Superheroes don’t have to be dark and brooding…. as new comedy ‘Powerless‘ seeks to reinvent the genre – or at least some cool gadgets…
Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) is on her way to her new job as ‘Director of Research and Development’ at Wayne Security, eager to finally be working for the legendary bruce Wayne. She survives a train-wreck caused by duelling super-types only to find out ehr boss is actually Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), the somewhat black-sheep of the Wayne family (cousin of Bruce) and a man who is less eager to make a difference than merely get out of Charm City and into a corner penthouse in Gotham.
Emily and her pep-talks do not make much of an impact on her new team, Teddy (Danny Pudi), Ron (Ron Funches) and Wendy (Jennie Pierson), but with all their jobs suddenly in jeopardy, they need to come up with a solution and new product as fast as possible…
Powerless is an interesting new entry in the superhero pantheon, one that – perhaps surprisingly – balances the bright-and-breezy aspect that is so AWOL in Warner/DC‘s big screen stories with a whole raft of easter-eggs for those with knowledge of the existing characters and concepts. It could all have gone very wrong – and, indeed, the concept was reworked a few times before making it to television, but the sheer perkiness that runs through every scene in the pilot stays just the right side of annoying, even if not pushing any boundaries.
Essentially this is a workplace comedy, first and foremost getting its chuckles from the usual interplay of familiarly different characters colliding (sometimes literally) off each other, but it’s clearly made by people who love and appreciate the conceits of the superhero genre and so the comic-elements are there as more than convenient branding and punctuation. The episode budgets may be a mere fraction of the cinematic blockbusters, but they do allow this first outing to start with a super-battle and a near train-wreck to kick things off.
For a non-cynical show, it doesn’t stop some wry observations that the genre has changed from ‘…a man in a mask stealing a ruby from a museum‘ to ‘supervillains trying to destroy the earth and superheroes fighting each other for vaguely defined reasons!” which probably covers a lot of recent output on the screen and comic-book pages.
The absence of a laughter-track (because this is officially a comedy-drama not an outright comedy) allows more one-liners per minute than normal.Certainly, not all of them hit the mark and there are times when the formula ‘beats’ are delivered with the subtlety of Thor’s hammer (sorry, wrong superhero universe), but there’s enough do to make it broadly entertaining rather than actually demanding or essential. Perhaps the only annoying thing here is that the trailer which debuted at last year’s SDCC shows just how much the actual-broadcast version has changed since inception and the original (set in an insurance office, not a R&D unit) felt far MORE dynamic and organic than the ‘latest invention that doesn’t quite work right yet‘ environment we have now. The result we have is fine and funny, but ironically could have been much better before the tinkering.
Safer and more streamlined though it may be, its brisk pacing and go-get-’em attitude is fine. It won’t appeal to everyone and the show will need to build to keep the central idea fresher than a ‘sketch’ given longer-form. But if it can build an invention that allows us to avoid some of the more obvious jokes, there’s enough potential and familiar charm invested in this mainstream network entry to keep it flying for a while… So far it’s up, up and… okay.
After it’s original Thursday night pilot, Powerless is broadcast on Monday nights on NBC from 6th February…