Powerless Also Laughless

Powerless cast

I got a chance to watch the first two episodes of Powerless, the NBC workplace comedy set in the DC universe. Unfortunately, the superheroes are used only as set dressing, and the comedy isn’t funny.

Powerless: Alan Tudyk as Van Wayne, Vanessa Hudgens as Emily, and Jennie Pierson as Wendy

Powerless: Alan Tudyk as Van Wayne, Vanessa Hudgens as Emily, and Jennie Pierson as Wendy

It’s the story of Emily (Vanessa Hudgens, High School Musical), new girl in the big city, who’s been hired to manage an R&D department for Wayne Security. Her employees include Teddy (Danny Pudi, Community), Ron (Ron Funches, Undateable), and Wendy (Jennie Pierson, Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23). Her boss is Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), Bruce’s cousin, who just wants out of Charm City so he can go back to Gotham.

Powerless: Danny Pudi as Teddy and Ron Funches as Ron

Powerless: Danny Pudi as Teddy and Ron Funches as Ron

They make products to protect everyday people from the fallout from superhero battles. This is a change from the original plan, now that the first showrunner has left, where they worked in an insurance agency. The emphasis is on wacky inventions, which is reminiscent of Better Off Ted, and most of the attempted jokes could easily take place in any office situation.

In the first episode, Emily has to save everyone’s jobs when the office is about to be shut down. In the second, she struggles with making friends at work. My favorite character is Christina Kirk’s Jackie, Van’s assistant, who doesn’t let anyone get away with anything. She’s right, in episode 2, when she says bosses can’t be friends with their direct reports, but everyone ignores that because it’s not sitcom-like enough.

Powerless: Christina Kirk as Jackie and Vanessa Hudgens as Emily

Powerless: Christina Kirk as Jackie and Vanessa Hudgens as Emily

Instead, Emily does silly things to join the office’s fantasy superhero league, which is just like a fantasy sports league, only with different names. The superhero characters we see on the show are Crimson Fox, who saves the train Emily rides early on (in a scene reportedly left over from the previous version of the show), and Jack O’Lantern, who comes across as a badly animated wannabe Green Goblin.

Powerless: Crimson Fox

Powerless: Crimson Fox

In short, the show is not using its setting effectively. The best part is the opening credits, where the characters are seen as backgrounds in classic DC comic covers. Otherwise, it’s just an office comedy in a poorly designed costume, with very few actually funny bits.

Powerless cast

One of the biggest laughs I had was seeing the newscaster identified as Marv Wolfman. The problem with that is that it’s an in-joke, and that’s an awful low bar for funny. Oh, and KC liked the brief glimpse we got of Starro. And it was neat seeing Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure) as Emily’s father, and hearing Adam West narrating an advertisement. But such spoonfuls of geek trivia don’t make up for the meat of the show being so bland.

You can watch the first two episodes so far on NBC.com. Now I’m wondering why they’re the only network who can’t make superhero shows that work?



6 comments

  • David Oakes

    The first half season of “Heroes” was good. Of course, everything that followed seemed to be a conscious effort to distance themselves from that quality.

    “The Cape” had a great supporting cast. Which seemed to make them think that they didn’t need to find a lead or writers.

    And “Constantine” turned out to be good, just in time for NBC to axe it.

    So the question becomes, with Superheroes being such a cash cow, why does NBC insist on doing them badly?

  • IIRC CBS isn’t particularly superhero-friendly either (Supergirl jumped ship to the CW)…

  • NBC has a bigger problem of not being able to grow many successes these days, in any genre. Their biggest shows are “This Is Us” and some talent shows. CBS is the opposite — they developed a good show in Supergirl but it wasn’t successful enough for them, with their high expectations.

  • James Schee

    This show makes me think of those tv shows where the characters are actors on a bad show, then you follow their life as the show is being filmed. I kept waiting for someone to say cut and have the real show begin, but it never does.

    Which is sad, as I’ve loved much of the cast on other shows, but this is galactically bad.

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