May 12, 2018
Powerless becomes even more powerless, "essentially" canceled by NBC
Okay, technically, Powerless hasn’t been canceled yet. NBC hasn’t officially announced that it’s pulling the plug on the first DC superhero TV comedy, but they have temporarily pulled the remaining four episodes off the air (even though an upcoming episode is supposed to feature Adam West as a guest star!) in favor of Superstore re-runs. Executive producer Patrick Schumacker tweeted on April 24 that this is “not good” for the struggling sitcom, which has consistently pulled low ratings even on its most powerful episodes.
Just reading that tweet depresses me. It’s just so flat and defeated and even though Patrick later tweeted a cheerful thank you to fans and encouraged them to hold out hope for a surprise renewal, I think we can all agree that he and the rest of the Powerless team should start cleaning out their offices and stealing as many pens from the office as they can.
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Where did Powerless go wrong? If you’ve kept up with my recaps, you’ll know that I blame that fact that the writers spent way too much time trying to squeeze laughs out of the team mocking and belittling Emily’s sunny disposition instead of trying to build off of the cast’s chemistry and develop friendships that viewers would come back to see every week. We didn’t watch The Office because we liked seeing everyone roll their eyes to the cameras about Michael Scott’s antics; we liked seeing the various friendships and relationships that grew at Dunder Mifflin. Parks & Recreation creator Mike Schur admitted they changed how they wrote Leslie Knope to emphasize Amy Poehler’s likability after audiences responded negatively to her season 1 characterization.
The point is that no one’s going to tune in every week to watch a bunch of people snipe at and insult each other and then pretend they actually get along.
If we wanted to do that, we would all have dinner with our families much more often.
Actually, I would go even further and say that Powerless became doomed after NBC and DC execs re-shot the pilot after the original showrunner Ben McQueen left, even though the show enjoyed a successful debut at Comic Con. NBC and the new showrunners changed the show from being set in an insurance agency that dealt exclusively with damages caused by superheroes to being about a subsidiary of Wayne Corp that makes gadgets and tech.
First off, changing the setting was a bad move. I’ve written before how Powerless struggled to blend its superhero elements into the characters’ ordinary lives. Sure, it’s supposed to be a show about the regular people who are in the background when a hero saves the day or a villain causes destruction, but it’s still supposed to be about what it’s like in a comic book world. Otherwise, we’re just watching a generic workplace comedy and where’s the fun in that? When Powerless was set at an insurance agency, the writers had a lot more opportunities to blend the superhero elements, even if the only ones seen on screen were the D-list ones still trying to get noticed by the Justice League.
Also, take note to how different the office dynamics are in the original pilot. Van (then called Dell) is still an egotistical daddy’s boy who takes away Bagel Wednesdays when he doesn’t get his way, but now Emily has a group of friends who back her up when she stands up to him. Teddy tells Emily that he’s proud of her without any sort of mockery in his voice, and Jackie seems genuinely interested in what Emily has to say about encountering Crimson Fox. This is such a huge contrast to how their characters are written now, where both made excuses not to rescue Emily from toxic nerve gas.
Powerless has been trying to make the best of its shaky foundations—the team has finally moved away from trashing Emily and has vowed to be much more appreciative of Emily in the future after the last episode aired—and if it was to get renewed by some miracle, it wouldn’t be the first show to do a turnaround after a lackluster first season. However, it seems like with most DC projects, Powerless was damaged by too much executive meddling and now the suits are ready to sweep it under the rug and move onto the next big thing that could possibly help them finally outdo Marvel.
It’s a shame that, once again, Ron Fuschs, Danny Pudi, and Christina Kirk’s talents got wasted on a short-lived NBC sitcom, but cheer up, everyone: if there’s an alternate timeline that features giant spider robots from another dimensions where the Nazis won, then surely there’s a timeline where Powerless got a season 2.
And maybe it’s the one where they kept the original pilot.