Powerless Also Laughless
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.