We go behind the scenes with the non-superheroes of NBC's 'Powerless'
Equipped with ergonomic chairs, fluorescent lights and dotted with Mac monitors, the room could pass for just about any modern-day, millennial-baiting workplace. It feels familiar, unremarkable even, that is until the clouds of cartoon-y smoke start wafting past the windows.
Wedged between laboratory props in the back, a sign reads: “Wayne Security has worked __ days since super villain accident.” Today is not the day that sign will be put to good use.
Each computer screen is flashing the alarmingly red warning: “Emergency Lockdown Procedure Initiated. Remain Calm.” But instead of panicking, the inhabitants appear merely flustered; it’s just another pleasant day ruined in Charm City.
On the set of NBC’s new superhero show “Powerless,” a sitcom that directs the attention away from the spandex-clad comic book heroes that populate the skies of the CW, and instead focuses on the civilians forced to live in the messy world of genre mayhem and the destruction left behind. It’s the story of the innocent bystander, and how such people get through the day filled with careless superhero showdowns.
This aftermath is where the employees of Wayne Security come into play — they invent creative ways to protect the little people whose lives are often interrupted by falling debris and citywide attacks. The company is led by the dimwitted CEO Van Wayne (played by Alan Tudyk of “Firefly” and “Rogue One” fame) — the lesser known cousin of Bruce, a.k.a. Batman. Wayne and his new hire Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) command a team of inventive engineers made up of Teddy (Danny Pudi), Ron (Ron Funches), and Wendy (Jennie Pierson).
Together they try to save the day for the common man (while turning a profit) with ideas such as the “rubble umbrella,” “the Joker antivenom,” and frost-melting gloves. But productivity is at a standstill on set today, thanks to yet another attack from a random Big Bad and a mess of dangerous smoke. The characters are stranded in their offices. It’s a bottle episode, one in which the entire story line plays out on a limited number of sets, sometimes just one room.
“I think anytime any TV show does a bottle episode it's because they need to save money on their budget for that week,” explains executive producer and co-show runner Justin Halpern outside of the Burbank Studios set. “Which is also why we're doing one.… However, bottle episodes should be about getting to know characters, secrets coming out [and] what happens when you put your characters in a pressure cooker.”
This episode plans on cracking Hudgens’ Locke, the new director of research and development.
One part “Mary Tyler Moore Show” (a touchstone for the show runners) and two parts superhero sitcom, “Powerless” spends a lot of time on Hudgens’ character. The latest addition to Wayne Security, Emily struggles to steer the haphazard team and corral the man-child in charge. But every week she manages, and rarely loses her smile.
“Locke is very peppy, very optimistic, almost like a puppy,” Halpern says. “And we thought there's no way that, deep down inside [that people like that are] actually not really resentful of the people around them that they clean up after. We thought it'd be really interesting to see how far it would take for her to snap.”
“You start in a place where she's a Disney princess, and you end in a place where she's [‘Unabomber’] Ted Kaczynski,” adds Halpern’s fellow executive producer and co-show runner Patrick Schumacker, visibly excited about Emily’s imminent breakdown.
Being trapped at work might be uncomfortable for the character, but if Hudgens the actress is feeling the pressure she certainly isn’t showing it. While rapidly delivering Emily’s rallying speech to her co-workers, Hudgens takes a beat between takes, raises her arms and twirls. If someone said that in the mornings birds flew into her trailer to style her hair, it would seem plausible.
“I try to listen to music, that brings me up a little bit and I dance around. I was just listening to Anderson Paak,” says Hudgens of maintaining her cheery persona. “I’m a big believer in high-fives and high-fiving yourself.”
Tudyk, however, isn’t in the same head-space. Dressed in the same white suit for a week, the actor was getting anxious about keeping his costume clean. “I'm a messy person in my life,” Tudyk jokes. “At work, out of work, and so I've had to be more cautious, which I guess is a learning opportunity. But, dark suits are better.”
That levity from both Tudyk and Hudgens is the cornerstone of “Powerless,” and it comes straight from the source material. “DC Comics have always been about the triumph of optimism over cynicism,” Schumacker says.
Covered in Post-It Notes for an unknown reason (presumably this is what happens to his character when stuck in an office for hours and hours) Pudi jokes with Funches off set, tossing out ideas and keeping the overall mood light. It’s clear that improvisation is welcome here. Taking time off from shooting in the Wayne Security conference room, stand-up comedian Funches recalled a favorite joke, dreamed up himself.
“There’s an episode where we get a visit from the Atlantians, Aquaman’s hometown,” Funches says, trying to contain giggles. “The cast finds out that my character is also from Atlantis. When we meet each other, I pitched that we throw each other a black power fist. And they’re all like super-pale, Nordic guys. Just to see them all [raises fist mimicking the sign] was probably a dream come true.”
That’s the true superpower of “Powerless”: clever jokes you truly wouldn’t expect from the oft-maligned comic book medium. They’re not afraid to punch up as well. In the pilot episode the front page of Charm City News featured the headline “President-Elect Luthor Vows to Make Metropolis Super Again.” A few episodes later Hudgens’ character asked her team, “What is the greatest generator of supervillains, aside from bad parenting?” The responses: “Being bitten by things.” “Laboratory mishaps.” And “Losing the popular vote but somehow winning the election.”
“You definitely have to think more about the types of jokes you're making,” Halpern says, noting that Tudyk’s character is a lot more believable today than he was last year thanks to the rise of a certain politician.
“We're also doing an episode about how much harder it is to be a female superhero than it is to be a male one,” says Halpern. “Superman saves somebody and all of the comments on the article are like ‘He's the best!’ And then a female superhero saves somebody and they're like ‘She looks like … in that outfit.’ None of the comments are about saving people.”
