‘Powerless’ Pilot Recap: “I Wish We Worked for Batman”

Setting a workplace comedy inside the DC superhero universe, featuring regular human characters whose job is to deal with the fallout of supervillain battles, is kind of an ingenious idea. I just wish that NBC’s ‘Powerless’ were a lot less… I don’t know… sitcom-y.

Credit where it’s due, Marvel Comics actually had the idea first, in the form of Damage Control, a fictional company tasked with repairing buildings and infrastructure every time a hero like The Hulk or Iron Man inadvertently smashes a city to rubble. Damage Control has appeared in a number of Marvel titles and headlined a few of its own limited comic series. Marvel is even currently developing a TV version, but DC rushed its knockoff to market first.

Vanessa Hudgens stars as Emily Locke, a spunky go-getter fresh out of grad school who has just moved to the big metropolis of Charm City in order to take a job as Director of R&D at Wayne Security, a division of Wayne Enterprises… yes, the Wayne Enterprises, owned by billionaire Bruce Wayne. On her first day in the city, Emily is caught in the crossfire of a dastardly madman going by the name Jack O’Lantern. When the train she’s on is saved by the heroic Crimson Fox, Emily is amazed by everything she just experienced. The longtime residents of Charm City are much less impressed. They have to deal with this crap every day.

Wayne Security makes a number of products designed to help average people deal with life in a world of superhumans. Its biggest seller is a vaccine for the Joker Virus. However, the company is currently stagnating and has stopped innovating, and lately has been reduced to churning out lower-cost knockoffs of superior inventions from competitor Lexcorp. It doesn’t take long for Emily to realize that the problem is her new boss, Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), the feckless cousin of Bruce Wayne whose only interest is being promoted to corporate headquarters in Gotham and getting the hell out of Charm City. Under his uninspired leadership, the team Emily was hired to run has grown complacent and bored. Chief Design Officer Teddy (Danny Pudi) credits his biggest success as repackaging the Joker Virus vaccine from a purple injector pen to a new injector pen that’s a slightly darker shade of purple.

When an announcement is made that Wayne Security is being shuttered, Van is actually thrilled, because it means that he has “failed up” and will be absorbed into the Gotham office. That all of his employees will be fired doesn’t really register with him. Young and idealistic Emily refuses to give up so quickly, and rallies her team to complete a new device called the “Jack O’Lert,” which can detect the presence of a supervillain based on scent. She then goes around Van and leaks word of this directly to Wayne Enterprises. As a result, the Security division is saved, but Van is grumpy about being stuck in Charm City.

Funnily enough, the next day, news breaks that Batman used a similar device in Gotham to capture The Joker. Huh. What a coincidence. It’s almost as if Batman had some connection to Wayne Enterprises. Crazy thought, right?

Episode Verdict

I really want to like this show, and I can cut a sitcom a lot of slack. The fact that it name-checks a number of DC Comics staples (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, etc.) without actually showing them is obviously part of the joke, and is a lot more excusable here than, say, the way Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ handles the same thing. That the show’s visual effects are pretty crappy during its battles between the C-List hero and villain could also be read as intentional.

The cast is fine. It would take a lot for Alan Tudyk to not be funny in anything. Vanessa Hudgens does what’s asked of her, in terms of being impossibly sunny and optimistic. She’s OK. Danny Pudi… well, he still gets points for having been in ‘Community’. Unfortunately, none of them is given much of anything to do. The pilot episode’s jokes are mostly pretty tepid, with only a small handful of decent zingers.

Reportedly, the pilot was extensively retooled after an initial version that the network disliked. It feels very much like something that’s been hammered into mediocrity by a committee.

Nevertheless, the premise is sound. I’ve certainly seem my share of other sitcoms that started off poorly until they found their footing (‘Community’ included). If not great, the show is at least pleasantly amusing. I’ll keep an eye on this for a while until I decide if it’s a keeper.

Grade: B-

3 comments

  1. HuskerGuy

    My wife and I enjoyed it well enough to keep up with it for a few more episodes at least. By the way, did you ever watch the short-lived TV show, Better Off Ted? I picked up some strong vibes of that show in this one, which is a good thing.

  2. Ryan

    They were originally going to be insurance agents helping people effected by heroes. The show runner left and it became this. I intend on giving it a couple episodes because Pudi still gets warrants a look and Tudyk is always great.

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