We live in an age where you can find a superhero show on almost any channel. Flip on Fox and Gotham is there waiting. Want to stream some Daredevil? Just log into Netflix. Although NBC tried to board the superhero hype train in 2014 with Constantine, it never quite took off. Powerless, its new superhero-adjacent comedy, was promised as the missing ingredient the genre needed.
Instead, Powerless is full of obvious fan pandering, annoying characters, awkward writing and insulting one-liners.
Powerless is a half-hour sitcom that follows a group of tech “geniuses” at Wayne Security, tasked with inventing products that will help normal citizens who live in a world populated by DC superheroes stay clear of super villains.
The point of the show isn’t to focus on the superhuman beings flying around outside and making a mess out of the city. Instead, the intention is to focus on Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens), the new Director of Research who has to try and keep the struggling division open. It proves to be a difficult task considering her boss, Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk) is obsessed with getting out of the city and moving to Gotham with his cousin, Bruce. Yes, that Bruce Wayne.
Along the way, different members of Locke’s team are introduced. There’s Teddy (Danny Pudi), the Chief Design Officer who carries all of the stereotypical arrogances associated with any designer in a Silicon Valley Fortune 500 company. Ron (Ron Funches), the odd but lovable programmer who’s always working on a kooky idea. Wendy (Jennie Pierson), which may be the worst of the bunch, is the stereotypical, eccentric lone woman working in tech who immediately doesn’t get along with Locke.
These three characters illustrate one of the most notable issues Powerless suffers from; its two dimensional, trope-like characters. There’s no life in any of them, including Tudyk’s Van Wayne. Each character feels like they’re a mix of past sitcom personality types. The awkward genius, the naive go-getter and the prickly boss are all represented, but they don’t feel modernized in any way. The anachronistic themes of the series contradict the antiquated personalities inhabiting the world and it’s an identity crisis Powerless never quite escapes. To put it simply, Powerless suffers from trying to be its own thing while simultaneously reminding the audience that it’s a show about superheroes. There are multiple references to Bruce Wayne and the Joker that feel forced.
From the beginning to the end of the pilot, which is the only episode NBC provided to Polygon, Powerless feels like nothing more than an amateurish attempt. There are moments where it feels like it has the potential to be something greater than the end result — like the way it satirizes typical Silicon Valley tech offices — but those moments of potential don’t happen often enough or for a length of time that makes them overly noticeable.
It’s hard to find any redeeming qualities in the show. It’s the type of series you’ll immediately want to turn off the second you turn it on. While I didn’t receive enough episodes to judge the season as a whole, I can’t imagine it gets much better as it goes on, which can be the case with certain series.
I feel it’s imperative I point out the version most of you will see is a different version than the one NBC shared at San Diego Comic-Con in July. Everything about the series, from its basic premise to the relationship between the characters, has been completely changed. For what it’s worth, I adored the original version of the series. Locke isn’t a Bruce Wayne-obsessed director trying to climb the ladder in his corporation. Instead, she’s a caring insurance agent who has to fight for widowed families after her new boss — Alan Tudyk — proves he only cares about profit.
Unlike the Locke you’ll see, this one felt like a character worth rooting for. Everything about the show, from Locke’s unwavering commitment to help people to her blossoming relationship with Teddy, had a cuteness to it that simply doesn’t exist with other superhero series. It felt very unique in a sea of gritty, overly dramatic dramas, and that individuality has unfortunately disappeared.
I’m going to continue watching Powerless to see if it does manage to shock me and get better, but right now, this show simply isn’t worth your time.