When NBC's new superhero spoof comedy show Powerless was announced, I was super excited. Finally, a satirical sitcom examining the impact superheroes have on normal people's everyday lives! This has been my favorite joke post on Tumblr for a while, and it seemed like Powerless was set to be the perfect antidote to the multiple superhero franchises that seem not to care about all those smashed cars, destroyed buildings, and major inconveniences they keep causing to civilians.
Powerless was going to upend the pedestal every superhero stands on. Or at least it could have done, if NBC hadn't made some serious changes to keep it in line with the DC universe — and, in the process, undermined everything Powerless was trying to do.
Just Another Superhero Show
When it started out, #Powerless was pitched as a sitcom set in the insurance company that specializes in "superhero insurance", revealing the general dissatisfaction people have with multiple superheroes damaging their private property.
This was all going to come to a head in the first scene of the show, in which Vanessa Hudgens' Emily Locke yells at superhero Crimson Fox for delaying her commute after an epic battle. It's basically the first 10 minutes of The Incredibles, but for an entire show. And that seemed great — until NBC added more elements from the DC universe, and kinda destroyed the point of the series.
Now, instead of being a straight-up insurance company, the place Emily works now specializes in superhero protection, making suits and other things for civilians to save them from superheroes. Crucially, it's owned by Wayne Industries which, as io9 pointed out, pretty much makes Bruce Wayne a crook, as he's profiting off the damage he and his buddies cause civilians on an almost daily basis. Awesome.
But that's not all. Alan Tudyk's character, who manages Wayne Security, isn't just a normal civilian any more. He's Batman's cousin — no, not the kickass gay one — and seems to have been put in charge of the company thanks to a casual bit of nepotism on Bruce's part. Which means the Caped Crusader didn't even care enough about this machine-to-turn-his-mistakes-into-profit to put someone in charge who actually knows what they're doing.
Why The Changes?
Okay, so it's not like we were expecting Powerless to examine the evils of capitalism and turn a critical eye on superheroes that also happen to be business tycoons, but we have to wonder why these changes were really necessary. Are we so obsessed with putting these fictional heroes on pedestals that we can't cope with any criticism of them, or the — again fictional — system that upholds them? Or is it just that we're so obsessed with Batman that no DC franchise can exist without him butting in?
Powerless might have worked way better if it were set in a non-canon superhero world, using fake heroes as obvious parodies of the ones we know and love. After all, it's difficult to parody DC when you're paying for the use of their characters. But alas, this is the show we've been given, and it does seem a bit early to pre-judge it.
Maybe Powerless really will be the superhero satire we've been waiting for, problemizing and subverting the genre while making us laugh and reminding us why we love these silly, flawed superheroes in the first place. Maybe setting it in the DC universe is just a better way of doing this, and a main plotline will follow Emily as she discovers Bruce's secret identity and gives him a stern talking to about profiting from damages he incurs and the dangers of nepotism.
Or maybe Powerless will just turn into another superhero show, but this time a funny one. Either way, you can bet I'll be tuning in to find out.
What do you think of these changes to 'Powerless'?