How Powerless Sets the Tone for the Ordinary in a Heroic Universe

first_imgStay on target The room is large and bright, and not just because lights were plastered around. The walls are a steely brand of off white. The desks are crisp and clean, dotted with photos, computers, and random knick-knacks, including one desk with a Joker card displayed prominently. Off to one side is a small lab filled with 3D printers and other equipment. Next to that is a large black office with its own private bathroom. On the wall is a large picture of Alan Tudyk in a suit, and it’s probably the place’s most amusing feature.The set of Powerless looks like every early stage start-up, minus the crew with headsets bustling about and the elevator that goes nowhere. As Teddy (Danny Pudi) and Ron (Ron Funches) argue with Emily (Vanessa Hudgens) and Jackie (Christina Kirk) about whether somebody named Tony the Hot Dog guy is funny or creepy, a guy on a hoverboard floats by dropping off mail. There are multiple inspirational messages sketched out on the floor in electric tape, musings to make employees work harder (“teamwork makes the dream work”). On the wall, it says “change the world” but according to Tudyk, who plays Bruce Wayne’s less interesting cousin Van Wayne, it came with the office, so who cares really.The intricately styled stage sets the scene for Emily’s introduction to the world of Wayne Security and of Charm City, which is filled with people trying to live their daily lives without getting interrupted by a supervillain attack. The company is staffed with jaded employees with little creativity to invent preventive gadgets in a world filled with superheroes. The company has the potential to be something great. It has all the pieces. However, there’s something only half done about it. It looks like a start-up because it’s basically a failing one. By the time we enter Wayne Security in the pilot, it’s about to shut down.But that’s not a problem for Emily.“Emily’s very positive and very optimistic,” Hudgens said during a roundtable interview on the set. “She truly believes she can change the world and she wants to, and she wants to motivate people to do the same. But obviously, being around superheroes and supervillains and getting used to the damage they cause… and getting used to having the worst boss ever… it definitely is taxing on Emily, but she stays chipper.Powerless takes place in Charm City, which showrunner Patrick Schumaker says is like the DC universe’s Cleveland, although writer Sabrina Jalees says it also has a New Jersey vibe. Basically, it’s a nothing city–not large enough to be Metropolis or Gotham, and not boasting any big superhero names, but big enough that a girl from a small town (which the show calls a “flyover state” because of all the superheroes that never stop there) could strive to. They have Crimson Fox and, according to Schumaker, others that are “a little pissy” that they’re the B-team. When we meet the main cast, they also feel that way.Van specifically wants to get out as soon as possible. What we learn is that he looks up to his cousin Bruce, but a little too much, and without looking to put in any of the efforts.“He wants to go to Gotham, that’s where he wants to climb the ladder…he doesn’t want to do anything,” said Tudyk about Van. “He just wants to be asked to be there. He’s a Wayne. But he doesn’t work.”The people behind the show are a different story. The actors differ in how they relate to the DC universe (some are comic book fans, and some only know it from films), but all are excited to see what becomes of their characters.Evans Vestal Ward/Warner Bros/NBCPudi and Funches specifically, who are long time nerds, smiled when they talked about certain geeky topics. A batarang plays a role in one of the later episodes, for example, and both talked about getting to hold it. In another, Tudyk puts on a Robin costume.Even just rattling off names of things from the DC universe is amusing.“Flash was one of my favorites as a kid,” Pudi said, “Just being able to say ‘The Flash’ on television is exciting.”Don’t expect to see the Flash, or any of the other Justice League members for that matter, in any of the episodes. The point of Powerless is that Charm City is B-tier. There will be some Justice League Europe references and some visits from Atlantean businessmen. Schumaker said that the show has been a part of long discussions with DC about which characters to use, so the Justice League is a no-go, but the Global Guardians are fair game.“We want to make sure that we’re not trying to promise or over deliver characters here,” Pudi said. “Because I think then it becomes about the superheroes and that world more than it does about the office here.”What the viewers will get: Wayne Security, the mention of Bruce Wayne, vague glimpses of Batman’s stuff. The Wayne name is “brand recognition,” according to Schumaker. “It would be a touchstone for people who weren’t so hardcore in DC mythology,” he explained. This is why the plot was dramatically changed from its original incarnation, where everybody worked at an insurance agency.“We kind of hit a wall,” Schumaker explained. “Nobody on the staff understood the world of insurance. When the turnover happened, and we were asked to take over, we decided to do something that would more organically bring in the genre elements.”Evans Vestal Ward/NBCOnly the pilot episode was available to press before the premiere, but Jalees says that the showrunners are letting the writers tell their own human stories. One episode shows how an increase in villainy can make women feel uncomfortable without even phasing men and it draws on Jalees’ experiences in a post-Trump society.“Now more than ever, with the title being Powerless and the idea that we can all relate to having zero say or influence in these huge overarching things that have huge consequences to our lives and the best, and only thing we can do, is to lean on each other…and try to make the day-to-day better,” she said.Superheroes in this universe are the equivalent of athletes, politicians, or celebrities. They’re out of reach and doing their own things that can have an effect on the everyday people that occupy the same space. So viewers won’t be seeing a lot of them when watching Powerless. However, they’ll be seeing excited and knowledgeable actors, writers, and producers playing around in the DC world, along with the casualties that go along with that (including maybe dating henchmen)“It’s not about who’s the supervillain they have to kill this week,” Hudgens said. “It’s like, what paperwork do we need to finish, and who’s trying to mess everything up?”Powerless premieres Thursday, Feb. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The ‘Powerless’ Pilot Begs the Question: Where Do We Go From Here?Alan Tudyk is the nerd-of-all-trades last_img read more