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POWERLESS Doesn’t Focus on the Heroes, But It Sure Is Super (Review)

This is our spoiler-free review of NBC’s upcoming new series Powerless, which debuts on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 8:30 p.m.

A constant criticism of modern day superhero stories is that they are too dark and depressing, lacking any of the fun and joy of classic comic books. Yet who would have guessed that all you needed to create a superhero story that is bright (literally and figuratively), delightful, and joyous is to switch the point of view from the heroes saving the world to the humans who have to live in it? That’s why I found myself with a big goofy grin on my face throughout the premiere of NBC’s new show, Powerless.

The premise of Powerless is inherently clever and silly, as it’s set in the DC Comics universe where Batman and Superman do battle with super villains, but instead of worrying about them it focuses on the totally normal non-super people that they are always working to save (though no one really cares anymore). The place here is actually Charm City, which has all of the same superhero problems of Gotham City without any of the prestige. It’s a place where trains get derailed and tossed into the air every single day, demigods crashing through the windows of skyscrapers are the single biggest problem faced by citizens, and seeing a man flying around throwing fireballs produces a response akin to seeing a light rain.

POWERLESS -- "Wayne or Lose" Episode 102 -- Pictured: (l-r) Danny Pudi as Teddy, Vanessa Hudgens as Emily, Jenni Pierson as Wendy -- (Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/NBC)

Despite its unique setting, the show actually follows a tried-and-true formula, one where the small town girl (in this case the very bubbly Vanessa Hudgens) comes to the big city all bright-eyed, optimistic, and hopeful, only to run into a group of co-workers that have grown cynical over their jobs and lot in life. The show looks and shares a similar ethos to Community, and has obvious elements of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 30 Rock. The way it pumps out jokes from any and all angles is reminiscent of both shows too, and with the interactions of the co-workers it feels like a modern day descendant of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Powerless isn’t written to be enjoyed by only the most devoted comic book readers, but it still has some great subtle jokes that sharp-eyed viewers will enjoy, including a great one about Batman v Superman. For the most part knowing who Superman and Batman are (and how absurd it is that no one can figure out Bruce Wayne’s role in all of this) will be enough to get the majority of the superhero jokes. Though you Crimson Fox fans will probably be pretty excited.

In many ways the show owes a lot to the very underrated movie (one of my legit favorites) Sky High, with the same type of fun, lighthearted approach to what has generally become the very serious business of superheroes.

Hudgens is charming as Emily Locke, the new director of the research and development team for Wayne Security, a department who tries to find ways for citizens to deal with the constant dangers posed by the superhero fights that take place around them. Then there’s nerd hero Alan Tudyk as her uncaring and eager-to-move-on-to-Gotham City boss Van Wayne, the not very important cousin of Bruce Wayne. Unsuprisingly, Tudyk is great.

POWERLESS -- "Wayne or Lose" Episode 102 -- Pictured: Alan Tudyk as Van -- (Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/NBC)

As are the rest of Locke’s team, played by Danny Pudi (Community),  Ron Funches (one of the funniest people alive), and secret premiere MVP Jennie Pierson, who should have been cast in something like this a long time ago. Rounding out the cast is Christina Kirk as Van Wayne’s totally defeated secretary, who acts as a sort of warning for Locke.

It’s a promising debut that feels more polished than most, with lots of potential for where it can go. Powerless is the bright, fun, superhero story that many of us have wanted, because it wants to entertain us instead of making us question the meaning of life. And all it took was forgetting about the superheroes.

4 out of 5 burritos.


What are you most excited about for Powerless? Fly into our comments section below and let us know.

Images: NBC

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