'Powerless' mixes superheroes, startups and texts from Batman

DC comics get the comic treatment in this new superpowered workplace sitcom.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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The last time we saw Batman and Superman on the big screen, there weren't many laughs to be had. Comics creator DC has gone all the way to the other extreme with "Powerless", a new superhero-themed sitcom on NBC .

Batman and Superman don't actually show up in "Powerless" -- the closest we get is a text from Bruce Wayne. Instead of Metropolis or Gotham, the show is set in Charm City, where long-suffering citizens are resigned to having their commutes ruined by superpowered skirmishes.

Arriving in Charm City, newcomer Emily, played by a perky Vanessa Hudgens, brings her naive optimism to her new job at Wayne Security. There, she takes charge of a motley crew of designers working on new products to minimise the inconvenience of falling rubble and supervillain plots. With its focus on the Wayne workplace rather than on the city's caped crusaders, "Powerless" is as much about startup culture as it is about superheroes.

Danny Pudi leads the team iterating Joker anti-venom and Kryptonite windows, but the show doesn't have quite the varied and engaging cast of characters as his earlier show "Community". The standout, at least in the first episode, is the flighty boss Van Wayne, played by Alan Tudyk, fresh from stealing the show as a straight-talking droid in "Rogue One". Van desperately wants a transfer to Gotham to hang out with his cousin Bruce Wayne, whose name generates plenty of sly laughs.

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With Marvel's cinematic universe leaning heavily on laughs, it's about time someone gave comics the comic treatment. It might not be as superheroic as the lesser-known 2008 super-sitcom "No Heroics", but "Powerless" doesn't need Joker venom to raise a smile.

"Powerless" debuts Thursday 2 February on NBC.

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