Hit or Sh**: NBC’s POWERLESS
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
When I first heard that DC was involved with a comedy on NBC, I — well, what the Hell do you think I thought? The time for sugarcoating has passed: DC sucks, any way you slice it. For as banal and toothless as Marvel films are, DC’s are bad, plain and simple. If your response to criticism claiming that you make superhero films too self-serious and dour is to make SUICIDE SQUAD, you deserve to be put on watch for the rest of eternity. However, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I had the privilege of watching POWERLESS. The good news is that this is arguably the best content coming from DC Entertainment since THE DARK KNIGHT. The bad news is that the best content coming from DC Entertainment since THE DARK KNIGHT is a middling sitcom starring Vanessa Hudgens and the guy from COMMUNITY.
POWERLESS revolves around Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens), the new Director of Research and Development for Wayne Security, a subsidiary of the enterprise owned by everyone’s favorite fictional billionaire. Wayne Security has recently been failing to cut the mustard, so Bruce is considering deep-sixing the branch. This is bad news for Emily, but great news for her boss, Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), who stands to get shuffled over to the big leagues in Gotham City through corporate restructuring. Emily must work with an initially disaffected and uncooperative team to develop a product that will keep Wayne Security on the map, happily chugging away in the much less dangerous town of Charm City.
We only HEARD about that time the Joker blew up a hospital
I don’t know how much credit the premise of POWERLESS deserves. Due to the ad campaign, it would seem as if DC is pleased with themselves for moving their properties into the format of a network sitcom, the theoretical antithesis of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, but it feels less groundbreaking than it wants to be. Ever since the astronomical rise of Marvel firmly situated the superhero blockbuster in the public consciousness, we’ve been treated to various “post-” endeavors dedicated to picking apart the corners of the superhero world that don’t typically get paid attention to. Every other spec script in Hollywood is about an insurance salesman rushing around trying to put out the fires caused by the big bads, and there are even more revolving around unwilling heroes, morally ambiguous heroes, antiheroes, and the like. As such, it just doesn’t feel fresh to so aggressively lean into the average schmuck angle in 2017. On paper it’s mildly fun to theorize about what the office workers of the Gotham suburbs get up to on a daily basis, but once you interact with it in practice, you’ll just be wishing to tune back in with the characters you know and love. Well, not exactly, since DC is responsible for their representations, but you know what I mean.
What POWERLESS does have going for it is a surprisingly sobering theme involving the hapless denizens of this fictional world relying on gadgets and technology to help them survive in the face of unconcerned demigods, but any serious consideration of these elements are squandered on the tired regurgitation of “not drama” that the show relies on for filler. I say “not drama,” because as with many other modern shows of its ilk, POWERLESS doesn’t quite manage to pull itself up by the bootstraps and land on “comedy.” I really can’t imagine anyone even getting a chuckle out of anything that the pilot has to offer, but then again, I don’t watch THE BIG BANG THEORY. In fact, it doesn’t even seem structured or predicated around the delivery of jokes in general. I think we’re supposed to get some mild mirth out of the fact that Van is a totally self-absorbed dick, but a punchline is nowhere to be found.
Well, at least that’s on brand
Ultimately, the complete lack of humor is what shoots the pilot in the foot. To the cast’s credit, they all do a stellar job and are generally enjoyable to watch. Vanessa Hudgens does a great job of garnering our sympathy and empathy while never coming across as a wallflower or someone to push around, Danny Pudi proves to be as strong of a supporting actor as he always has, and, despite not being funny, Alan Tudyk at least manages to raise the hackles through his portrayal of Van. In addition, I am a fan of the show’s dedication, at least initially, to shine a light on the DC creations long forgotten by box office returns. The unheard of Jack O’Lantern is the closest the pilot has to a main antagonist, and if we’re making full use of the D-list supervillain catalog, then I’m finally going to get the portrayal of Condiment King that I’ve always wanted. However, the show make the implicit stars of the world of story entirely impotent, which makes it stick out like a sore thumb canonically. The pilot ends with Batman capturing the Joker after using an alert system that Emily designs. Being powerless to stop a villain until a normie gives him the designs for a glorified wristwatch is not the character’s finest moment.
POWERLESS has potential, yes, but so does every liberal arts major living in their childhood home. While the show deserves some credit from refusing to entirely bend to the will of fan service and just show us the characters that define DC’s brand, it also doesn’t manage to create a gripping cast of fresh faces. The pilot is hard to hate, but is inescapably uneven and without an effective core of humor to propel my interest to future episodes. My interest will be given to other endeavors, at least until Condiment King makes an appearance.
POWERLESS airs on NBC on Thursdays