Last week saw the launch of the newest DCTV show, NBC's Powerless! A pretty unique series, Powerless is a camp comedy set in a world of superheroes. It tells the story of an insurance and technology company (and a division of Wayne Enterprises), which works in a world of superheroes. Their job is to design tools that will save the lives of ordinary men and women during supervillain attacks.
The first episode was fairly strong, and the humor really worked. Vanessa Hudgens's Emily Locke shone through as the socially awkward but eager-to-please new boss who believes in the team's mission to make a difference in the world, while Alan Tudyk was as excellent as ever. Unfortunately, viewing figures don't seem to have been great, and superhero fans are already wondering if this is a show that can last.
I suspect it can indeed; and I think it can do so because of one very famous Caped Crusader...
Linking Batman to 'Powerless'
Fans have long been amused at the sheer number of gadgets #Batman can bring to bear on a problem, and Powerless finally explains it. The episode features the team coming up with a way to tell if a supervillain is in the area; they put together a device that recognizes the villain's distinctive smell and alerts you to get out of the way! Naturally, the day after they've reported the idea to Bruce Wayne, we see an amusing twist; there's a new report that Batman has captured the Joker by using a machine that recognized his smell.
It's a beautiful touch, fitting in nicely with an idea that was central to the Nolan Batman trilogy; that Batman reverse-engineers Wayne Industries technology to create his arsenal. In this case, it's clear that he wanted to shut down this subsidiary because they were no longer making anything of value to his war on crime; now that's changed, he's willing to give them another chance.
The 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' Lesson
Ironically, Powerless has started off with the same mistakes as Season 1 of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. That show was originally intended to be focused around a handful of ordinary S.H.I.E.L.D. agents as they struggled to navigate a world of superhumans; it was deliberately superhero-lite, and as a result it didn't take long for that to get old fast. As the years have passed, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has increasingly embraced the superhero world, right down to recently dubbing Chloe Bennet's Quake an official "superhero"! The show's ratings have improved dramatically, pretty much in line with the change in focus and approach.
Like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Powerless is attempting to focus on non-superheroes living in a world of superhumans. Sure, it has a very different style and tone, but that concept didn't work out for Marvel, and it won't work our for DC either. Powerless needs to widen its focus. It needs to incorporate a superhero narrative.
Batman is Perfect
Fortunately, Powerless is already positioned to do just that. We already have a strong tie to Bruce Wayne, and Emily is no idiot; the end-scene features her looking rather suspicious at the 'coincidence' of Batman coming up with the same technology. If she's suspicious after one occasion, how will she respond to it happened a second, fifteenth, or hundredth time?
In narrative terms, the link between Powerless and Bruce Wayne can't simply be left alone. Instead, it should really increase as the show goes on, until it becomes a major plot element. I simply don't see any other way for this to play out; the Dark Knight himself will eventually have to play a part in Powerless, probably with Emily eventually persuaded that Bruce Wayne is the man who gives Batman his technology. Sure, showrunner Patrick Schumaker has (correctly) observed that there's no way the show will ever feature Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne, but that doesn't mean another actor can't play the TV version (just as Tyler Hoechlin plays The CW's Superman).
Batman is DC's most popular superhero; in fact, in terms of monetary value, he's second only to Spider-Man out of all superheroes. Drawing Batman into the series would definitely improve its profile. But there's one major problem with this idea; the TV license to Batman is currently owned by Fox (who are producing Gotham). The reality is that Powerless will only work if Fox, NBC and DC can reach an agreement to share those rights — and I'm not convinced that's likely to happen anytime soon.
- 'Powerless' Showrunner Explains How Ben Affleck, Jason Momoa & Grant Gustin Could Cameo On The TV Show
- New Trailer For DC Comics Comedy 'Powerless' Features A Major Justice League Villain — Could More Be On The Way?
- NBC's 'Powerless' Adds Barely Canon Wayne Cousin, Becomes Less And Less Interesting
All in all, I'm afraid Powerless has gotten off to a rocky start. The show does have one chance — but that chance only works out if the stars align. Personally, I think the show has real potential; the humor was on-point, the actors were perfectly chosen, and the concept's a fun one. Without the Batman factor, though, I'm not so sure Powerless will have traction.
Do you think 'Powerless' looks set to last?
(Poll Image Credit: NBC)