Powerless: “I’ma Friend You” Review

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“Emily’d” is the new “Britta’d.”

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.

It’s been several weeks since NBC aired a new episode of Powerless, with the network (probably wisely) choosing to throw its muscle behind the more consistently entertaining Trial & Error. The hope is that this hiatus would allow Powerless to return, rested and ready to move beyond the mistakes that plagued the show in its first five episodes. Sadly, the time off doesn’t seem to have done much good. Powerless still feels like a show in search of its own voice, and with each passing week it becomes a little harder to give the show the benefit of the doubt.

At this point, Powerless is barely even keeping up the pretense of being a DC Comics show. The brief, obligatory cameos for Crimson Fox and Jack O’ Lantern did nothing but serve as quick catalysts to propel the plot along. Other than those cameos and a quick jab of Aqualad, this episode might as well have taken place in a superhero-free universe. No one at Wayne Security actually seems to work at this point, so the conceit that these characters are designing protective gadgets for supervillain-weary citizens is basically irrelevant. The lack of DC Comics references isn’t this show’s most glaring weakness, but it continues to be perplexing how little Powerless takes advantage of its setting.

“I’ma Friend You” had a more fundamental problem, however. The show leans pretty heavily on Vanessa Hudgens’ ability to play a chipper, energetic, unfailingly likable lead protagonist. So when Emily comes across as the antagonist, something has gone horribly wrong. Emily became too obnoxious for her own good this week as she stuck her nose into Jackie’s private life and refused to back down. Her cheerfulness became pathological, which might actually be amusing if played the right away. But here, Emily just came across as an unlikable busybody. It got to the point where I couldn’t buy into the idea that Jackie would actually warm up to this relentless, attention-starved co-worker. There were a few amusing moments along the way, but the Emily/Jackie dynamic really isn’t working right now.

Nothing like a perverted hot dog vendor to bring two friends together.

Nothing like a perverted hot dog vendor to bring two friends together.

Also, I hate bringing up comparisons to Community so often, but it’s pretty tough to ignore the fact that this episode blatantly borrowed one of that show’s more memorable gags with the whole “Emily’s name becomes a verb” thing. The dialogue even had a weird sense of deja vu as Emily and her team discussed her habit of Emily-ing her co-workers. It’s a particularly glaring reminder that even in its stronger moments, Powerless often feels like a hodgepodge of other, better sitcoms rather than its own beast.

At least this week’s subplot proved to be entertaining. Alan Tudyk and Ron Frunches have established themselves as the real MVPs of this series, so any conflict involving Van and Ron butting heads is bound to deliver some solid comedy. That was the case here, with Van gradually losing his already tenuous grip on sanity as he struggled to root out the traitor who used his private toilet. Tudyk goofy intensity remains as charming as ever, and Frunches, Danny Pudi and Jennie Pierson made a solid team as they stood their ground against an overbearing tyrant. Van and Ron had what was easily the funniest moment of the episode with this exchange:

Van: He’ll sell out faster than a Mumford & Sons concert in the whitest part of Portland.

Ron: You can just say “Portland.”

Every so often, the show seems to find its sense of humor, and we can only hope at some point it’ll grow more consistent about it. The season is still only half over, after all.

The Verdict

Powerless’ time off doesn’t seem to have done the show much good. As the show reaches the midway point of Season 1, it’s still struggling to deliver a consistent level of humor or get viewers truly invested in these characters’ personal drama. That’s to say nothing of the increasingly tenuous DC Comics connections.

Editors’ Choice

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