“The Legend of Master Legend” on Amazon
Amazon Prime (birthplace of “Mozart in the Jungle,” “Man in the High Castle” and “Sneaky Pete”) has launched another pilot season—a fresh collection of TV show pilots, the most popular of which will be picked up for full-season commitments. Hidden among this season’s offerings (the sci-fi series “Oasis,” the animated comedy “The New V.I.P.’s,” the dramedy “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and the buddy comedy “Budding Prospects”) is a wonderfully fresh take on modern superhero mythology, “The Legend of Master Legend.”
The series is actually inspired by a 2008 Rolling Stone article about a real-life superhero in Orlando. Our (now mostly fictionalized) protagonist is Frank (the incredible John Hawkes from Winter’s Bone). But he prefers to be called “Master Legend.” By day, he works as a handyman. At night he dresses up in spray-painted armor and a mask and patrols the Las Vegas strip handing out food to the homeless, assisting tourists and generally trying to stop crime from happening. His success rate is debatable. Some people think he’s a joke. Occasionally he gets beat up. His ex-wife and his daughter are kind of embarrassed by him. His “secret base” is a storage locker. It would be sad if it weren’t so funny. And vice versa.
“The Legend of Master Legend” is a melancholy dark comedy. It’s a bit like the Woody Harrelson indie comedy Defendor or the comic book-based cult film Mystery Men or the better-known superhero parody Kick-Ass. Only “The Legend of Master Legend” sticks entirely to the real world. There really are a cadre of low-budget, loosely organized, real-life “superheroes” around the country trying their level best to fight crime. Master Legend doesn’t have any powers. He’s just a wiry, middle-aged metal head trying to do what he thinks is right.
Moving the setting from Orlando to Las Vegas gives the series a perfect symbolic weight. Vegas is just the right sort of town for down-on-their-luck losers. And it has a notoriously high tolerance for campy reinvention. Underneath the sad sack situation and the junk yard costume, Hawkes gives his character a deeply sympathetic demeanor. You get the impression our boy Frank has weathered a lot in life. He’s got some sins to atone for, and his desire to be a champion of good is 100 percent sincere. You know his quest is ridiculous, but you can’t help but root for the cock-eyed optimist.
The show’s shaggy, low-key pilot gives just a hint of overall narrative—but it’s an intriguing one. Frank’s young brother, Peanut Head (Shea Wigham from “Boardwalk Empire”), gets out of prison and wants to join the cause. But Master Legend will have nothing to do with that “crackhead” (his all-around insult for any evildoer). Unfortunately, Peanut Head isn’t the type to take “No” for an answer. And his idea of justice is a bit more proactive than Master Legend’s.
If you’re interested in superheroes but are burned out on the big-budget razzle-dazzle of the Marvel/DC franchises, just get over to Amazon, watch the pilot for “The Legend of Master Legend” and try not to be disappointed there is (as yet) no more follow-up.