With the explosion of TV shows based on comic books, in theory a different spin on the genre is welcome. In practice, DC Universe-set sitcom Powerless doesn’t quite come together.
In the pilot, eager, wide-eyed Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) moves to Charm City to take a job as an R&D supervisor at Wayne Security (a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises). Things like her train being derailed by a fight between Crimson Fox and Jack O’Lantern seem just swell to Emily, even as other jaded commuters can barely bestir themselves to notice. Her vain, party boy boss, Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), i.e. Bruce Wayne’s cousin, doesn’t inspire confidence. And Emily’s new team regards her along a scale from “indifference” to “outright hostility.” But Emily is confident she can motivate these oddballs to success.
There’s potential in Powerless, but the pilot doesn’t really make the most of it. Having superhero action in the background of what is otherwise an office sitcom could work, providing a different perspective on the genre. But divorced from those comic book trappings, the scripts need to be able to stand on their own and the pilot really doesn’t go anywhere. The set-up isn’t exactly novel. The plucky newcomer, the jaded team, the eccentric boss, the hard-bitten veteran assistant… if you’ve watched an office sitcom in the last twenty years, you’ve seen these elements. They’re genre staples and require sharp writing to distinguish the show.
Powerless doesn’t quite manage that. There are some decent jokes and visual gags (like Emily seeing alien conqueror Starro outside her window), but the hit-to-miss ratio is tilted too far towards the latter. References to marquis characters like Batman, Superman and Joker and Easter eggs for the diehards are well and good. But the show can’t expect those trappings to carry it. Genre fans have seen the “perspective of the average person” trope before and will require more than background cameos from DC’s D-List to come back. Those not already in the comic book tent won’t even have that motivation.
The cast is game. Hudgens does all that she can with a role that doesn’t give her a lot to work with. She still manages to sprinkle a little pepper into her otherwise Pollyanna character. Tudyk brings some interest as the wastrel Wayne, desperate to get a transfer to the main office in Gotham City, but he can play this kind of role in his sleep. The rest of the ensemble is solid, each getting a decent moment or two in the pilot without being used especially effectively. But the cast at least gives the show some solid building blocks.
The DNA is there. There are a few really solid moments and some entertaining jokes. The show has good visual energy and a rather inspired credits sequence. A workplace comedy set along the edges of the DC superhero world has potential. Add in the game cast and there’s enough there to make you suspect that, given time, the show could pull itself together.
Based on the soft ratings of the pilot, it’s unlikely that Powerless will have enough time to really find its footing. If the show were outright terrible, writing it off would be easy. As it is, though, it’s hard to see investing in a fairly decent idea that doesn’t know what to do with itself.