First episodes are tough. You have to introduce your cast, establish the world and the premise of the show, and still find time for a plot with a complete beginning, middle, and end.
So unless you’ve got that incredibly rare pilot episode that immediately understands what the show is and knows what’s working and what isn’t right out of the gate, I tend to go easy on first episodes and give a show a second episode before deciding if I’m going to stick with it for at least a little while.
Powerless S1E1, “Wayne or Lose”
Pictured: Vanessa Hudgens as Emily — (Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/NBC)
Thursday’s series premiere of NBC’s Powerless certainly wasn’t that first type of pilot. It didn’t blow me away like first episodes of Lost, Mad Men or Game of Thrones. But nor was it a trainwreck like the one that main character Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) almost incurs in the show’s opening minutes in one of Charm City’s daily brushes with super-villainy.
Powerless is certainly not the first office comedy take on the superhero genre. Fox’s short-lived, live-action adaptation of Ben Edlund’s The Tick often felt like a superhero office comedy without the office. I loved that show. Perhaps I’m alone on that since it was quickly cancelled. Then again, maybe it was only cancelled because it was on Fox, a network that notoriously cancelled another show with a cult following that happened to star a cast member in Powerless (Still won’t take the sky from me, Fox!).
Pictured: Alan Tudyk as Van — (Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/NBC
Powerless suffers from a bit of shaky execution, but it absolutely can work in theory. The show’s greatest strength is its talented cast. Vanessa Hudgens (Spring Breakers) is perfectly charming as the series’ earnest and optimistic anchor, playing straight woman to a Wayne Security Research and Development team full of wacky characters. And, as Van Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s loser cousin, Alan Tudyk (Rogue One, Firefly, Con Man) is just the sort of comic actor who can make this role work. And Ron Funches is impossible not to love. If the writers are smart, his character will become the heart of the show.
Unfortunately, all of Emily’s R&D team remains fairly undefined at this point. And while Tudyk and Funches bring something extra with simply their casting and presence alone, I don’t really have anything good or bad yet to say about Danny Pudi and Jennie Pierson. It felt like any given line on the show could have gone to almost any character because everyone is pretty interchangeable without any distinguishing characteristics. The show will definitely have to do a better job of finding each actor’s talents and building a unique character that suits them.
Pictured: (l-r) Jennie Pierson as Wendy, Vanessa Hudgens as Emily, Ron Funches as Ron, Danny Puid as Teddy — (Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/NBC)
The other issue is tone. Introducing the show with a villain as silly as Jack O’Lantern goes a long way to establishing that this show is going to be very silly. That’s just the kind of villain I’d expect to see in The Tick or the criminally forgotten 90’s film Mystery Men. But because the very premise of the show keeps the characters at a distance from the actual superheroes and supervillains, we get far too little of him. Hopefully, they won’t just always move on to a different ridiculous villain each week and we’ll get more Jack O’Lantern.
Is It Good?
“Wayne or Lose” is a mixed bag. I’d almost rate this episode a 5, but I think I’ll bump it up to a 6 because, while it suffers from the kind of broad humor that turns me off from almost every comedy on network TV, enough jokes did land to get a few laughs out of me like Bruce Wayne texting his cousin to stop using his HBO Go password. Emily’s “Let’s be better” is just the sort of motivational theme that could have come from Homer Simpson while he briefly worked for Hank Scorpio at the Globex Corporation. And the line, “Now it’s all just super-villains trying to destroy the Earth, and superheroes fighting one another for vaguely defined reasons,” is just the sort of meta joke I appreciate.
Finally, there’s enormous potential in the show’s stellar cast if the writers take advantage of it and build complete characters that suit each actor. One thing’s clear though, I’m certainly more interested in watching episode 2 than I am re-watching Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.