“It was funny,” says Tudyk from behind his character’s comically large desk, about what drew him to the series. “I read a lot of scripts and I watch a lot of television and I have a great respect for things that make me laugh. It was a fresh idea of a superhero comedy. Where this was, by definition, not about the heroes but about people. It's very funny putting the mundane next to the extraordinary, having the extraordinary be mundane to the people who live in that world.”
Outside his office a set of crew members pump clouds of fog into the air, readying for Van’s diatribe about not being able to go on vacation due to the heinous smog. A mundane idea trapped by extraordinary circumstances.
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)
See the most-read stories in Entertainment this hour »
'Westworld' stars confront the nature of the fembot
Negan promises he's 'just getting started,' but have 'Walking Dead' fans already seen enough misery?
For the love of monsters: An insider tour of Guillermo del Toro's Bleak House before his LACMA show
Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
- NBC's 2018 Olympics coverage will air live in all time zones
- Alec Baldwin talks completely, 100% uncensored about Donald Trump
- Telemundo actors vote overwhelmingly to join SAG-AFTRA
- Milo Ventimiglia Advises You To Get The Tissues Ready For The 'This Is Us' Finale
- 'This Is Us' Star Susan Kelechi Watson On What To Expect After That Big Death
- Where does Obama's leadership rank in presidential history? These historians say 12th.
- ‘This Is Us’: What Time & Channel Is ‘Jack Pearson’s Son’ On?
- CBS, NBC roll out trio of less-than-super new series
- Comcast defies cord-cutting trend, while 'Sing' and Harry Potter attraction boost NBCUniversal's revenue
- How to watch Trump’s inauguration
- Alan Tudyk's 'Rogue One' droid K-2SO gets C-3PO's approval
- "Rogue One" star Alan Tudyk talks finding the voice for K-2SO
You might also like
- Fox News pulls Judge Napolitano over his Trump wiretap claims
- I swiped right and got a life coach, not a life partner
- After deadly bombings, Egypt's state of emergency reassures some but strikes fear in others
- Egypt plunged into state of emergency as Palm Sunday church bombings kill at least 44
- Gorsuch's impact on divided Supreme Court will begin immediately
- In a surprise move, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad files to run for president
- Essential Politics: To Russia, with (no signs of) love
- G-7 nations call for diplomacy after rejecting new sanctions against Russia
- U.N. warns of famine in Africa and western Asia as it seeks billions of dollars to prevent catastrophes
- Dan Stevens channels his beastly side in 'Beauty and the Beast' prologue dance
- How the new 'Beauty and the Beast' empowers Belle's inner feminist with books, not boys
- Carrie Fisher's 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' scenes will not be changed, plus new details about the Han Solo film
- Powerful South Carolina political consultant implicated in indictments of a veteran state senator
- Will Donald Trump get a second Supreme Court nomination?
- "Hazing" rituals await Supreme Court's "junior justice" Neil Gorsuch
- The hunt is on for Planet Nine. Here's how to join it
- Trump approves controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline
- Trump praises 'Fox & Friends,' renews old feuds in early morning tweets
- Rex Tillerson finally answers question from NBC News' Andrea Mitchell
- First Read's Morning Clips: The Latest in the Russia Investigation
- Spicer: 'I've let the president down'
- Russian President Vladimir Putin met with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday
- OMB Diriector Mick Mulvaney: Washington's 'a lot more broken' than Trump thought
- Trump attacks conservatives over failure of health care bill
- A very consequential week didn't go well for President Trump
- Health Care Showdown: Republicans look to go big or go home
- No deal on health care bill after conservatives meet with Trump
- CA gov on those supporting health bill: 'Their name is going to be mud'
- Give it to me straight, doc: Is Obamacare dying?
- First Read's Morning Clips: Waiting for CBO
- 14 People Share What's It's Really Like to Have An Ex Who Is Now Their In-Law
- The Internet Is Freaking Out About The Way This Chef Cuts Pizza
- Angels manager Mike Scioscia rethinks the use of his closer in tight games
- Chemistry onstage makes Faith Hill and Tim McGraw a top tour
- I’m Taking A Break From Social Activism And OMG I Need Like Everyone I Know To Read About This
- 5 'Fate Of The Furious' Moments So Unnecessary, They're Necessary
- Noah Cyrus Reveals Her Next Tattoo & Dishes On Her Famous Family
- The Lonely Island Tell The Story Of How 'Dear Sister' Came To 'SNL'
- 'Marketplace' is America's most popular business show. Now it has ambitious plans to expand
- United fiasco shows airlines' power over passengers — and how it might change
- 'I really did it for my daughters': L.A. radio host Wendy Walsh on why she spoke out against Bill O'Reilly
- Trump backs Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, but advertisers keep fleeing
- IFC swings for the comedy fences with Funny or Die's 'Brockmire'
- MGM to spend $1 billion for full control of the Epix movie service
- YouTube TV launches today. It has some cool features and some big drawbacks
- 'Boss Baby' to sack 'Smurfs,' and other box office predictions
- Meet the new faces aboard 'Mystery Science Theater 3000's' Satellite of Love
- Werner Herzog wouldn't live anyplace other than Los Angeles, 'the city with the most substance'
- 'A blemish on America': The arts world reacts to proposed cuts in Trump's budget
- Brian Grazer and Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment is getting into the booming, competitive animation business
- Fox News faces another sexual harassment claim as Mercedes and Hyundai pull ads from 'O'Reilly Factor'
- Roman Polanski is denied latest bid to resolve 40-year-old statutory rape case