With great aplomb, the DC Universe has been splashing spectacle and superhero stories across television with sensational series like “Arrow,” “Supergirl,” “The Flash,” “Gotham” and “Legends of Tomorrow.” But in 2017, NBC has an unexpected yet thrilling new take on the DC brand with the office-set sitcom “Powerless.”
The first live-action comedy show of the contemporary DC Universe, “Powerless” focuses on what day-to-day life is like for average civilians caught amid the collateral damage of epic battles between super-powered heroes and villains. So what better place to introduce the cast and crew could there be than Comic-Con International in San Diego, where aspiring superheroes can be see for miles!
In a series of roundtable interviews, CBR sat down with “Powerless” creator/executive producer Ben Queen and executive producer/director Michael Patrick Jann, and stars Vanessa Hudgens (“Sucker Punch”), Danny Pudi (“Community”), as well as Ron Funches (“Undateable”) to discover what this curious new addition to the DCTV Multiverse is all about.
9. The Humor
“The fact that it’s DC Comics’ first comedy is a really cool thing to be a part of,” Hudgens, who fronts “Powerless” as the plucky insurance adjuster Emily Locke, declare. “My favorite TV shows are ‘Parks and Recreation’ and ‘The Office,’ the work space comedies that NBC does so well. So the fact that it’s going to be under their umbrella, I’m so proud.”
Asked if she thinks the tone of this show will be inline with standout sitcoms, she said, “I can only hope! But it’s like the same thing, your mundane lives working in an office from 9 to 5, and what happens within that. Except in our show it’s set in a world full of superheroes and super villains. So it’s exploring that… What is the reality of living in a world with superheroes and super villains? Like surge prices for Uber during a battle, just stuff like that.”
With only the pilot in the can, Hudgens couldn’t be sure of the tone for the season. But Queen and Jann confirmed “The Office” and “Parks and Rec” are inspirations. “They’re comedy of lower stakes, how something is really important to these individuals but maybe doesn’t register on the big radar,” Jann said. “The New York Times doesn’t cover every decision you make in your life, but (those decisions) are still just as important to you.”
“Just because it might be raining blood one day,” Queen expanded, “that is treated by the characters as if it would just be raining. So it’s not like it has any impact on the story or on the tone of the show.”
“Right,” Jann agreed. “It’s about whether you forgot your umbrella or not.”
8. Not Gotham, But…
Fitting to the low stakes comedy vibe, “Powerless” is set in a smaller metropolis than those that Batman and Superman call home.
“Charm City is a wonderful city. It’s on the West Coast of America,” Queen detailed. “It’s sort of the underdog city of the DCU. Its hero is Crimson Fox, who was originated in the 1970s for Super Friends comic book. And its villain is Jack O’Lantern, who up to this point has been a good guy. So why he’s a bad guy? We’ll that figure out in the show. People will see. But this is what it’s like to be the underdogs of the DCU.
“But it’s also a classic DC city,” he added. “All the things that would happen in Metropolis or Gotham can happen in this city. And our main characters, who work in a national insurance company, are constantly dealing with claims, not only in Charm City but in Gotham, Metropolis, Coast City, Jump City and Atlantis.”
7. Emily Locke — The Hero
“Emily Locke, she is the head of claims at the insurance company Retcon,” Hudgens told us. “She takes pride in what she does. She thinks she’s making a difference in the world, one person at a time. She’s kind of fed up with the superheroes acting so recklessly in our city. So she takes a stand for herself, and talks back to a superhero. It’s really about her finding her own power as a powerless person.”
Praising Hudgens’ work on the pilot, Queen declared, “She’s really funny. She’s extremely lovable, and she brings a strength and power to the character, which is the most important thing. The show is about how do you find power in a world where you are powerless. And this character in the pilot, she’s so good in that she empowers herself.”
Jann concurred, “That’s what the show is really about: having agency in your own life, even if you can’t move things with the power of your mind or your eyeballs don’t shoot lasers.”
6. Teddy — The Sidekick
The fast-talking and funny Danny Pudi plays Emily’s friend and self-declared sidekick, Teddy. Pudi describes his character as “sort of like an office floater/social butterfly. I’m Emily’s best friend. Teddy is a guy who is skilled in many things, none of them very applicable to his work, like making origami animals, and stretching.”
Teddy has grown accustomed to the interruptions superhero battles bring to life in Charm City. “Teddy, he understands the superheroes,” Pudi said. “He understands the mythology. But at the same time, he’s like, ‘Come on. Let’s talk about real stuff here, like Bagel Wednesday. Also what are we doing for lunch today? Are we doing wraps? Are we doing salads?’ That kind of thing is just as important to him.”
But when Emily takes a stand, “there’s a rebirth inside of him about how he looks at his job, and this world.” He quickly calls dibs on being her sidekick, and even brings his own utility belt to the table. Well, it’s a fannypack. But Pudi won’t shame Teddy over that, explaining, “He’s practical. He’s like, ‘What am I going to be able to get? I’m not going to be able to finesse some sort of magical utility belt that Batman has in a day. I also can’t leave the office for too long before somebody notices. I got claims that need to be adjusted.’ So, a fannypack works pretty well.”
5. Ron — The IT Guy
Stand-up comedian on the rise Ron Funches was cast after the pilot was filmed, so it wasn’t until San Diego Comic Con that he met most of his co-stars. The affable actor was beaming as he sat down and admitted he’s not seen a script yet, but did have a say in how his character will come together.
