Bad feel to it. The wash of the desert, the economic stagnation, the middle-aged mortifying discomposure. The biggest difference is that Master Legend doesn’t seem bothered at all by his lapsed relationships, wearing them on his sleeve as sad facts of life instead of agonizing over his own role in pushing people away. He’s also a fully cooked figure already, firmly over the weirdo horizon, who will probably creep toward normality (or something like maturity) over the course of the series.

For now, he responds peculiarly to normal conversations, bolstered by his drunken sidekick Ray—who, though “retired,” throws ninjas stars in Master Legend’s backyard secret hideout and gives him opportunities to say stuff like “She bears don’t mess around.” It’s all quietly goofy, like someone turned the camp knob on Super way down. While protecting good and thwarting evil, the two options Master Legend finds himself stuck between are low class comfort and something grandiosely meaningful.

If he hates being called Frank, how much of Frank is still in there? Can he be a good man and a great one at the same time? Oddly enough, our shoulder-to-shoulder walk alongside Master Legend in this pilot makes it obvious why he wants to be a hero. The grueling question of why someone would put on the suit and fight crime so thoroughly mined over a century of superhero stories is answered here with obvious immediacy. He’s a little crazy, his life is missing something, and he’s absorbed that fact to reach a comfortable stasis with what seems insane from the outside.

The Legend of Master Legend is promising, yet slight. The first episode is an enjoyable introduction to its needy cast of characters, and while Hawkes is a subtle genius, Master Legend’s single track plays equally empathetic and cloying. It feels a bit like we’re about to dive deep into a shallow character, but there may be a lot of tragic fun along the way.

You can watch The Legend of Master Legend for free on Amazon and help choose whether it becomes a full series.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 heavy metal burritos:

3.5-burritos1

Images: Amazon Studios

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