The concept for Powerless is pretty fantastic, “what about the normal people in comics” isn’t exactly new territory but it has yielded some phenomenal results (most notably Marvel’s Damage Control comics, which apparently had a TV series in development for 2016 which seems must have been stalled, and a comedy series making fun of how ridiculous the comic book world is to ours sound amazing on paper. Then I saw the initial episode of Powerless and I wasn’t particularly impressed, so I made the bold choice to put off doing this review until later. I made a similar decision following the second episode, when the series didn’t seem to be doing anything of note.
It’s almost like revisiting the first series of Parks and Rec; complete with Vanessa Hudgens filling the Leslie Knope role as peppy leading lady who can get anything done by smiling through her problems, and a boss who really didn’t want to be there or do anything that warranted him keeping his job. It also felt like it was misusing some of its actors; Alan Tudyk is an incredibly versatile actor who was reduced to largely beyond bearable ‘aren’t I incompetent and rich’ jokes. Though some landed, they came too thick and fast and with no juxtaposition leaving them to veer away from funny, and into annoying; Danny Pudi seemed to be playing a watered down Abed Nadir (his fantastic pop culture guru from Community), this even went as far as to have his co-star Ron Funches play a role almost identical to Donald Glover’s role in Community (I can almost hear Glover’s delivery of some of the lines in that second episode). Honestly, for the first two episodes the series seemed to be carried by Christina Kirk’s portrayal of Jackie, and that might have only been because she seemed as fed up with the rest of the series as I was. Most annoyingly it seemed to only make token efforts to lampoon comic tropes in the most toothless ways possible, which is against the entire point of the series.
This week’s episode however shows improvements in leaps and bounds. After Van (Tudyk) messes up and loses Wayne Security a large client, he’s forced to find a new client to win his father’s and Emily’s respect again. Settling on Atlantis he lies his way into getting the contract by boasting about his ‘sinking day’ party after Emily’s presentation; the Atalntians provide great comic foil for the writers allowing Van’s arrogant trust fund baby nonsense to run parallel with Emily’s small town naivety as they bumble their way around Atlantian customs, neither of them having any reference point for dealing with another
culture for completely different reasons.
Their relationship works really well here and if the writers continue to build on it, it may well be one of the high points of the show.
In the sub-plot with the remainder of the core cast they investigate whether a new member of staff is in fact a super hero called ‘The Olympian’ after he continually disappears to the bathroom around the same time a superhero appears. Alex (played by Matthew Atkinson) is a carbon copy of Clarke Kent here, glasses and all, hopefully a sign of much sharper commentary on DC comics, or hopefully comic tropes in general. Pudi, Funches and Jennie Pierson (playing Wendy, the third recurring engineer in the company) don’t exactly give stand out performances here, but they not exactly bad either, and since the episode does such a great job of improving Van and Emily, it’s not enough to drag the episode down by any means, I just find myself hoping that these three get the development they deserve. It might also have helped Jackie’s storyline with the trio, twisting almost every comment about Adam into a sex reference; it probably says more about me than the quality of the writing that this didn’t become stale and one or two less of the same joke might not have hurt.
This episode also had some quality comic references, the deal Van ruins is for a product that would cover acid vats in a fantastic nod to Joker’s origins and I love the implication that anyone who falls in acid automatically becomes a clown based villain. The newscaster featured is called Gail Simone in reference to the writer who’s worked on multiple DC series in the past; as mentioned the entire subplot with Adam is a reference to Superman. Overall at the third episode of its ten episode run Powerless finally seems to be finding where its strength’s lie and I finally find myself looking forward to next week’s episode: ‘Cold Season’. I’m predicting references to The Flash throughout.