Jan 2, 2020
Powerless: A not-so-powerful pilot
Wow, it’s only the pilot episode, and DC Comics has already fucked up my New Year’s resolution for them. This version of Powerless is way different from the trailer that premiered at the San Diego Comic Con. The previous pilot’s premise was that Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) and Company were a group of insurance claims adjusters who wanted to do as much good as they could to help clean up the messes superheroes left behind. Alan Tudyk was their greedy boss who was more concerned with turning profits, and Kate Mucci of Garfunkel & Oates played a quirky co-worker who was convinced that someone in the workplace was Clark Kent-ing them.
That was a show that seemed it could be fairly decent, but the original creator Ben Queen departed as showrunner in August, and Patrick Schumacker and Justin Halpern, they of Sh*t My Dad Says fame, were brought in to replace him and changed the premise.
Powerless is still a workplace comedy about ordinary people living in a world where superheroes are everyday occurrences, but it’s much different than its original pilot. And not in a good way.
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Emily Locke grew up in a boring flyover state (in this universe, “flyover states” refer to the states superheroes fly over on their way to more exciting places, which must make being from somewhere boring like Iowa even more hurtful) and moved to Charm City to be somewhere more exciting. On her way to her first day at her new job at Wayne Securities, a fight between Crimson Fox and another super-being breaks out, interrupting her morning commute. The other Charm City residents are bored with superheroes and their antics, but Emily is excited to see real superheroes in the flesh, even though Crimson Fox throws their train car onto a car and makes everyone late for work.
In this new pilot, Emily’s company is a subsidiary of Wayne Securities (as in, Bruce Wayne) that specializes in making products to keep ordinary citizens safe. Emily is the new head of R&D and meets with Van, her obnoxious boss who’s also Bruce Wayne’s cousin. Van introduces Emily to her team, which consists of Teddy AKA Abed from Community, some chick named Wendy, and Ron AKA Shelly from Undateable.
Emily is disappointed to learn that Wayne Securities doesn’t make useful products anymore; they simply copy successful ideas from LexCorp. Emily tries to encourage the team to come up with original products with her motto,”Let’s Be Better.” However, no one on the team is interested.
Emily is confused by the team’s apathy and hostility towards her, and they explain that she’s the fifth director the company has hired. Emily confronts Van, who admits that he’s looking for an R&D director who can whip the team into making an innovative product he can take credit for, and thus earn a promotion to the Gotham office.
I don’t know why Van is eager to move to Gotham. If the Charm City commute is annoying because of superhero fights, I can’t imagine how much it must suck to live in Gotham where the Joker, Scarecrow, Penguin, and Poison Ivy all presumably reside.
Emily ignores the supervillain Jack-O-Lantern’s threats to take over the city and attempts to bond with the staff so they’ll like her enough to do real work. They explain that they’ve given up on original ideas, since everything gets shot down by corporate for being too expensive or unrealistic. Corporate is disinterested and now so are they.
Their apathy must be a nice cushion for the blow of Van’s announcement that Wayne Securities has been deemed obsolete, thanks to “supervillains trying to destroy the earth and superheroes fighting each other for vaguely defined reasons”, so their products aimed at ordinary citizens are, ahem, “powerless.”
Emily convinces Van to give the team time to make a new product to impress corporate enough to keep the company around. Emily tries to rally the team again, but everyone has accepted their fates and are already posting their resumes on Indeed.com.
There’s a small gag where Ron shows off his window made of Kryptonite, which is supposed to solve the number one cause of workplace accidents: Superman crashing into an office building mid-fight. However, Emily points out that Superman might need to crash into an office building to save people, and Ron breaks the window in frustration. I’m not exactly sure on the availability of Kryptonite, but I’m pretty sure it’s expensive to make a prototype with it and then break said prototype. No wonder this company is going under.
Jackie, Van’s assistant, has a heart to heart with Emily and tells her that she used to be young and idealistic, but now she knows that regular people can’t do anything.
Emily tells her that her regular florist father taught Emily to believe that she could do good in her own quiet way. They see Jack-O-Lantern fly by, and Emily gets the idea to change Wendy’s anti-Emily beeper to be based on scent. so citizens know when a super villain is coming.
Somehow, the third time Emily rallies the troops is the charm. They make the product, it works, and it’s useful. But when Van gets reluctant to take the product to corporate, Emily threatens to go over his head and take it to Bruce Wayne herself.
Van takes the idea to Bruce and the company stays open. But then Van has to stay in Charm City, because Bruce thinks he inspired the team, so Van’s plan has backfired. The team goes out to celebrate and truly welcome Emily. On TV, they see a report that announces that the Joker was arrested by Batman using a device that tracked him by scent, which makes Emily and the team feel a little less powerless.
Most Powerful Line(s):
“Let’s pop the hood of this van and see what’s inside.” —Van (There’s something about Alan Tudyk’s delivery that makes this douche-y line hilarious.)
“Never mind she’s just trying to inspire us. We’re still fired.” —Ron
Least Powerless Part:
The plot is cheesy, the jokes fall short, and the characters lose their spark. But the title credits are really cool! They draw the actors as background characters in DC comics. Example:
Very few TV pilots are amazing, but this new version of Powerless feels weak. The quirky R&D team comes off like a bad imitation of the Better Off Ted workplace. Instead of having their own original quirks (Jackie was a superhero fangirl instead of a cynical assistant, Teddy was Emily’s genre-savvy work ally), Teddy and Ron are supposed to be Phil and Lem, and Jackie is supposed to be the Veronica-esque cynical co-worker that’s a contrast to Emily’s positivity. However, the cast lacks the comedic chemistry that would make these subpar jokes land.
Considering the fact that the whole point of the series is to focus on regular people and lesser-known DC characters, I’m not sure why they changed the company to be a Wayne subsidiary. Now the audience is going to expect cameos from major DC characters, but they’re all over on the CW or on the big screen.
The original Powerless pilot doesn’t seem to be available online, but the initial reviews were much more positive than this one is getting. Once again, DC Comics appears to have sabotaged its own success. Unlike DC movies, Powerless has several episodes to push against the villainy of executive meddling and save itself. Let’s see if they can do it.
Another wildly re-imagined powerless comic book wonder just made his boob tube debut, too. Here’s your chance to find out all about that dark and soapy new Archie show without having to watch it. Or check out why Batman v Superman never even had a chance to be good in the first place.