“I play Ron, which is great.” Funches laughed. “It makes it easy for all of us, nobody needs to learn two names. I’m an IT guy, maybe kind of the role of the viewer of the show. A lot of the characters on the show are already living in the day-to-day with superheroes and how it affects their lives. It’s new for me. I come from a smaller town that doesn’t really have superheroes. So I’m more excited and pumped up to be there. It plays off the fact that they’re more jaded by the superhero world.”
For Funches, it was important that his IT guy break from the tired stereotype of misanthropic computer nerds, even though he is an admitted fan of the Britcom “The IT Crowd.” “They asked me what I’d like to do if I was in that world. And I was like, ‘Well, I can tell you what I’m good at, and it’s not being cynical or sarcastic. I’ve very sweet and I don’t tell a lot of sarcastic jokes. I believe everything I say. And that’s the type of energy I can bring to your show.’ And then they were like, ‘You’re hired.’
“My character is going to be a little bit different,” he added. “He’s not going to be this surly, anti-other-humans type of guy. I think that’ll be the fun of it. The IT guy is normally a jerk, but I’m the sweetest guy, and I’m bringing you tea and crumpets.”
4. Del Heller — The Villain
Put Alan Tudyk in a business suit, and we assume the versatile character actor is going baddie once more! Regrettably, we missed Tudyk as he did the press table rounds. But we were able to suss out some things about his dastardly new role.
The son of Retcon’s CEO, Del is put in charge of Emily’s office, and the two are quick to clash when he puts forth quotas that put the bottom line ahead of customer care. Which is not surprising from a guy who relishes reading Lex Luthor’s autobiography.
But despite playing the office a-hole, Tudyk got nothing but praise from his co-stars. Pudi called him, “Incredible,” while his onscreen nemesis Hudgens gushed, “I’m always in such awe when he’s working, because he’s so smart. That’s the thing with comedians, they’re smart people. He’s so quick and he just comes up with these things on the spot. I don’t even understand how your brain goes there in a split second and it comes out. He’s amazing. He’s such a nice guy, and I feel so lucky, so blessed to be working with comedic geniuses.”
3. The DC Universe
So, aside from Crimson Fox and Jack O’Lantern, who from the DCU will come to play on “Powerless?”
“We can name-check and reference pretty much anyone we want in the DCU, as long as it makes sense with our stories,” Queen told us. “They’ve been very, very supportive. This is a very different sort of show. It’s set in our own DC Universe where we can talk about and access things that you wouldn’t see on another show. Which is really cool. It allows us to do all sorts of fun jokes and Easter eggs and things like that. Whatever’s funny.”
But don’t expect crossovers from other shows or movies anytime soon. Jann described Charm City as similar to his hometown of Albany, NY, “a place where the really big celebrities never come.”
So how does “Powerless” fit into the DCU? Pudi explained, “We’re separate. We’re not connected to any other universe, so we don’t have to worry about storylines potentially on ‘The Flash’ or ‘Arrow.’ Things like that might pop in, but we’re not beholden to any of them… We’re operating under our own universe. Within DC, but it’s a [different continuity].”
2. Heroes and Villains
Crimson Fox and Jack O’Lantern will be “Powerless'” main superhero and villain, but if the cast could have their pick, what other DC character might drop by?
Though Hudgens didn’t obsess over comics as a kid, she admitted, “I did go through a phase where I dressed up as Catwoman every day when I was six-years-old.” Pressed which version, she clarified that she played as the Michelle Pfieffer stunner from “Batman Returns.” “I was just watching that the other day. It’s so good, the good Tim Burton days, where it’s so unique and kitschy in the best way possible.”
But don’t worry DC devotees, before Season 1 kicks off production this fall, the cheerful actor is planning on a crash course of the DC Universe. “I feel like I need to do a lot of homework, because if I’m the head of claims, I’ve got to know what I’m approving.”
For his part, Funches said “I love the Green Lantern, he’s my hero. Hal Jordan’s not my favorite, John Stewart is. We know why, because I’m black, too, and I looked up to him!”
But the most unexpected choice for favorite DC character came from Pudi, who revealed “I’m really into Elongated Man. I’ve always been into that character. I’m into him because I’m kind of a stretchy guy. That makes sense to me… Is he a fish oil guy or not?”
1. When It’s Coming
The “Powerless” pilot is in the can, and you can even track down its teaser trailer, which has been floating around Youtube. With 13-episodes green lit, Queen and Jann have been leading the writers through pre-production. “The writers’ room has been up for seven weeks,” Queem shared. “We’re in it. We know what the episodes are going to be. We’re in various stages of story documents, outlines and scripts. We have a great writing staff. But we don’t start shooting until September 12.”
The show is positioned to be a mid-season replacement, likely to hit NBC in January. “Something else has to fail first,” Jann admitted with a laugh. “We were going to put that on the posters. ‘”Powerless”: As soon as something else fails.'”
The cast isn’t sweating the debut details, though. Hudgens, Pudi and Funches are just eager to express their excitement over being a part of “Powerless.”
“I would love to be in the DC Universe, and I’m so happy that I am,” Funches said with an enormous grin. “And I hope eventually, they’re like, ‘Wait, guess what, he has superpowers!’ That would be great for me. That’s what I would love. I’m just a big comic book nerd, and a nerd in general. It fits with me.”
“This is what I grew up with,” Pudi stated. “I was obsessed with Batman. So for me, it’s kind of like a dream come true, because I get to do what my favorite thing is — which is ensemble comedy — within a DC world.”
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