Most people who have watched a superhero movie or ten, or who keep up with superhero TV shows, have surely wondered: what is life like for those without powers in a world with so many masked men and caped crusaders? Is everyone always in distress? That’s what NBC’s new half-hour comedy series Powerless addresses, and it does so in a way that adds a lot of positivity to the DC universe. The first superhero sitcom (we had to fill out every genre at some point during Peak Superhero, right?), the series follows a group of product designers at Wayne Security who attempt to make life easier for the denizens of Charm City and beyond (like Gotham) with gadgets that help deter villains and other attacks.
The pilot, which is the only episode available for review, is a candy-colored jaunt that finds an optimistic new boss, Emily (Vanessa Hudgens) taking over the Research and Development team at Wayne Securities in the hopes of motivating them to do better work. The company is run by the self-interested and vainglorious (Wayne-glorious? The series is full of puns) Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), yes, cousin of Bruce — who he can never seem to get on the phone, but who does occasionally send a text. Danny Pudi, Christina Kirk, and Ron Funches round out the workplace lackeys who resent Emily (their fifth boss in a year) but who they end up working with to devise a grand prototype idea that will save them from being laid off.
Powerless is full of quips that will make the most sense to those already well entrenched in superhero fare. The layoffs, for instance, are looming because masked villains aren’t just stealing jewels anymore, they’re all just trying to destroy the world. Wayne Securities has a habit, apparently, of ripping off LexCorps, and throwaway lines include things like “we should probably go inside, there’s an evil pumpkin flying around.”
Powerless is silly and fun, and the setup of existing within the DC Universe but outside of Gotham City and other landmark towns keeps it from coming into contact with the comics’ better-known heroes and villains. The point of Powerless, which is stylishly reinforced in its opening credits, is that this is show that isn’t about the supers, but about the innocent bystanders, ones who live in a world where the number one cause of workplace accidents is Superman flying through buildings.
Hudgens, playing the straight man (as it were), has a likable pep, and comedy veterans Tudyk, Kirk, and Pudi have already started carving out their character niches even in the pilot. There’s a Parks and Rec or even Community vibe to the proceedings (though no mockumentary style, thankfully), with plenty of fun to be had with low-rent villains like the Flying Jack-O’-Lantern and the devices designed to help thwart their evil plans. “Wayne or Lose,” it seems worth finding out how the group will continue to protect the hapless residents of this “godforsaken taint of a city” not as superheroes, but as regular folks — a lesson that feels more powerful than ever.
Rating: ★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism
Powerless premieres Thursday, February 2nd on NBC