Amazon's pilot season continues with The Legend of Master Legend, its latest addition to the superhero genre. However, this show is a big departure from The Flash or Luke Cage. There are no superpowers here, or billionaires with battering rams. This is the simple story of a vigilante trying to save his city. Oh, did I mention he's real?
The Legend of Master Legend is a dark comedy based on Master Legend, a Real Life Superhero who was famously profiled in Rolling Stone back in 2008. In this loose adaptation, Master Legend, a.k.a Frank (John Hawkes), lives in Las Vegas (instead of Orlando) and spends his nights helping people on The Strip. He gives homeless people food, poses for pictures with fans, tries to stop evil-doers using an equal amount of diplomacy and fisticuffs. And he loves every second of it.
The only problem is, Frank's real life is far from super. He lives out of a storage unit, using a thrown-out coffee pot to heat water for his showers, and works as a tree trimmer and handyman. He's divorced from his wife Tana (Dawnn Lewis), who struggles to make ends meet as a buffet host and parking lot operator since he's clearly not helping with the bills. And he's completely out of touch with his teenage daughter Cody (Anjelika Washington), who's exploring her identity as a queer woman... and stealing money from strangers. Then there's Frank's brother, Peanut Head, who immediately starts stirring shit up after being released from prison. His final scene hints at the show taking some pretty dark and unpleasant turns.
Hawkes is pitch-perfect in this role... even if the long black wig is noticeably fake. Frank is a diehard optimist, believing wholeheartedly in the work that he's doing, but you can see the cracks growing in the veneer. Frank has dedicated so much of his life to Master Legend that he's afraid of what would happen if the mask was taken away.
At one point, right before Frank unsuccessfully tries to convince Tana they should get back together, he's standing in her kitchen, in his superhero suit, holding a bag of groceries. He'd just beaten up some guys because they tried to give his daughter beer (suggesting that he doesn't always do the right thing). As a result, a police officer took one of his weapons away. Tana asks him to take the suit off, but he slowly replies, "It's all I got." You can see it on his face. This is all he's got, and that's incredibly disheartening. It's impressive how quickly and confidently Hawkes was able to get that across in his performance. And as someone who's loved this actor for a long time, I'm always happy to see him in roles that deserve his talent.
That said, the pilot is kind of a mixed bag. People who are fans of dark comedies, especially those in the realm of Breaking Bad or Shameless, will find things to enjoy. But, for superhero fans, it's a bitter pill to swallow. This is not a happy show. There's a lot of heart, true, but there's also a lot of pain. When Master Legend saves the day, you don't feel a sense of triumph, it feels more like pity. The Legend of Master Legend doesn't pass judgment on Real Life Superheroes, but it doesn't pull any punches on what living as a superhero in the real world actually means.