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After years of the superhero genre ruling screens both big and small, it was inevitable somebody would mine it for a little humor. Unfortunately, NBC’s new sitcom Powerless is a textbook case of how to take a fresh, funny concept and almost ruin it by trying to give it overly broad appeal.
In the original pitch NBC previewed for industry insiders last year, an insurance adjuster tries to manage her job in a city in which superheroes are real and her company must make major payouts to civilians suffering collateral damage from their exploits. It’s hard to imagine a more ironic scenario for the first comedy set in the DC universe. But NBC execs decided this idea was too niche-y and tweaked it to make it a little less original and a little less funny.
Now Vanessa Hudgens plays Emily Locke, a newly hired executive for Wayne Securities (get the name drop?), a company that develops products for people to use to protect themselves during superhero battles. Still potentially funny, but lacking the biting satire of the insurance company setup.
Emily’s first task is to buck up morale at a company that hasn’t launched a successful product since Joker Gas Anti-Venom years before. Just this bit of info demonstrates how Powerless goes for gimmicky puns about the comic book culture rather than smart explorations within the comic book culture.
None of this is to suggest that the show doesn’t have some bright moments or that it can’t grow into its concept. The best element is Emily’s unrelenting optimism and her focus on work with her regular, nonsuper abilities. This shifted setup would have worked wonderfully for the broader pitch of enjoyable family viewing, but the show mucks this opportunity up too with lame, corny bits like debating whether designing a sex robot will save the company.
That may not be that bad by today’s network standards, but it demonstrates how to squander two workable ideas, first with commercialism and then with tired, Two and a Half Men–style wisecracks.