'Powerless' Proves DC's TV Is Better Than Their Movies

With 'Powerless', DC's Television Universe continues to have a better track record than the DC Cinematic Universe.


Image via NBC


Without even releasing a movie, the DC Cinematic Universe will take their first L of 2017 this Thursday (we don't count Ben Affleck not directing Batman as one). Why? How? Because NBC’s Powerless is yet another TV-sized serving of everything that the movies aren’t, which only further underscores the question of what we even need Zack Snyder’s universe for.

Of course,  “DC TV >>” isn’t a new argument. It was shouted from the rooftops all throughout last year as an alternative to the incoherent nonsense of Batman v Superman and then Suicide Squad. For anyone wanting a superhero story that knows how to shift tonal gears beyond bleak and broody, where the plots are coherent and more imaginative than gyrating witches, and the team-ups hinge on more than moms with the same name, The CW had the answers. Arrow took what could’ve been a Batman Begins photocopy and somehow made the Green Arrow into one of the most formidable action shows on TV. Supergirl is a fresh reminder that not every hero needs to brood. And The Flash is the most balanced helping of superheroics available right now, equal parts emotional and fun as fuck with special effects that defy normal TV budgets. What’s funnier, Arrow and Flash weren’t even operating at their narrative peaks last year and still, two series dedicated to B-heroes were more entertaining by leaps and bounds than their silver screen A-listers. Last week, both of those shows resumed the hot streak that they’ve been on since fall, and now with Powerless, here’s another slap in the face.

Powerless is a different beast, to be fair. It’s the workplace sitcom’s answer to the superhero genre, and one that’s unlikely to ever crossover with The CW’s ever-expanding world ofFlash, Arrow, Supergirl and co. It’s set in Charm City, at a Wayne Enterprises off-shoot run by a Wayne family afterthought, Bruce’s cousin Van. Our protagonist is Emily Locke, the plucky head of R&D who’s there to galvanize the company into taking care of the regular people who tend to get overlooked while superheroes and supervillains are doing battle around them. That loose premise is ripe for presenting the daily nuisances of everyday office life in the context of Gotham or Metropolis, like when Van treats a villain’s broadcast feed on his laptop the same way we’d treat an intrusive ad.

The pilot episode is full of promise, despite not being a total home run. As Emily, the only optimist in an office full of cynics, Vanessa Hudgens somehow out-peps herself. Combined with the show’s overall upbeat tone, it all comes across a little too saccharine—at the end of the pilot, one Wayne employee laments how much he’d rather work for Batman, before Emily flashes a 1000 watt grin at the camera that one day they all just might. Cue eyeroll. But that’s an alchemy that can easily be evened out as the season progresses and finds its footing. Nevertheless, I’m curious enough to keep watching and see how Powerless takes shape—will it be formulaic and episodic or more freeform with narratives and arcs? Will they incorporate some of the more ridiculous DC villains that no series as straight-faced as Arrow—let alone the big screen properties—would care to touch? Who will emerge as comedic MVP between the equally great Danny Pudi and Alan Tudyk?

DC’s movie slate only fosters morbid curiosity, at best. Every misfire (three in a row, to be precise) betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of what makes these characters work and why we love them. The 2016 fumbles in particular have sapped any semblance of anticipation for their upcoming releases, only anxiety at how bad Wonder Woman or Justice League could be. An angst-ridden Superman, or a Batman who kills people and does crossfit isn’t inspiring much optimism for the ‘17 slate, which will mark Wonder Woman and Justice League’s first big-screen adventures. Is there any reason to care about a Flash movie from Snyder’s team when Grant Gustin’s emo-Seth Cohen take already feels definitive? DC TV is out here staging week-long event crossovers that see the likes of Supergirl, Flash, Green Arrow, and the Legends of Tomorrow teaming up, while configuring ways to progress the universe in other genres. More importantly, as we’re seeing with Flash and Arrow’s resurgences, their creative teams are actually paying attention to feedback and diagnosing the problems with immediate results.

We’re just not seeing the same type of response and innovation from the people in charge of the big screen adventures, despite having 10 times the budget and a grander playing field. Hopefully they’re tuned into shows like Powerless and taking notes. Because if DC can’t get both mediums on the same page creatively, they really don’t stand a chance against Marvel.

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