Powerless Isn't Powerful Yet, But It Really Could Be

Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
The superhero genre could use a little levity. Burdened by bloated reboots like Batman v Superman and The Amazing Spider-Man, the category is beginning to look a little dreary. Given the immense popularity of superhero films and television shows in the past decade, it's clear they aren't going anywhere. Enter: Powerless, the half-baked comedy on NBC about the little folk who get to play superhero — sort of.

The half-hour show, which premiered February 2, tries to sink its chipper teeth into the superhero bureaucracy and only manages a nibble. It's a recipe for success: Take Batman's moralistic world and imbue it with the happy-go-lazy characters of Pawnee, IN. The setting is Charm City, a Gotham City wannabe, where superheroes named things like Crimson Fox and Jack-O-Lantern regularly save the town from terror. (Terrors like The Joker, who here elicits involuntary laughter in his subjects.)

Vanessa Hudgens is Emily Locke, a plucky business school graduate, who goes to work at Wayne Security, a maker of such products as "anti-Joker venom." In the Leslie Knope-esque role, Hudgens is a touch too timid, and it's emblematic of the show's primary problem: Powerless takes its title a little too seriously. There's power in humor, but the show is not quite ready to lean into it.

Much of the premiere's appeal comes from the comedic stylings of Alan Tudyk, most recently seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Tudyk is Van Wayne, CEO of Wayne Security and a vague relation to the one and only Bruce Wayne, and he's just campy enough to match the premise. The rest of the cast is populated with comedy veterans, though they're not quite rising to the task. Community's Danny Pudi plays Teddy, chief of design, and Undateable's Ron Funches is Ron, chief engineer, both pessimistic employees ready to take down Emily's cheer. Neither actor seems full comfortable in his role, but I have hope that, like Hudgens, they'll find their source of power.

There are a few stilted lines — "Stop using my HBO Go password" stands out as a little dated, and "Oh, kitty's got claws" should really only be said to cats. But eventually, these give way to more self-aware stingers. (In a sly shot at Batman v Superman, Van Wayne says, "Now, it's all about super villains trying to destroy the Earth and superheroes fighting each other for vaguely defined reasons.")

Like the best comedies, there's an allegory here. This one toys with Corporate Honcho vs. Inspiring Little Fellow — after all, one superhero can't possibly save an entire city on their own. The potential here is obvious, and the show is stacked. Here's to hoping the show accelerates in the episodes to come. Otherwise, I'll return to my reruns of Parks and Recreation.


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