Comic Con 2016 TV Pilot Review: Powerless
Synopsis: In the first comedy series set in the universe of DC Comics, Vanessa Hudgens (“Grease Live,” “High School Musical”) plays Emily, a spunky young insurance adjuster specializing in regular-people coverage against damage caused by the crime-fighting superheroes. It’s when she stands up to one of these larger-than-life figures (after an epic battle messes with her commute) that she accidentally becomes a cult “hero” in her own right … even if it’s just to her group of lovably quirky co-workers. Now, while she navigates her normal, everyday life against an explosive backdrop, Emily might just discover that being a hero doesn’t always require superpowers.
Review: It has been quite a few years for superhero projects on television. From Marvel's network and Netflix series to FOX's Gotham and The CW's slew of Arrow spin-offs, superheroes have a solid presence on the small screen. But, aside from a sense of humor on series like The Flash and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we have yet to see a true sitcom set in any comic book universe. Now, NBC has unveiled the pilot episode for their mid-season series Powerless. Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Alan Tudyk, and Danny Pudi, Powerless brings the type of comedy we have come to expect from NBC but with the added bonus of DC's biggest superheroes. While not always seen on screen, Powerless is full of references to everyone from Batman and Wonder Woman to Green Lantern and Aquaman.
The pilot follows Hudgens as Emily who lives in Charm City and works for the ninth largest insurance company in the world, RetCon Insurance. In this world, superheroes have become a part of regular life and the destruction they cause becomes a big factor in benefits for familes with loved ones crushed by rubble or giant killer robots. The pilot gives is some good looks at Charm City's main hero, Crimson Fox, as well as well known DC villain, Starro. The special effects are not quite on par with what we have become accustomed to with other small screen comic book shows, but that is because the heroics here are secondary to the story and serve more as a way to set this workplace comedy apart from other similar shows like The Office or NBC's latest show, Superstore.
At it's core, Powerless is a fairly standard workplace comedy. Aside from Hudgens as the spunky main character, we have the goofy coworker as played by Community favorite Danny Pudi, the sexually overt Christina Kirk, and the mean boss played by Alan Tudyk. Tudyk plays Del, son of RetCon's CEO and a man yearning for respect from his employees. He is at odds with Emily who wants to help those hurt in the aftermath of superhero battles. This results in a good versus evil dynamic that feels a bit forced at the beginning but sets in motion a lot of potential as the series progresses. What I liked most about the show was that the DC Comics references are peppered in as if these characters truly exist in a world where the extraordinary achievements of these god-like beings has become commonplace.
The references abound in unexpected ways. One character tries to prove their coworker is not the Green Lantern by causing bodily harm, Del reads Lex Luthor's autobiography, and we see clocks in the office set to time everywhere from Gotham and Metropolis to Themyscira and Atlantis. There is also a brief cameo from Marc McClure, Jimmy Olsen in Richard Donner's 1978 SUPERMAN, as Emily's mentor and former boss. This is a lot to be crammed into a half hour pilot, but it works for the most part. Powerless does seem to try a bit too hard to push the comedy on us but when they let the superheroics fall a bit off the main plot, the episode works better. Vanessa Hudgens is well cast as the likeable and cute Emily which will help this show in the long run. It would definitely help if we saw Batman or Superman appear on the show, even in a fleeting glimpse rather than just seeing C-list heroes, but that may be wishful thinking. Overall, this is a nice addition to the DC live action universe.
Powerless premieres in 2017 on NBC.