The Secret Identity of NBC's POWERLESS is Super

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Last night the new workplace comedy from NBC, POWERLESS, debuted. With much fanfare, months of anticipation, a change in direction and lots of social media presence; how did it do?

The opening was VERY comic book oriented as we see top members of the DC Pantheon interspersed with comic book versions of the main characters. And while it was brief, the post opening sequence narration by Adam West was a real treat. Much of what we witnessed had been released via social media, which hurt the show for those of us who were following along. Many of the jokes had been told a hundred times already. The less informed audience may have found more amusement in what the first half of the episode had to offer. Overall, there wasn't anything that didn't work, it was just watered down because we were already treated to much of the humor via previews.

The show IS funny. It's actually a smarter comedy than it appears to be. It parodies our current status quo in America with subtle jabs. Pay attention to the headline on the newspaper that parodies of our current state of politics. There is plenty of material to build off of, no matter how great or small. When Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk) who is Bruce's cousin, refers to Bruce as a real 'Joker', the irony doesn't get lost. On the surface you get a workspace comedy in a comic book setting. But underneath it all you have a real story developing with characters that are fun and have purpose. There's a good balance to finding touching moments between the silly sequences.

If you tuned in, you would have seen Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) arrive to her first day on the job with very little fanfare. Her new employees have been beaten down and no longer feel that true success is achieveable. They don't appreciate Emily's positive tone as they have sunken into a state of mediocrity. The cast, while at first seemed to feel a bit awkward, eventually hit their stride. This may have been by design as Emily is trying to fit in with a new team and you can tell she's trying way too hard.

When she meets Teddy (Dany Pudi), their exchange is quick witted and smart. He doesn't understand her efforts so it results in an awkward exchange. When she meets the entire team she tells them it's time to be innovative and says they need to think about being better. Ron (Ron Funches) provides the most innovation with big thoughts, even if harnessing the power of the sun isn't practical. Or Kryptonite windows that prevents Superman from smashing up buildings...but doesn't help when people INSIDE the building need help. Which is why what he's currently working on is ironic comedy:

Emily: "We need to..."
Wendy: "Let me guess, think outside of the box?"
Emily: "I want us to forget the box ever existed. Ron, what are you working on?"
Ron: "Literally...a box."

When Emily suggests they take a new approach at finding ways to solve problems facing everyday people, Teddy's sarcasm delivers a hilarious exchange:
Emily: "This morning my train was blown off the track, which apparently happens every day around here. Let's come up with something that solves things like that."
Teddy: "That's a brilliant idea! Let me just summon a wizard. SHAZAM! Ahhh nothing."

They all walk out of the meeting frustrated and inform her that she's their fifth new boss this year so they're trying not to get too attached. Emily refuses to accept that. She continues to remain positive and tries to find the good in everything they do, in a very Superman sort of way. Their standoff-ish approach to her creates some awkward moments, which made the viewer feel a bit uncomfortable.

Meanwhile Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk) doesn't care what happens to anyone as long as he gains his cousin Bruce's attention. All Van wants is to be transferred out of Charm City and into Gotham. When Bruce calls to shut the factory down to save money, Van gets his promotion in an act of nepotism. Van realizes he doesn't need to be successful...he just needs his team to fail. If Wayne Securities gets shut down...he'll still be taken care of. This changes his approach, as his announcement was delivered with a holier than thou attitude. The team decides to start packing up as they have been dejected for so long that they don't feel there's any hope of saving their jobs.

Emily realizes something needs to be done to not only save her job and her team, but also to not allow a deviant like Van gain from their loss. Inspired by an invention created by Wendy to alert her, whenever someone she doesn't like (Emily) is around, Emily puts the team to work. What they came up with, was a device device that will alert the general public when a supervillain is around. Van refuses to tell Bruce about the invention but complies when Emily threatens to show it to him herself; in hopes of receiving the very promotion Van seeks.

Later, Van announces that he has bad news for the team: he will NOT be moving to Gotham. Also, he got a parking ticket. This moment is classic Michael Scott, pulled right from NBC's THE OFFICE. Van's narcissism and twisted belief that everyone is only interested in him, causes him to miss the point. His assistant, Jackie (Christina Kirk), explains the real news: no one is getting fired.

In his moment of disgust, Van adds his personal spin, to a popular comic book quote; describing his current situation:
Van Wayne: "I guess with great power, comes living in a taint."

The ending of the episode incorporated Batman in a nice way that leads you to believe there is an underlying purpose to their work.

POWERLESS is a quirky and fun look at the lives of normal people in an abnormal world. The episode may have started off a little slow, due to the bold setting and nature of the show, it eventually found it's stride. With 9 more episodes on the way, NBC's POWERLESS is off to a good start. If you missed the debut, the episode is available on the NBC app.

Grade: 
4.5 / 5.0