In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, NBC
You always have to give a show that’s had a revamp a little time to settle in. A little.
When Powerless was commissioned, it was a slightly different show from the one we have now. Set in the world of DC Comics, it featured a slightly dodgy insurance agency run by a supervillain that was trying to make money off the poor folks trampled by superheroes in their fight to stop the bad guys.
But twixt pilot and series, there was a bit of retooling. By the first aired episode, cynical old Vanessa Hudgens had turned into a dewy-eyed optimist wanting to make a difference in a branch of Wayne Industries run by Batman’s incompetent narcissist cousin (Alan Tudyk). Trouble is she has a bunch of people rejected by Better Off Ted working for her, including Danny Pudi and Ron Funches, all of whom can do little more than copy Lexcorp’s inventions. Can Hudgens turn the division round, save everyone from getting fired, help the little people and meet lots of her superhero idols, all without a single superpower to her?
Watching the first episode, the answer seemed to be “Who cares?”, “Why aren’t there any proper superheroes in this?” and “When do the jokes start?”
The second episode actually proved worse, since the first episode raised the occasional titter, whereas the second was practically soporific, beyond a nice joke about training videos being like The Shining.
Still, there’s a reason that I do these as third-episode verdicts, not second-episode verdicts. You have to give things time. And while episode three wasn’t exactly an exercise in hilarity, it was at least a reverse of the previous episode’s trajectory and I was able to watch the whole thing with a slight grin on my face, at least. The show featured a superhero I’d actually heard of, although it was The Olympian, so I wouldn’t describe that as a mainstream pick by the writers. There were a few in-jokes for comic book fans, with Gail Simone and Marv Wolfman getting name-checked. There was also a halfway decent attempt to tie the show a bit more into mainstream community by making Funches Atlantean (“Atlantis: home of Aquaman and character actor William H Macey”), allowing copious references to Aquaman. Corbin Bernsen’s arrival as Tudyk’s dad seemed to make everyone up their game. And the opening dialogue among the characters about racism (“I thought you said you were from Atlanta” “No, that’s Donald Glover, but it might be racist that you heard that”) almost made me laugh.
Almost. Because we’re still not exactly in Silicon Valley or Man Seeking Woman territory here. But the show is at least finding its feet now. I doubt, given that we’ll be at episode four next week, that the show will ever drag itself out of its z-list superhero obsession or become even laugh-out-loud funny. Not giving Danny Pudi any decent lines is a Category A disaster. But you can at least watch it and not feel like Superman near Lex Luthor’s kryptonite ring any more, which is a definite improvement.