Powerless - Episode 1
Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi, Christina Kirk, Ron Funches, Jennie Pierson and Alan Tudyk
Directed by Marc Buckland
Written by Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker
Produced by NBC
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Editor's Note: Back In July 2016, Newsarama reviewed Powerless's original pilot before the show was retooled. For an interesting comparison of the changed plot and tone, read that here.
While both Marvel and DC have been translating their properties into mediums beyond comics, such as animation, film,and television for decades now, Powerless marks the latter company taking the first foray into producing a straight-up sitcom with the aim of providing a show that delivers the joy found in the CW shows, but packed into a half-hour format. The pilot is sure to throw out a high volume of jokes and references, however nearly all of them feel lazy and uninspired, and even worse, the show seems okay with this in the hope it can win hardcore comic book fans over purely on the merit of obscure shout-outs.
Vanessa Hudgens plays the central character of Emily Locke, a new employee of Wayne Security, but in order to get to her job, she must first ride the train. Marc Buckland’s camera finds her in the crowded carriage and lingers on the book that she’s reading, entitled Wayne or Lose. This pun sets a precedent for the level of humour that you can expect from the remainder of the episode. When their journey is disrupted by a fight between the Jack O’Lantern and Crimson Fox, the show freeze-frames on Emily in order to provide exposition about her life prior to being introduced. While the show may not go as far as to provide a hackneyed record scratch to accompany the pausing of time, it’s not hard to hear it in your head.
As it turns out, Emily is the new head of research and development, working for Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), the cousin of Bruce Wayne. Again, the show seems to believe that frequently linking him to his pop-culture ingrained cousin will provide the show with a modicum of the artistic merit that Batman has been graced with since his creation, but unfortunately for the show, this is not the case. Rounding out Emily’s team is Teddy (Danny Pudi), Ron (Ron Funches), and Wendy (Jennie Pierson) while Christina Kirk plays Jackie, Van’s assistant. As far as ensembles go, the cast assembled is a strong mix of both known comedic talents and players which haven’t yet had chance to demonstrate the full extent of their comedic chops. They don’t get a chance to do that here, marred by the material.
Tudyk shines through as the star of the show in these early days and gets perhaps the funniest moment of the episode which involves a massage chair purely because the gag is so unexpected, but this and other laughs he may provide work because of his eccentric delivery as opposed to the script itself which fails everyone involved. Despite being the primary focus, Hudgens is relegated to go-to motivational speeches in the hopes of inspiring her team and Pudi finds himself without any physical comedy to capitalise on, despite having been one of the most energetic performers from Community.
The plotting of the episode is very standard for a premise pilot. A new person, in this case Emily, encounters a new environment and becomes integrated into said environment by the end of the episode. This approach was also used for The Office with B.J. Novak’s Ryan joining Dunder Mifflin and the comparison is appropriate considering both are workplace comedies on a basic level. However, Powerless is intended to be something more, purely down to the fact it exists in a world where superheroes also exist, but it does very little to capitalise on this beyond the aforementioned references that are tossed around like a hot potato. Beyond the cold open, the scenes involving Jack O’Lantern are captured with long shots, employing a Battlestar Galactica-style zoom to get ever so slightly closer. This goes to represent the show in a sense - there’s something interesting visible, but the focus is lacking.
To mention the opening credits, they pay respect to historic comic book covers with members of the cast acting as onlookers. This idea is repeated multiple times without variation and subsequently becomes emblematic of the show’s wider problem. It’s monotonous and trite and shouldn’t have been an issue considering the cast involved, which perhaps makes it all the more disappointing knowing that they haven’t been given better to work with.
Admittedly, sitcoms take a while to find their sweet spot where the cast achieves some rapport with one another and the writers understand what material suits their cast members best, so there’s still every chance that Powerless will do the same over the course of this first season. Just it needed to pull out all the stops and make a lasting impression right off the bat, in lieu of aspiring to mediocrity. It’s being released at a time where an estimated 454 scripted shows aired last year and so a show is already at a disadvantage when it comes out of the gate and turns out to be just okay, with that disadvantage being even greater when it’s worse than that. There’s not too much that warrants merit to be found within this pilot, nothing beyond a piece of advice – with great casting comes great responsibility not to squander it.
DC's Powerless debuts February 2 at 7:30 p.m. EST on NBC.