NBC's 'Powerless': A spoiler-filled review of the new DC Comics workplace comedy
Ever wonder what it is like to be an ordinary person in a world full of superheroes? Well, that's the basic premise to NBC's new work-place comedy, Powerless. The series, which is set in Charm City, illustrates that the average citizen is no stranger to the destructive battles between heroes and villains.
In the early moments of the series premiere, Emily Locke, the new director of R&D at Wayne Security, played by Vanessa Hudgens, witnesses the villainous Jack O'Lantern fighting the heroic Crimson Fox. The funny thing is, Emily is the only person on her train to work that seems to care. One passenger, rather nonchalantly, takes out his phone to call in late to work. Just another day in Charm City.
Even after Crimson Fox saves Locke and the rest of the passengers from certain death, only Emily sees this as an extraordinary event, taking out her phone for a quick selfie. Powerless looks to stand out in a crowded field of superhero television shows, by reminding us that it takes place in that universe, while still placing the focus on the series' talented cast.
Most of the series premiere takes place in the offices of Wayne Security, a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises, which is headed by Bruce's much less charming cousin, Van, played wonderfully by Rogue One's Alan Tudyk. While Bruce never actually shows up in the pilot, he is mentioned quite a few times, mostly to positive comedic effect.
Van Wayne brings Emily, the fifth such Director of R&D (the others were fired, well, one was crushed by rubble), on board so that she can inspire a team of uninspired workers to create the next big idea. Van's purpose is not to save people's lives, but to be promoted to the big leagues: Gotham City. Of course, Locke hits the job running, with a contagious amount of optimism, except, her colleagues seem to be immune.
Ron Funches plays Ron, the chief engineer, who is trying to figure out a way to create a cheap knock-off of a LexCorp safety invention. Former Community star Danny Pudi plays Teddy, Wayne Security's chief design officer, who seems most preoccupied with the colors of the company's inventions than anything else.
None of Emily's new colleagues seem to impressed with her new tagline: "Let's be better." But before they are really even given a chance to reject her (they do try) Van informs the company they have all been fired. As it turns out, Bruce Wayne has determined that the business is obsolete and is absorbing the failing subsidiary. This works out well for Van, who, as a Wayne, will be moving to Gotham City anyway.
Every superhero show, though, needs a hero and Powerless proves that powers are not a prerequisite. Emily learns that if she delivers the next big invention before Wayne Security officially closes, there is still a chance to save the company. And she comes up with a great idea based on one of her colleagues' newest inventions: a device which alerts them whenever Emily is near (ouch).
After the team makes a few changes so the device is able to sense the smell of Jack O'Lantern before he appears, Van is forced to take the idea to Bruce, or else risk Emily do it herself. Bruce apparently loves it, because everyone gets to keep their jobs! Batman, off screen, also uses a very similar device to capture the Joker towards the end of the episode. The team at Wayne Security just can't seem to figure out how Batman could have thought of the same idea that Bruce Wayne's subsidiary just created (hmm, curious).
The big question leading into Powerless, is whether the show would actually be funny. While superhero series are normally able to attract decent sized audiences initially, Powerless does not feature the heroes necessary to keep viewers interested on their own. So, if the show won't make you laugh, it likely won't go anywhere.
Fortunately, Powerless is quite funny. While there is not much to laugh out loud about, the jokes are subtle enough keep an audience engaged. The series makes great use of the universe it occupies without offering so much that it distracts viewers. In the series' premiere alone, Batman, Superman, Joker and Lex Luthor are all mentioned in on way or another, though never appear (Joker does with his face covered). The Superman jokes are especially funny because of how true they are.
At one point, it is mentioned that the most common cause of destruction is Superman battling a villain. Ron's solution? A Kryptonite window that would remove the Man of Steel's powers before he hits the building. Obviously there are plenty of flaws with such an invention, most notably, the window actually shatters from normal contact, and, as Emily points out, what if the people inside the building need saving?
Ultimately, Powerless is a funny workplace comedy that does enough to step out of the large shadow cast by characters that are only mentioned in the series. While it is unclear whether the show will be able to keep up the laughs, the series premiere delivers enough to warrant some optimism. Here's to hoping subsequent episodes can keep up.
Powerless airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC.
Mic has ongoing coverage of DC Comics. Please follow our main DC Comics hub here.