With the current popularity of comic adaptations on screens both large and small, it was only a matter of time until someone took a shot at comedy and Powerless hopes to fill a void that it imagines exists. The world may not have been looking for a screwball comedy about a world populated by superheroes, but this may turn out to be the ray of light it didn’t know it needed.
Apparently built from the assembled woolgathering episodes of a few too many comic fans, Powerless dares to ask the probing, difficult questions that superhero worlds largely ignore. Focused on Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens), the new supervisor at a company specializing in safety gear for the regular people who have to traverse the daily difficulties and destruction inherent in a world with superhero/supervillain clashes, the show wonders about the little guy and the bizarrely different routine that comes with such chaos.
Emily, bright-eyed as a freshly-picked turnip, runs into a lot of snags on her first day at a job that she imagined might be something more on par with snapping on the top hat at Willy Wonka’s factory. Her boss, Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), is a buffoon with no interest in running the company, but hopes that he can swing a promotion that will get him to Gotham with his cousin, Bruce. Emily’s staff isn’t interested in helping her, or coming up with any ideas that are worth anything, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because they’ve had so many supervisors in the last year that they’re considering calling her Tuesday.
The show puts a lot of its stock in the discordant mesh of a near slapstick comedy peppered with rainbows and the grim circumstances the business is meant to address. It’s like Three’s Company with someone getting crushed to death every few minutes. That raises the difficulty level, but can pay massive dividends if it works out. There’s just something about a lively, “happy” song about death, murder, hate, etc. (see The Beautiful South).
The problem with the show is that there’s a lot of establishment and not much that’s actually funny. It has a solid base, and with Tudyk, Danny Pudi, Ron Funches, and more, it shouldn’t have any problem parlaying its potential into a hilarious show, but the pilot is almost like an extended trailer with the show simply cocking its head at you saying, “Trust me, this is going to be funny,” as it tries to walk you through the curtain-door of the tent you don’t remember being there a minute ago. I believe it, but that’s because I’ll give the cast the benefit of the doubt, and I liked A to Z (creator Ben Queen’s other comedy series). Unfortunately, in today’s market, there’s too much competition for audiences to roll with things because they think they have potential, and people who remember A to Z don’t make a worthwhile demographic.
That said, it may be the perfect time for audiences to warm to anything willing to let silliness win out, and the cast is made up of people you just want to hang out with no matter what they’re doing. There’s little that’s actually in play in the pilot, apart from Tudyk’s uncanny ability to portray a self-centered jerk that you somehow like anyway, and Pudi’s characteristic charm as someone moving in ten directions at once. If the show can give itself to its stars, and has enough ideas to move beyond its shtick, it should easily grow into one of the funniest shows on TV, but it’s still a gamble at this point.