Feb 3, 2017

Channel Surfing: Powerless - "Wayne or Lose"

Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
Almost every angle of superhero stories have been told by now. It's become so much the case that most movies and TV series have nothing to do but build to crossover events that join characters of different ilks. However, there is one category that hasn't been explored to death: everybody else. While Marvel and D.C. have dominated the conversation by focusing on characters that fly around and save the day, few of their works focus on the people behind the scenes who make them into the success story that they are. It may lead to either the funniest or lamest concept for a comics-based property, but Powerless thankfully has enough juice to make the story of people who invent the gadgets for superheroes into a solid half hour sitcom.
The show starts on a confident foot with Vanessa Hudgens riding into Charm City for her first day of work. As she looks out the window of her train, she notices action happening all around her. The rest of the patrons are blase because, you know, it happens everyday. It's a solid start to a world that will spend the next 20 minutes sticking the superheroes in the background; outside of skyscraper windows. As the opening credits suggest, it's a show about the people who look on in peril - comically depicted in some of D.C.'s most iconic comics artwork as the people hiding under rubble and debris as chaos ensues. The show may very much have the lively sitcom model that NBC has been shifting towards with Superstore and The Good Place, but it also feels like it may have room to critique superhero tropes from new ground.
The one bright side is that the cast is full of great comedic talents, including Community's Danny Pudi, Ron Funches, and boss Alan Tudyk: a distant relative of Bruce Wayne. Hudgens is a go getter who wishes to make a big difference for the company, but is stuck working with a staff who is notorious for coming up short. What is she going to do with her knowledge gained from reading a Bruce Wayne guide to business? The first episode cleverly crafts the introductions with the plot into something that may play like a conventional sitcom, but has enough room to grow into something stronger in time. For now, it's a striking premise, and one that leads the show through the conventions. By the end, the enjoyment of the show depends on your enjoyment more of sitcoms than superheroes.
Is that a bad thing? Not entirely. Sitcoms have remained a trusted brand for a reason. They provide a format to deliver jokes. Thankfully everyone involved has great chemistry and gets to deliver at least one memorable moment. The only real difference is that the show fills up the jokes with sly references to mostly familiar superhero names; such as a scene where Funches pitches Hudgens a window made of kryptonite to protect Superman from breaking windows - not taking into account that he may need to enter a building. The construction of the joke is small evidence of the geeky jokes that are likely to come in the future. For now, it is the ineffectual runoff of a bigger trend, capturing a side more resonant to the audience if just because - as the title suggests - the central cast is powerless.
It may be a novelty premise with limited appeal, but it will be interesting to see how the show evolves over time. It may be possible for the series to invoke popular culture while creating its own place in the canon. It would take a lot of work for it to be on par with its D.C. TV counterparts like Supergirl, The Flash, or Arrow. Yet it also has the added benefit of being a short and sweet sitcom, likely working as filler to the other shows. Maybe when NBC accidentally sells it to The CW will Powerless crossover with the aforementioned titles. But for now, it's setting its own path beautifully, and that's enough to keep the show as something worth watching.

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