What NBC's Powerless Gets Right About Comedy (and Superheroes)

Any time a new episode of NBC's "Powerless" airs, I feel the urge to write about how great it was, or to march the streets heralding the show's comedic prowess. When I do so, I often encounter agreement, enthusiasm or responses like, “Who are you? Get out of my house.” However, sometimes I'm met with doubt by those who haven’t even given the DC Comics-inspired comedy a fair chance. Several times I’ve heard, “I didn’t get the pilot,” to which I’d like to reply, “Were the pilots of 'Parks & Rec' or 'Buffy' perfect?” A couple of people have even asked, “Is it a comic book show or a sitcom?” The answer is, “Yes.”

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Debuting in February, "Powerless" is a workplace comedy set within the DC Universe that follows Emily (Vanessa Hudgens), an adorable Mary Tyler-Moore-like character, as she struggles to fit in at her new job as director of research and development at Wayne Security, a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises that specializes in products to prevent everyday people from becoming collateral damage in world dotted with superheroes and supervillains.


One thing that was evident from the beginning is that the show is cleverly written and joke-based. In the style of beloved sitcoms like "30 Rock," "Community," "The Mindy Project" and "The Office," "Powerless" has rattles off at least a joke per minute. The gags are concentrated, intelligent and fast-paced. For example:

Emily: “What is the greatest generator of supervillains besides bad parenting?”Teddy: “Being bitten by things.”Wendy: “Laboratory mishaps.”Ron: “Losing the popular vote but somehow winning the election.”

"Powerless" is led by such an amazingly talented, quirky and diverse cast. The hilarious Ron Funches, who plays Ron, is one of the best things to ever happen to television, jokes and to the universe at large. His comedic timing is impeccable, and it makes my heart swell to see such a uniquely funny person achieve success, while also getting to flaunt his geekiness. I love that "Powerless" prominently features several fantastic people of color (visibility is important), with a strong woman in the lead role. They complement each other beautifully.

Ron: “I’m from Atlantis.”Emily: “I thought you said you were from Atlanta.”Ron: “No, that’s Donald Glover. And it might be racist that you heard that.”Emily: “I’m not racist. I’m half-Filipino.”Wendy: “I thought you said you were half-Philadelphia.”

With such a talented cast and such clever jokes, it stands that "Powerless" would also showcase a brilliant, diverse group of writers as well. There is about a 50-50 gender split in the writers’ room, which for a network comedy is super-powered, and the presence of women is crucial, especially for a show with a female lead.


One really cool thing about the show are the comic book jokes. "Powerless" is set within a DC Universe, but the super-powered people aren't the stars. Emily and her colleagues work in Wayne Secrurity's relatively small research and development division, where they create technology to make life a little easier for the average citizen. So far they've made a wrist-worn alarm to tell the wearer to get indoors if a supervillain is nearby, an umbrella that protects against falling rubble, and heated gloves to wear when frost villains attack. It’s a premise rife with joke potential and interesting story opportunities.

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Many of the comic book references are broad enough that you don’t have to be a fan of the source material to understand them. In one plotline Teddy (Danny Pudi) and Ron (Ron Funches) find a lost Batarang. The jokes are laugh-out-loud funny to comics devotees, but also accessible to someone who’s maybe only seen some Batman movies.

Teddy: “What the hell are you doing?”Ron: “Waiting for Batman.”Teddy: “You put out milk and cookies? He’s not Santa Claus.”Ron: “You don’t know that. They both hang out on rooftops.”

However, there are also subtle, funny jokes that are squarely aimed at geeks, with D-list DC Comics superheroine Crimson Fox prowling the show's setting of Charm City, and Wayne Security headed by Bruce Wayne's awkward cousin Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk). Ron attempts to deduce whether their accountant is the secret identity of The Olympian, and in one episode, Emily dates one of the Riddler’s henchmen.

Emily: “He’s taking me away for the weekend to his boss’ house on the top of beautiful skull mountain, and he says there is an amazing shark tank, and a ruby laser that shoots … all the way to the moon. Oh, my God, I’m dating a henchmen.”

I’m excited to see where the writers take each of the characters and the surrounding plots. All of the characters are hilarious, but they could learn something about themselves and others. In the short time that "Powerless" has been on the air, it’s already begun to find its voice, which is something that took "30 Rock," "Parks and Recreation" and "The Office" an entire season.

Created by Ben Queen ("A to Z," "Drive"), "Powerless" stars Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi, Christina Kirk, Ron Funches and Alan Tudyk. The show airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

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