Fair citizens of Nerdist, beware! This post contains spoilers for tonight’s episode of Powerless. If you haven’t seen it yet and want to avoid them then turn back now, because Superman is way too busy to fly against the rotation of the earth and save you from disaster.
This week’s Powerless, titled “Sinking Day”—a reference to the holiday commemorating when the famed city of Atlantis, “home of Aquaman and character actor William H. Macy,” went into the sea—proved once again that the show can make us laugh with a great one liner, but also mine its premise for plots that help separate it from standard workplace comedies. Even if it still has a way to go in maximizing that potential.
Unlike last week’s tired, trite plots, which were cliche stories about a new boss struggling to make her employees like her, and dealing with an aggressive H.R. director—only without any use of the superhero world Powerless is set in—this week both the primary and secondary stories utilized the show’s unique setting.
Van, dealing with major daddy issues (with his father played by an under-utilized Corbin Bernsen) via way too literal song lyrics, had to overcome his distaste of hard work to team up with Emily and land a brand new account, the security of Atlantis. The core of that story isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it was helped immensely just by making it about a spectacular, mythical city, with its own strange customs and people. It wasn’t as effective as we’d hope—with a lot of the humor around it coming across more as clever than actually funny—but it was a step in the right direction to where we would like to see the show go.
As was the secondary story, of Teddy, Ron, and a very turned on Jackie (Christina Kirk was again excellent) trying to determine if their coworker Alex was actually a superhero. That’s all I would think about if I lived among people with superpowers, so it felt like a more authentic exploration of this universe, unlike the unfunny memes that were part of last week’s episode for example.
Ron Funches and Jennie Pierson are both funny on the show, we just wish they got to do more. But that’s still a way better spot than Danny Pudi is in, since he hasn’t done much of anything through three weeks. We know from Community that Pudi is funny and is an asset, but his Teddy is mostly just there, not doing much. That needs to change.
The good news is that as the plots utilize the superhero-ness of the show it will get better on the whole, but the bad news is the comedy coming from those story lines has to get better too. Up the insanity, up the silliness, and let your talented cast have way more fun with it.
One thing that is clear through only three episodes is that the show does not shy away from jokes about racism, including both real issues from our world as well as social matters particular to this imaginary one. Sometimes they address both at the same time, like when Ron told Emily he was from Atlantis, and she said she thought he was from Atlanta. “No that’s Donald Glover, and it might be racist that you heard that.”
Almost all of the jokes about racism are rooted in being hypersensitive to casual, non-malicious language, like when Emily said she wanted to “reel in” the Atlantis account, and Ron pointed out how people that live underwater don’t appreciate that kind of language. So while the humor is mostly about misunderstandings or a lack of awareness—and therefore not particularly biting or ripe with social commentary—it’s still a topic the show enjoys mining for laughs. They don’t fall flat, but they don’t exactly hit with a lot of oomph either. The show likes to be timely, as the super villain-election line proves, so if it tries to be more aggressive with jokes about race and social awareness, that could be a great source of comedy, because of the current real world we’re living in.
Having said all that, I still laughed out loud multiple times during “Sinking Day,” which is no small feat for any sitcom. When Powerless gets mean or cruel it is really fantastic. Usually those lines come from Christina Kirk or Alan Tudyk, and this week was no different. Tudyk had a number of great lines. How could you not laugh when he said, “Your father is a ‘poor’ so it doesn’t matter if you have his respect,” or, “We Waynes didn’t get to where we are by being afraid of hard work; we did it by leveraging a coal monopoly in the 1870s.”
Van is already three-dimensional–both detestable and likable, incompetent yet strangely knowledgeable–and that makes him the best character on the show so far. Well, that and saying things like, “You never speak of your mother. Did you drive her to suicide with these stories?”
It’s only been three episodes, and each one has made us laugh numerous times, but the show is still finding its footing. Trying to make the plots more entwined with the superhero world it is set in is a positive step in the right. They just have to have more fun with it, and its cast.
What did you think of this episode? You aren’t powerless to share your thoughts with us, so do it in the comments section below.