With the guessing-game madness of The Masked Singer Season 5 having recently ended in predictably wild ways, Fox is gearing up to give fans another colorfully vibrant, fun and endlessly positive reality competition series in the form of LEGO Masters Season 2. The Will Arnett-hosted series showcases competitor talents that are completely unique, though, and I know I'm not the only fan pumped that the feel-good show was able to bring its second season together during the COVID pandemic. That said, it sounds like COVID-related changes made things vastly more complicated behind the scenes, though viewers probably won't be able to tell when seeing the smiling faces of judges Jamie Berard and Amy Corbett.
Ahead of LEGO Masters' Season 2 premiere, I had the joy of talking to judges and LEGO designers Jamie Berard and Amy Corbett, whose jubilance we'll get to a little lower. More relevant to the topic at hand, however, was my conversation with consulting producer and challenge builder Nathan Sawaya, the world-renowned artist who can boast being the world's only certified LEGO Master Builder. As complicated as his job already was crafting the plethora of props and challenges utilized in Season 1, the gig became much more stressful with the second season due to some big changes in manpower and set locations. Here's how Sawaya explained things when I asked about returning to a show like this:
It was a way to really have an experience that was outside of the norm. For me, my whole career has been based on building art that I can take my time and spend weeks and months on. And here was this opportunity to jump back into this crazy television production world that I wasn't used to, that I still - even after having one season under the belt - I still wasn't sure I was the right guy to do a second season. And yet, it was a real blast to just go into it and do it and make it happen. The show was bigger this season, so the challenges were bigger. And my team was smaller. It was just myself and Brandon Griffith - just two of us, because of COVID protocols. That was it. The two of us were the only two builders, whereas last season, I could bring in other folks if things got hairy. This season, it was just a mad dash throughout.
It's already mightily astounding that each of the LEGO Masters teams are able to make such polished finished products with only two people per team, but it's vastly more gobsmacking to consider Nathan Sawaya was only heading up a two-person building team for Season 2. It'd be impressive enough if the duo were solely responsible for putting together the weekly challenge-specific designs, but they're also responsible for the endless number of props, background displays and other on-set items that audiences may not even be aware are made from LEGO bricks. And if that wasn't bad enough, Sawaya talked out the additional challenge of LEGO Masters having to change filming locations for the new season.
The first season was shot in L.A., and my studio is in L.A. It was about ten minutes away. So if someone on set came up with a brilliant idea, I could build it here in my studio and drive it over to set, no problem. This season, my studio's still in L.A., but the set was in Atlanta. So it was a longer drive. [Laughs.] In fact, if someone came up with a great idea, that meant building it, but then packing it and overnighting it to get it there. So the prep time was even tighter, because of course we had to ship things. We had to not just ship things, but pack things to ship, and ship things all the way to Atlanta to make sure they got there on time so they could be used properly. So it was exciting.
Regarding Season 1, Nathan Sawaya talked previously about how stressful it was to have to personally drive his finished LEGO pieces from his studio to the set, worrying about taking turns to fast and the like. So it must have been an entirely different spectrum of worries to have to leave those projects in the hands of lots of other people when shipping them to the LEGO Masters set in Atlanta. Especially considering the kinds of things being put together, such as the entire cityscape seen below that serves as the connective tissue for the season premiere's parade-themed challenge.
There's not enough mood stabilizers in the world that would make me feel comfortable with that kind of a work situation, but it's the one that made the most sense for Nathan Sawaya and the show. And unlike yours truly, the LEGO artist actually thought everything was still awesome, as it were, and he thrived on the unpredictable nature of it all, saying:
Yeah, it was a very different experience. I mean, I think we rose to the challenge in a way that was unexpected. I knew we were shooting in Atlanta, and we discussed, like, should we move my entire studio to Atlanta? But it just was not feasible. And so I knew going into the season, it was going to be a different type of challenge, and it proved to be so. But I think those types of challenges are kind of why I do what I do; taking something as simple as a LEGO brick and creating unexpected things and taking on those unexpected challenges is why I have fun doing this.
Clearly, Nathan Sawaya had his work cut out for him while filming during COVID, never quite knowing exactly what new challenges were coming down the pipeline. But on the flip side of things, judges Jamie Berard and Amy Corbett came into Season 2 with a new sense of comfort that wasn't totally there when trying to find their footing during the first season. When I asked what excited them most about returning to LEGO Masters, Corbett answered first, saying:
I think, you know, we had a lot of fun making it in Season 1, but it was super new and there was a lot of things to learn, and you had the pressure of being on camera. And coming back for Season 2, you kind of felt like you were coming home. And I think we did have a lot of fun on set; we were a lot more playful. We just had the chance to enjoy it this time, because we felt like, 'Okay, we've learned. We've done this before. And we're ready just to see awesome creativity.'
Designing LEGO sets isn't the most obvious first step to becoming a TV presenter, so it's totally understandable that Amy Corbett and Jamie Berard spent Season 1 partially in learning mode. Not only did they have to learn the ropes while always adjusting to the sporadic silliness of sharing the screen with Will Arnett, but they also had the pressure of being helpful, informative and impartial judges critiquing others' art, which is itself a stressful task to deal with.
Thankfully, the first season was a proper education for both judges, and they were able to go into Season 2 with more focus on the show's more joyful elements. Here's how Jamie Berard put it:
Yeah, I think that's what was exciting for me, was to just to get back in it, because now we know what was going on. When we first came over to Season 1, everything was new. We're trying to figure it out, and there's cameras everywhere. And now it's like, we gotta get back in because now we know what's exciting about it. We know what's fun. And then I think, as Amy said, as soon as we got on set, it just felt like we were in a safe space, a happy place. You can just feel the energy. And I think we were much more [comfortable] and just had a lot of fun this season. I think you're gonna hopefully see that come through in the whole season.