Rachel Bellwoar reviews the first episode of the new DC sitcom Powerless…
Superhero movies and shows aren’t the only culprits but collateral damage is real. Nobody talks about it. The broken windows. The buildings blown up. It’s all tucked away in the unspoken contract we’ve signed with the networks and studios. Give us more stunts and we’ll never speak of the people and stuff taken out along the way.
But, given we’re a culture that loves our material objects, how realistic is forgiveness? We may not have the authority to complain about knocked down wires and transportation delays, when our lives are mostly intact, but when has that ever stopped us before?
It’s this silent resentment against superheroes that Powerless acknowledges in its opening sequence. Emily (Vanessa Hudgens) is taking the train to her new job at Wayne Security when Jack O’ Lantern damages the tracks. Crimson Fox manages to save the train but in the process destroys a stranger’s car. The sequence has been done before, but the difference is that our pleasure in seeing Emily ok doesn’t make us lose sight of the soon-to-be-forgotten stranger. The stranger is us, and if living in Charm City is like this every day, you can understand why citizens have grown cold to resident heroes.
It’s not just that people are irritated by heroes on Powerless. They’re disinterested. Children are unbothered to look up from their video games. Office workers aren’t afraid when threatening videos freeze their computers. They want to get back on the internet. Curiosity, not the cat, has been killed and only newcomer, Emily, remains responsive.
That’s why Wayne Security hired her. The latest in a string of hires for the position of Research and Development Director, Emily still wants to help people. Charm City hasn’t broken her yet and if she can inspire her team to come up with a new product, she might be able to do that. The company sells merchandise to make the powerless feel less dependent on heroes, or at least less in danger from their duke outs. Lately the company has been reduced to color branding cheap Lex Corp knock-offs. It’s the same problems faced by all businesses—lack of funds and resources—but with the added stakes that if they don’t come up with a Big Idea soon, their branch is getting shut down.
For branch head, Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), that may not be such a bad thing. With everyone else getting fired, Van is looking to realize his dreams, with a transfer to Wayne Security’s Gotham branch. However, Emily turns out to be good at her job, and the team come up with a branch-saving product right in the nick of time.
There’s not a lot of space for character development this episode and the final invention, besides being sketchy, comes together too fast. The night’s biggest laughs arrive curtesy of failed ideas (Kryptonite windows) and Tudyk. His character’s connection to Bruce Wayne was spilled in the promo trailers but Bruce plays a larger role in the plot than expected, absent but good for more than just namedropping bragging.
For now Powerless is riding on the charms of its chipper meets cynical tone, but I’m more hopeful that the series will fully utilize its winning cast (Christina Kirk especially) before that charm wears out.