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'Powerless' is, Believe it or Not, a Workplace Sitcom Solving Superhero Problems
February 2, 2017  | By David Hinckley

NBC’s Powerless is also kind of pointless.

The new series, which premieres Thursday at 8:30 p.m., isn’t without its goofy charm. After all, it’s set in Charm City.

It’s just hard to imagine what could be enticing about watching a weekly sitcom with a vague and rather tortured connection to the Batman mythology – unless you’re such a fan of superheroes that you’ll watch anything that’s got some.

Vanessa Hudgens stars (top) as Emily Locke, a comic book fan who is hired by Wayne Security to develop products that protect innocent bystanders from being injured in the crossfire when superheroes and supervillains duke it out.

Wayne Security, it turns out, is a division of Wayne Enterprises, which is run by the largely unseen Bruce Wayne, who is Batman except not everybody knows that.

The boss at Wayne Security is Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk, right, with Hudgens), Bruce’s idiot cousin, who makes no secret of the fact he only has one goal. He wants to make Wayne Security look good enough so Van can get promoted from his current office in Charm City to a cushy do-nothing job in the more prestigious Gotham City.

And he wonders why Bruce won’t take his calls.

After Emily is hired, she learns she’s the fifth or sixth boss in the last six months. All the others have failed to deliver any new products because Van’s vision extends no further than knockoffs from competitors. The staff, unsurprisingly, is almost totally demoralized.

So our core family, not for the first time on a sitcom, is a zany dysfunctional office. This crew includes Danny Pudi as Teddy, who wants to rediscover his sense of geek wonder; Christina Kirk as Jackie, who becomes Van’s assistant and must cope with his oblivious ineptitude; and Ron Funches (below, left, with Pudi) as Ron, the IT guy who’s so absorbed in superheroes he thinks they’re real.

Of course, in Powerless they are real. That’s the joke, and it’s impossible for the ordinary people of Charm City even to get to work without dodging some massive electrical explosion or having some villain knock an entire subway train off its elevated tracks.

On paper, it probably sounded like great fun to conjure these villains and superheroes and to imagine what kind of situations from which civilians would need protection.

In reality, the first episodes suggest the idea may have been more fun than the execution. At the very least, the gags often may seem richer to superhero geeks than for the casual observer.

Let’s also not forget that superheroes and supervillains are comic characters, to begin with, so creating über versions is to some extent redundant.

Hudgens is energetic and engaging, and if Powerless turns into a fun ride, she will deserve much of the credit.

Considering its stretch of a premise, though, Powerless may have to work too hard to mine enough laughs from shallow ground.

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