Powerless: “Wayne or Lose” (Season 1, Episode 1)

The Marvel and DC universes have expanded into the territory of television with several small incursions. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.DLuciferLegion, Legends of Tomorrow, and Gotham have either been off-beat explorations into well-known properties or original perspectives on well-established universes. The thing is, though, all of these shows have stayed within a few degrees of their original genre. Even Preacher, which adds a tinge of what I refer to as the “AMC quality” (some perfect blend of drama and action, character study and story arc),  keeps to the dramatic side of the genre-spectrum. While I’ve personally been a fan of the more comedic comics, a la iZombie, they are a rare find on television. DC has found a way to add to it.

Here’s a show I’ve never mentioned in the same paragraph as a DC property: Better Off Ted. The offbeat, nearly fantastical series that’s on every Netflix Top 50 list worth its salt seems to have inspired the newest DC entry. Powerless is a straight-up comedy that takes place in one of Bruce Wayne’s companies that attempts to improve people’s lives through technology. Alright, the plots are similar, but what else could they share? The art direction, the writing, and the general tone of the series were all so similar, I spent twenty minutes trying to find shared producers and writers. There were none.

Better Off Ted has been a favorite of ours at Tonight’s Watch, which puts Powerless between a soft spot in my heart and a hard place in my criticism. Will it measure up and go a full two seasons without getting axed, or Ben Queen’s fourth series be Powerless to stop it?

The Characters

Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) brings an optimistic point of view to an often overlooked character in any comic universe: The Citizen. The Citizen isn’t a superhero, or a member of law enforcement, or even a scientist. The Citizen can be the sanitation worker whose job was made more difficult by The Penguin’s massive dump of rubber ducks on the town. The Citizen can be a secretary whose daily commute was lengthened by another train detonated by The Riddler. The Citizen can be a real estate owner whose entire investment was just leveled by Superman during an epic slug-fest with Zod. Emily represents The Citizen who wants to help humanity in a world where humanity is in constant danger and humans are in individual distress.

In short, Emily moved to Charm City to get a job at (one of) Bruce Wayne’s technology labs to create lifesaving equipment for the local denizens. Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), Bruce’s cousin, hires Emily as Director of R&D in an effort to get himself promoted to the main arm of Wayne Enterprises—his only real goal.

Emily’s optimism is a symptom of her youth and inexperience, which Jackie (Christina Kirk), Van’s long-time secretary, attempts to alleviate with her own experience in the office. Maybe Emily’s perseverance will win Jackie over.

Any R&D team needs scientists and engineers. Ron (Ron Funches), Teddy (Danny Pudi), and Wendy (Jennie Pierson) have played their parts well in the past, but are now finding themselves burnt out. Their exhaustion has detached them from the excitement of creating new gadgets, and Emily plans on bringing back the spark that put them on the map.

The Themes

First and foremost, we’re asked to believe when a person is subjected to superheroes on a daily basis, they lose their charm and appeal. After a while, they’re saving the city at the cost of a citizens ability to lead a normal life. Emily’s flood of new ideas and enthusiasm for her job and city might be representative of the very existence of this show.

For years I’ve been reading editorials and articles predicting the death of the Comic Book Movie. How long can Marvel keep cranking out movies with the same basic plots without the general public getting bored? When will the world tire of the endless spin-offs from action movie to action TV Show? Powerless offers a solution as an entry into the Superhero/Comedy genre. Yes, we’ve seen that genre before, but not quite like this. Powerless asks for innovation within the genre, for the sake of its longevity, before the Superhero Movie loses its charm and appeal.

The Criticism

Like many prototypes of progress, Powerless fails to be radical enough to catch major attention. At best, it’s a mash-up of two genres that haven’t met before. That technique of creation might have been what led to Calendar Man. There would have to be a pretty specific pitch to get me to watch a Calendar Man TV series.

The Conjecture

If Ben Queen continues his streak, this season will end in cancellation. Otherwise, I imagine it will end with Emily pushing her team to creating a device which one of them will use to become a super villain. This place is a breeding ground for Mad Scientists.

The Conclusion

Powerless managed a cast I genuinely enjoy, with a script I could generally enjoy; that is to say, I had a harder time laughing at the jokes than I did lighting up at the idea of the series. What we could have is another vehicle for cameos, something to bridge the gap between a comedian’s paychecks. What we probably have is something as forgettable as Ben Queen’s other promising ideas.

If you’re interested in the series, Powerless airs on Thursdays on NBC. If you’d like to see what else Cody is watching, you can check his Trakt page to keep up-to-date with all of his shows.

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