When the hit comedy TV series Ted Lasso opened its third season this March, it was with a toy seeped in nostalgia: Lego. In the premiere, Ted’s son Henry presents his dad with a Lego Champions Cup, telling him it’s just meant as a placeholder until he wins the real one. Henry then jets off back to his home in America, leaving Jason Sudeikis’s Ted to clean up the Lego detritus left from his son’s visit—including the model of the show’s Nelson Road stadium the pair built together. (Fans loved the model so much they immediately started clamoring for one online, and Lego of course excitedly promoted the cameo.)
Lego was also prominently featured in the Valentine’s Day episode of another wildly successful comedy, Abbott Elementary. In that episode, Gregory shows his crush Janine the bouquet of Lego flowers he got for the woman he’s currently dating. Janine is bowled over at how cool they are, but as we learn later, Gregory’s date really wasn’t, leading to their break up.
In both cases, the Lego creations were meant to suggest genuine, heartfelt sentiment, as well as a sense of togetherness, with Ted Lasso cocreator Brendan Hunt saying that the show decided to use the bricks to “connect the schism” Ted is feeling between his life in London and his son back in the United States. Ted and Henry, “clearly had a good time while [the boy] was in town,” says Hunt, citing the “Legos all over the damn place.”
Indeed, Lego is all over the damn place. Sales of the blocky product, launched in its patented plastic form in 1958, jumped 17 percent in 2022, and that’s on top of the boom the brand got in previous years thanks to everyone looking for something to do during quarantine. Sales to adult fans of Lego—AFOLs if you’re in the Lego know—presumably account for a large portion of that gross income, too, especially considering that Lego claims its adult market has at the very least quadrupled over the past decade. Many of those buyers are included in what the toy industry has come to call the “kidult market,” which now accounts for a quarter of toy sales overall. (See also: The renewed Barbie craze that’s yielded both a fashion and decor aesthetic in tandem with the forthcoming movie, the modern millennial fervor for collectible Christmas villages, and so on.)
Comedy writer and cartoonist Torey Strahl is one of those fans, saying that while she played with Lego as a kid, she only dove back into the brand a few years ago when she bought her sister the Friends Central Perk set for Christmas. It turned out that her sister, Gabrielle, a real estate professional, had also bought their father the Lego Seinfeld set for the holidays, and from there the pair were off and running. “We started with Friends and Seinfeld, and then we did Queer Eye and a tree house, which was our biggest one yet,” Gabrielle says. “We also have a Porsche in the family, too, so we did that set last Christmas.”
Torey likens completing the sets to “a craft version of a marathon,” saying, “Once you’re done, there’s this little microcosm and you get a real sense of accomplishment, especially if it was a ton of pieces.” She prefers following instructions for building a set to going rogue and “freebuilding,” as it’s known in the community. “I love a rubric and I love a to-do list,” she says, “so while I did freebuild more as a kid, now it’s all about, what is it supposed to be? I think the lack of control you have over your life as an adult can feel so challenging, and so having control with Lego-building is really beautiful.”
The Strahl sisters are what Lego calls “casual builders,” or those who might dabble in a set or two a year. Gen Cruz, Lego’s global head of product for adults, says the company has seen nostalgic consumers flock to familiar intellectual property like Friends, while art or design-minded consumers have been drawn to the brand’s ever-expanding botanical collection and its rendering of Hokusai’s iconic great wave. “There’s a certain segment of adults who are really into art and design, and for those customers the focus has really been on the aesthetics and finding models that would look beautiful on their walls or that would spruce up a room and bring life to it,” Cruz says, adding that, for those customers, the brand is increasingly invested not just in Lego’s playability, but also in its “displayability.”
For Lego artist and event manager Allyson Gail, part of that display exists in her fridge. She’s gained acclaim online for her adorable brick-based food models, which she says she started building after rediscovering Lego in her twenties. “When you’re an adult, you get to buy things that make you happy and that are stupid, and no one else can tell you otherwise,” says Gail. Her Lego edibles bring her joy mostly because, as she explains: “The whole world is so dark and gray and black and white, or weird droopy, depressing colors. When I come home and my whole house is filled with colorful Lego bricks, it makes me happy. Every time I open my fridge and see all that colorful Lego mixed in with my real food, I laugh.”
Gail says she’s working on expanding her creations, having recently moved into a home with a whole room she can devote to her passion. She wants to delve into making Lego versions of those retro, frosting-laden cakes that are so popular on social media, as well as more pieces that feature builders’ beloved brick separator, which can be used to miraculously and painlessly pry stuck blocks apart and is thus justly considered an essential tool in the AFOL community.
For a lot of grown-ass Lego fans, working with the bricks has allowed them to explore their own creativity. Angus MacLane, an animator and artist who works for Pixar and directed Finding Dory and Lightyear, says he can’t remember when he first fell in love with the brand. “That’s a question like, ‘When did you first discover sand?’” he jokes. “You just have a relationship with it and then one day you recognize that it has properties you’re attracted to.”
MacLane says he likes the way that messing around with Lego bricks can help him get out of his head, especially when he’s focusing on a tough work problem. “Lego was always an antithesis to working on the computer in that it’s very physical and the limitations are different,” he explains. “In some ways, though, it’s a way to go into a zone of meditation that allows for a different kind of thought.”
Wedding photographer Scott Thomas, who goes by 36 Brix online, is another advocate for the way Lego helps users think outside the box, and in his case, he means that pretty literally. While he admires the brand’s predesigned sets, he’s more interested in modifying or combining the bricks to suit his own purposes. He built a massive city in his garage using that premise, even though he only got back into Lego-building a few years ago when he introduced the brand to his kids.
Thomas says he thinks building with Lego is akin to the model railway builds that were so popular in generations prior. “In my grandfather’s era, they would build models of big cities [for their trains], and they’d have bridges and you’d use superglue to lay down a little moss or a house or a car,” he says. “This is the exact same thing. The only difference is what you’re building with and that we don’t use glue.”
Citing the look of a grandfather clock in the Doctor Strange Sanctum Santorum set as a particularly nice example, Thomas says he’s in awe of the level of detail modern Lego designers have been able to put in their builds and bricks. “The designers that work at Lego now are literally the kids that looked at stuff in the past and said, ‘I wish I could build that but don’t know how,’” he says. “Now, they’re figuring it out and everybody’s loving them for it.”
Top Image Courtesy The LEGO Company.
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