Review: Powerless, With No Power Comes No Originality
DC’s attempt at breathing some comedy into its universe falls somewhat flat, with hollow humour, hollow characters, and a hollow story.
The premise of DC’s latest TV series Powerless sounds interesting enough: it promised superheroes being held accountable for their actions, painted a picture of city streets rampant with villains, and alluded to investment in technology that would protect citizens and prevent property damage. It’s eerily similar to Marvel’s Civil War arc, which hit the big screen last year, but with an interesting twist of non-supers rallying together. Or so you would think.
The series takes place in the fictional Charm City, where a branch of Wayne Enterprises, headed by Bruce Wayne’s moronic cousin Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), is tackling the mountain of insurance claims put forward by the general public who have been affected by the acts of superheroes and villains. In order to decrease the number of insurance claims that can become legal battles, the company’s new Director of Research Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) proposes that Wayne Security invent products that prevent property damage and harm to the public, such as kryptonite glass that cannot be broken by Superman. Locke immediately finds flaws with the product and argues that if someone needed rescuing by Superman on the other side of the glass, they couldn’t be saved, at which point the glass is broken by the character who manufactured it, highlighting that the glass would only be effective against the powers of two supers maximum. Not the smartest idea.
It is dull, cheesy, overused jokes like this that make this ‘comedy’ what I like to call ‘American-funny’, but not actually funny. Kind of like comparing Brooklyn Nine-Nine to The Inbetweeners. Each episode appears to be a near-replica of the last in terms of narrative structure, with the R&D division narrowly avoiding being shut down and replaced by LexCorp at the end of each half hour instalment.
There is no substance behind the humour, or the characters for that matter, who fall into the typical stereotypes of Eager Girl Who Wants to Do Well, Dull Woman In Tech Who Doesn’t Like Other Women (so feminist of you, DC), Really Eager Guy Trying/Failing to be Useful, and Egocentric Bossy Boss Man. They are not the heroes Gotham needs, and definitely not the ones it deserves right now. It’s an awful reminder of what can happen when DC tries to be funny and light-hearted, when the company’s forte is with complex webs of story that tackle serious issues, and put Marvel Comics to shame.
After release in the US and online at the start of this month, fans of the DC universe are likely disappointed by the two-dimensionality of a series that had so much potential to blossom in the same corrupt darkness that made The Dark Knight trilogy, Greg Berlanti’s Arrowverse and the ongoing Rebirth story arc so popular amongst their target audiences. In trying times when accountability of those in power is such a crucial issue, why didn’t DC take a stand, do what Batman does best and get serious?
I’m still, maybe naively, holding out hope for this year’s Wonder Woman.