Powerless Finds Its Voice

I previously highlighted NBC’s Powerless as one the most potentially promising debuts in 2017. Though I have not been a fan of the majority of DC’s offerings, I thought this workplace comedy set on the periphery of super hero action had all the right elements to create something truly special. So imagine my surprise when I settled in on the couch to watch the series premiere back in February and hated it. I was more than disappointed I was shocked. The tone seemed all wrong. It felt mean-spirited and lacked the fun I was hoping for. However, despite my let down, I came back the following week and gave it another shot. I’m glad I did. Six episodes in, Powerless has really found its voice and a sweet spot in which it can really fly.

My initial reservations regarding the pilot came mostly from its tone. Vanessa Hudgens’ Emily is starting a new job in Charm City at Wayne Security in their R&D department. She’s starry eyed and naïve – dazzled by the superhero battles on her morning commute that annoy the rest of her fellow train passengers. Eternally optimistic, she stands in stark contrast to her jaded co-workers. They’re so used to being beaten down and underappreciated that they’re immediately unwelcoming. Everyone is ready with a quippy, sarcastic takedown that just feels unnecessarily downright mean. If the goal is to have push and pull between Emily’s sunny attitude and her team’s eye rolling the balance is all off in the pilot episode. Ron Funches’ Ron, Danny Pudi’s Teddy, and Jenni Pierson’s Wendy aren’t just resistant to their new boss they’re downright hostile. We find out Hudgens is the fifth new boss they’ve had, and they’re just waiting for number six. Even though we as the audience know that Emily is here to stay (or there’d be no show), the set up makes the whole first episode feel like it cancels itself out.

Ironically the opening line of the show’s second episode is Emily telling a completely disinterested Jackie, “I just think the office could be friendlier.” Over the next few episodes, though the office does not get “Emily friendly” it hits a real stride. We get to know the characters, they get to know each other, and the sarcastic put downs become earned. Emily, a bit like a Disney princess transported to the real world, starts to find her footing and hold her own among her sardonic co-workers while remaining true to herself and her wide-eyed perspective. With everything running smoothly we can find the joy in seeing the team try to land an account with the Atlantians or prepare for cold season which is not flu season as you might expect but the time of year in which cold powered villains come to Charm City and start to freeze everything.

Powerless has grown to be the unique workplace comedy I had hoped it would be. Anchored by strong comedic actors like the aforementioned Funches, Pudi, and Pierson it has learned to balance their cynical humor with the hapless, narcissistic genius of Alan Tudyk as Bruce Wayne’s cousin Van and the boundless scrappy spunk of Vanessa Hudgens. Though it’s only aired six episodes, in a TV climate where shows can be pulled after one, Powerless is a testament to what can happen when you let a show breath and find itself. Who knows what heights the show can soar to if it’s given a few seasons to grow. Enough shameless superhero puns. Powerless airs Thursday nights on NBC at 8:30.