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Review of Powerless on NBC

Powerless
Photo Credit: NBC

NBC reenters the superhero television arena with Powerless a workplace comedy that is set within the DC Universe. Powerless focuses on the ‘normal people’ who try to maintain their lives while constantly dodging debris created by clashing super beings. The show is unapologetic about its superhero roots and surroundings. Powerless’ title sequence is an animated montage of comic book covers. The covers feature various members of the Justice League tangling with supervillains while bystanders are caught in the crossfire.

Powerless may be set in fictional Charm City, but the show wets your appetite for Gotham City thanks to the numerous Batman/Bruce Wayne references. This ode to Gotham City also includes a brief voice over by former Batman portrayer Adam West.  If Bruce was the Candyman, he would have been summoned to Charm City given the number of times his name was mentioned. Instead Powerless brought forth Bruce’s douche cousin Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk from Firefly/Serenity). Van is head of Wayne Securities, but acts more like the head of Gotham City’s tourist bureau.

The workplace at the center of Powerless is Wayne Securities, a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises. Wayne Securities provides products that help individuals survive superhuman encounters. The company’s newest head of research and development is Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens co-star of High School Musical). Emily is a recent addition to Charm City. She takes in new experiences with optimism, even the ones that could be fatal. Joining Emily at Wayne Securities is a crack team of beleaguered cynics including Jackie (Christina Kirk), Ron (Ron Funches), Wendy (Jennie Pierson) and Teddy (Danny Pudi from Community).

Charm City may lack A-lister DC rivalries such as Superman and Lex Luthor, however it does have Crimson Fox and Jack O’Lantern. Both characters have existed in the DC Universe for many years. The television version of Crimson Fox, Charm City’s resident superheroine, displayed powers her comic book counterpart does not possess. Crimson Fox’s comic book counterpart was a member of Justice League Europe and the Global Guardians. There have been several incarnations (both hero and villain) of Jack O’Lantern in the DC Universe.  Powerless’ version appears to be inspired by the villainous Jack O’Lantern introduced in Justice League International. Ironically the Justice League International/Justice League Europe era was known for its shenanigans and contained elements of a workplace comedy.

The pilot’s bright colors help differentiate Powerless from the other DC Universe properties currently airing on television. Powerless’ warm colors are a nice contrast when compared to the cool metallic feel of the Greg Berlanti produced shows. The superhero sequences and aesthetic feel like Fox’s live action version of The Tick or the 2008 British superhero comedy No Heroics. Powerless’ visual style helps differentiate it from other comic related shows, but its premise may remind viewers of ABC’s Better off Ted. Better off Ted was a workplace comedy that was also set in a research and development department in which experiments lead to whacky hijinks.

The show was conceived by Ben Queen. Queen created the short-lived NBC comedy A to Z and wrote Cars 2. Unfortunately Queen left the project due to creative differences. After Queen left departed Powerless was retooled but the premise stayed the same. The show is currently being overseen by Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker. This duo also wrote the pilot entitled “Wayne or Lose”.

Powerless is not a fully formed product after the pilot. However I believe the show deserves further sampling based on the warmth and charm of “Wayne or Lose”. Emily is a likeable heroine and Van Wayne is a great foil. Hopefully the creators will tone down the number of Batman/Bruce Wayne references. There are tons of C and D level DC Universe characters that could be utilized. After all there was a brief cameo by Starro the Conqueror. Powerless has a long ways to go before losing its sidekick status, but the series is off to a promising start considering its backstage problems.

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