Synopsis: Powerless, a superhero-comedy turned workplace comedy, might have missed the mark in some areas (more on that later). But it does have one take the gives it an edge. And that’s it’s workplace-race-relations.
The work team involves a diverse group: Jackie (Tudyk’s assistant dryly played by Christina Kirk), Ron (an adorable scientist played by Ron Funches), Teddy (a design geek played by Danny Pudi, who’s not quite fleshed out enough to separate him from his Community counterpart), and possibly Wendy (played by Jenny Pierson who’s probably not gonna last much longer as her IMBD credit lasts only 5 out of 10 episodes).
It’s important to note that originally the show was meant to center around an insurance agency that protected against superhero-related incidences. That seems to me like a much more interesting way to look at the now over-saturated superhero genre. But due to creative difference with NBC, showrunner Ben Green departed just two weeks before production began. And despite the fact that the original pilot did well as San Diego Comic Con, NBC opted to reroute the whole workplace to somewhere that, well, just doesn’t work.
The workplace we find ourselves in is that of Wayne Security, a high tech security firm meant to invent products that will protect civilians from both superheroes and super villains alike. Each episode brings about a new invention or idea. It becomes blasé after the first few episodes.
This is a show about the Everyman in these super worlds. You know, like the people who show up in the MCU to give Ironman and Cap a hard time about busting up NYC. While the writers are attempting to strike a balance between fantasy and humor, that balance is lost in translation.
Emily’s bright and perky attitude is kinda grating, and her desperate need for affection reads as sad. The quirk isn’t there. Is this because Hudgens, as lovely a singer that she is, is not actually a comedic actress? Perhaps. She’s surrounded by comedic talent. But alas, none of it has rubbed off in her performance. Her style still seems stuck in the days of High School (Musical).
But what does work are jokes about race in the workplace. Oh, does that topic make you uncomfortable? Watch this hilarious tongue-in-cheek video about it and come back to me.
Here’s what makes it work:
1: The characters racially identify themselves. Who knew that Hudgens would get to actually play Half-Filipina? Win for Asian Americans!
2: The characters that make terrible race-based jokes are either immediately shamed for it (like Emily making a whipping sound at Ron), or they are terrible people (like Van, who might be a Voldemort surrogate. Born rich, ignorant, classist, and desperate for recognition of his false greatness. Sound familiar? Oh he’s also Batman’s cousin). No one cries out, “That’s too PC!” Everyone recognizes they’ve done wrong. That is, unless you’re Van. In which case the audience recognizes he’s done wrong. It’s quickly, it’s dirty, and it’s done just right.
3: Ron’s revelation that he’s from Atlantis (not Atlanta) is a great parallel to real-life situations. It plays into people’s assumptions of geography (not all black people come from the inner city), people’s misrepresentation of culture (re: Sinking Day), and people’s misunderstanding of features to race and culture (that time Ron and three white guys share a moment because despite their skin color, they are all Atlantians.) The “what are you?” question has dogged me my whole life and to watch both Ron and Emily deal with that is surprisingly well done.
These jokes played out across two episodes. It wasn’t overwhelming or a major part of the plot. Will the jokes continue over the next few episodes? It’s hard to say. No one has acknowledged Danny Pudi’s ethnicity. And race jokes can only go so far when that’s not the theme. And since the writing is currently made up of awkward moments about Emily’s desperate attempt at friendship and overt audience pandering, I don’t anticipate it being a mainstay of the show. But it’s the one aspect of the first three episodes that really worked for me. Everything else was just a flash in a pan.