Powerless: The Four Episode Test

The latest of DC’s excursions onto the cathode ray tube (which was a way we had of describing television back in the days when televisions actually still ran on cathode ray tubes, which they don’t any longer) is the sitcom Powerless, starring Vanessa Hudgens and a small supporting cast, which includes Danny Pudi, mainstay of Community these several years.

Powerless differs from its myriad predecessors by being a sitcom, about civilians in a superhero world. It’s set in a Research & Development company in a place called Charm City (an unfortunate choice of names, given that it’s a real-life nickname for Baltimore and so is always putting me in mind of Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire: not good, not good at all).

Hudgens plays Emily Locke, the new Director of Research & Development, at Wayne Security, an offshoot of Wayne Enterprises, though the Wayne in charge is not Bruce but Van, a long-forgotten cousin created back in 1962 The company produces products that civilians can buy to protect themselves from accidental injury if caught up in superhero incidents (Charm City’s resident hero is the Crimson Fox and its resident villain is Jack O’Lantern, both long standing minor characters).

If the products are any good, Batman nicks them.

Pudi plays Teddy, Ron Funches plays Ron and Jennie Pierson (who isn’t even cast) plays Wendy: these three are Emily’s R&D team. Alan Tudyk plays Van, a self-centred, spoilt, talentless idiot who is continually angling for a move to Gotham: he’s a Wayne, after all.

This leaves Christina Kirk as Jackie, tall, dry, continually wandering round with her hands in her pockets, bored with the nonsense going on around her, and deeply cynical. She’s Van’s secretary and the most interesting person in the show and personally I find her more enjoyable to look at than young Miss Hudgens herself, who is set up to be bright, perky, enterprising, permanently optimistic and the show’s go-to girl for glamour.

I have given the show the TV.com four-episode test, having originally determined to give it six, but frankly this is a turkey that should already be making plans to be out of the country at Xmas. It’s basic problem is the one thing that’s always fatal to a sitcom: the jokes aren’t funny. There’s not even the usual, reliable, stream of them battering at your ears in the hope of wearing you down.

In fact, outside of Ms Kirk’s perpetually adult presence, Powerless only attracts on those relatively brief occasions when Vanessa Hudgens combines a very short skirt with black tights, and these moments only last about three or four seconds at a time.

In short, it’s a bust. The characters convince neither as recognisable human beings nor as exaggerated caricatures that make fun of superhero tropes because, as I may already have said, the writing simply isn’t funny for a moment.

It’s apparently ordered for ten episodes, and after the first couple of episodes were slated, last week’s was praised as an improvement. This week’s should send the level spiraling downwards again.

So my advice is not to bother. These are twenty minute slices of your life that should be wasted on something more worthwhile, like filing your tax returns. Unless you’re seriously dependent upon three to four second glimpses of Vanessa Hudgens’ legs in black tights under a short skirt: they are rather fetching, though.

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