powerless_3Superhero films and culture are ubiquitous. We live in a day and age where D-level heroes are household names (I’m not complaining), and because of this high saturation, a lot of it tends to turn into white noise. Powerless, from DC Comics and NBC, takes the genre and turns it on its head. Taking place within the DC Universe, the pilot is fresh, pushing the “supers” who are sworn to protect to the story’s background, focusing instead on the ground-level civilians forced to live with the fallout of their actions. It’s a great concept, imagining what it would be like to live amongst gods, deconstructing our idea of heroism through the lens of a sincere, workplace sitcom. This is potentially a tricky idea, one that could be really good or really bad – luckily, this pilot offers a lot of rich possibilities and a charming cast that sells heroism through small, everyday occurrences.

When we first meet Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens), she’s requesting that the red-caped Crimson Fox return her plummeting, wayward train back to its elevated tracks as opposed to safely on the ground – she and the other passengers are just trying to get to work on time! Naturally, the chaos of the situation doesn’t allow for this, but Emily and everyone are saved, relegating the event to the well-meaning, albeit intrusive situation that stems from having a superhero inhabit the same city as them. It’s then we learn that Emily is an insurance claims adjuster working for a company called Retcon Insurance. She genuinely loves her job, which gives relief to the victims who fall prey to superpowered collateral damage. When her department gets a new, selfish boss named Del Heller (Alan Tudyk), however, it’s up to her and her colleagues to fight for justice in their own way. Though they don’t have capes or superhuman abilities, they save lives, and its a responsibility they won’t give up without a fight.

The best part about the pilot is how focused it is, telling a self contained story that is so relatable despite taking place amidst extraordinary circumstances. In just a short time, the episode immerses us into Emily’s life and workplace, drawing out the hilarious dynamic between her and her colleagues, what they mean to each other and how their mundane lives have a purpose. When all of their friendships and duties are threatened by Del, a privileged interloper, Emily takes charge in the best way, appealing to his good side and what he’s capable of as opposed to the ruthless character assassinations that are so prominent these days. Through this, the pilot is charming, funny and smart, propped up by a diverse cast that battles good and evil amidst cubicles and watercooler gossip – it’s the best kind of way to look at normal, everyday heroism and friendship. It should be noted that while Superman, Batman and other A-list heroes appear indirectly as passing blurs in the show’s opening credits (and there are tons of references throughout to Green Lantern, Aquaman, etc), whether they appear on the show in earnest is unclear – honestly, I don’t think it needs them.

powerless_2In terms of the cast, they show lots of promise. Most noticeably, the show’s center, Vanessa Hudgens brings a real excitement and charm to Emily. You truly believe that she’s looking out for those around her, evoking a real sympathetic spirit while also being strong and assertive. She carries the pilot on her back with ease. Danny Pudi’s Teddy is a welcome addition, taking the eccentricity he showed in Community, but bringing it a bit more down to earth – his chemistry with Hudgens is great, giving the episode its energy and lightness. As Emily and her colleagues’ opposition, Alan Tudyk brings his natural comedic timing and wit to a broken character. We learn that he’s a lonely guy trying to prove himself, and though he’s never too intimidating, his tenuous relationship with those he’s in charge of creates some interesting drama, rooted from feelings we can understand all too well. Kate Micucci and Christina Kirk add some color to the pilot in nominal roles, here’s hoping that they come back for the show’s run.

Powerless is a smart way to redefine heroism in a world where capes and superpowers have become mundane, and a nice respite from the overbearingly bombastic DC films. The pilot is light on its feet, giving layered ideas meaningful emotion -there’s also a ton of easter eggs and meta references if you’re into comics, but everything still works if you’re a casual viewer. If the show can keep up the pilot’s momentum and maintain a unique voice by digging deeper into its premise, it’ll hopefully manage to avoid the sentimentality that plagues most sitcoms, and be something really special. As for it’s first impression, it’s a strong one that I’m excited to see more of!

SG