Review: Powerless 1×1 (US: NBC)

Listless


In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, NBC

Although NBC has managed to return to the top of the US ratings after its horrific death plummet a decade ago, there are still a couple of things it’s not good at: comedies and superhero shows. Okay, to be fair, its comedies are useless quite smart, but they’re usually not desperately funny (eg The Good Place) and/or they never fare well in the ratings (eg Community). To be equally fair, it hasn’t had a lot of superhero shows, but while we can all agree that at least Constantine got better over time, Heroes got decidedly worse and the less said about The Cape, the better.

So Powerless looks like the perfect storm: an NBC superhero comedy. What manner of horror could that be, you might ask? Well, for a while, it actually looked quite promising, giving us a show that builds on the same theme as both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War by being about the little people who are just trying to get on with their lives and avoid getting crushed by buildings, shot by death rays, et al as superheroes and supervillains do what superheroes and supervillains do – a sort of Lower Decks of the DC Comic Book universe, if you will. In this original story, the somewhat cynical Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) worked in an insurance company for supervillain Alan Tudyk (Firefly), where she has to decide whether destruction caused by Wonder Woman can be written off as an Act of God because as a demi-goddess, it’s a grey area.

Following the pilot, though, show creator Ben Queen (A to Z, Drive) left and the whole thing got rebooted into something a lot more mid-season replacement.

Now, Hudgens is a wide-eyed superhero fan reporting to work at Tudyk’s branch of Wayne Industries – Tudyk now being Bruce Wayne’s cousin – where she has to lead a team of more jaded inventors and engineers in developing products to help the ordinary people of ‘Charm City’ cope with the superhero-induced trials and tribulations of life, whether those be personal Joker-poison anti-toxin injectors or inflatable suits to help their wearers withstand concussive blows.

Trouble is, her new underlings, who include Community‘s Danny Pudi and Undateable‘s Ron Funches, aren’t the brightest tools in the box, so spend their entire time ripping off Lexcorp’s ideas and making them a different colour, rather than coming up with anything original, which means that Bruce is thinking about shutting them down. Will they get a reprieve?

I’m not sure I care. Admittedly, the show does have its good points: Hudgens, Pudi and Tudyk are as fun to watch as always, and no less an acting god than Adam West is the narrator. There’s also the occasional bit of low but amusing humour, with inept supervillain Jack O’Lantern inadvertently punning about his ‘balls… of fire’ and Batman coincidentally using the new product the team has just sent to Bruce Wayne (what are the chances?).

But Funches is still a near unbearably poor actor, there really aren’t that many jokes and we’re nearing the bottom of the superhero z-list with Jack O’Lantern and Crimson Fox – it’s not so much Lower Decks as Journey to the Earth’s Core. Who cares what they’re up to down there?

The show’s not terrible. The core cast and ideas are reasonably sound and now the producers have got over retooling the show in a hurry, hopefully they’ll have time to settle in all the new ideas. But Powerless really needs to raise its ambitions – if DC corporate vetting will let it – if it’s to avoid going the same way as every other NBC superhero show.

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