NBC’s Powerless set visit shows there is more to Charm City than meets the eye
NBC is getting a taste of the DC magic with its new take on superheroes in Powerless.
Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi, Alan Tudyk, Ron Funches, and Christina Kirk, the new comedy actually focuses on the people who have to deal with the daily consequences of superheroes. Sure, having a superhero fighting off bad guys seems cool, but not if you have to deal with it every single day of your waking existence. That’s where our characters come in at Wayne Security led by Bruce Wayne’s less famous cousin, Van Wayne (Tudyk). At Wayne Security, the team of research and developers must make new gadgets and gizmos to protect the citizens of Charm City from the aftermath of a supervillain battle. Hudgens plays Emily, the new optimistic boss from a small town who takes over the unmotivated R&E team at Wayne Security. She hopes to inspire the team to work better and actually make useful products to help people and, ultimately, keep the company afloat.
During a visit to the set of Powerless on the Warner Bros lot, Hudgens took a break from a scene to chat a little bit more about her character. “Emily is brand new to Charm City. She just moved there for this job,” says Hudgens. “She grew up in what she calls a “fly-over” state. No superhero ever stops there. She’s very new to this whole supervillain/superhero world, but her dream is to run the Wayne Foundation. That’s what she wants to do. She wants to help people. She wants to give back. That’s her ultimate dream.”
Her team of misfits consists of Teddy (Pudi), Ron (Funches), Wendy (Jennie Pierson), and Jackie (Christina Kirk). At first, the team doesn’t take a liking to Emily and writes her off, but that doesn’t stop her from trying. “Emily is very positive and optimistic. I don’t think anything could change that because that is truly who she is,” said Hudgens. “She really believes she could change the world and she wants to. She wants to motivate people to do the same. But, obviously, being around superheroes and supervillains and getting used to the damage that they cause… getting used to having the worst boss ever… It’s definitely taxing on Emily, but she stays chipper.”
Pudi, whose character is a bit more serious than his previous role on Community, plays the company’s cynic, Teddy. He’s sarcastic and pretty much over his job at Wayne Security. “Inside of Teddy, there is a little bit of a struggle. I think he’s used to [I don’t want to say like] second place,” Pudi tells us. “There’s an episode where you kind of get to see Teddy’s family situation and it illuminates a little bit of Teddy’s story. You see sort of why he is jaded a little bit. I think in many ways he’s used to superheroes getting all the coverage, getting all the press, getting all the splashy love, you know. Teddy is this guy who I think he has great ideas – really brilliant ideas, but they never kind of go somewhere. It’s kinda the same thing in his family. He’s done good, but it’s never good enough. I think that’s Teddy’s struggle to try and make a big splash. Just a little bit. He becomes a little less jaded, but at the same time, he struggles to be like ‘What can I ultimately do?’ Superman can come in here and crush me with his pinky.”
But, of course, Teddy isn’t alone. Misery likes company, but his company comes in the form of “always happy” Ron. Funches was not in the original pilot shown at San Diego Comic-Con last year but was excited to be asked to be part of the show. “[Creator] Patrick [Schumacker and previous showrunner Ben Queen] brought me in. They just were like you’re very funny. We like you on the other show. Watch this pilot. If you have ideas about your place in this world would be, come in and talk to us about it.’ So, basically, I pitched them the character. Look, I’m good at playing me. I’m good at being excited and cheerful and happy. I think people like that. They were like ‘We like that.’ They were like, ‘We can’t think of a different name, so you’re just Ron. So be you.”
Standing in the way of Emily’s positivity is her moody boss, Van Wayne. Initially, Tudyk’s character was not related to the famous Bat but was changed to bring in the Wayne storyline. Tudyk tells us, “The change of becoming a Wayne. I still was a rich guy that had been pampered. He just wanted to do nothing and live in his office and stay where he was. Now that he’s a Wayne. It brings in all of that. It brings in Batman. It brings in the family. The more he talks about his family, it’s immediately linked to Batman. He wants to go to Gotham. That’s where he wants to climb the ladder. He doesn’t want to do anything. He just wants to be asked to be there, because he’s a Wayne. He doesn’t work. He doesn’t do a lot of work.”
Of course, Van isn’t the villain in the series. He’s just a guy who wants to get ahead by doing nothing. “He’s just kinda a bad boss. Kinda a dick,” says Tudyk.
Van depends on his right-hand woman, Jackie, played by Kirk, to help him run the company. Jackie is essentially the mother of the group who has a handle on everything. Kirk tells us, “It’s also so many of the workplace comedies it’s the thing that happens where the people you work with becomes a pseudo-family. That’s actually when you’re together all the time if you’re working long hours. So there is definitely a feeling that we are each other’s [family].”
While touring the set, creator Patrick Schumacker stopped by to greet everyone. When asked by the press about Hudgens singing on set, Schumacker joked, “Every day on set is a musical episode with Vanessa.” He did comment there could be a possibility for a musical episode if the show continues another season. We pressed on how the superheroes were chosen for this universe.
“We’ve had long discussions with DC about the certain subsets of characters that we want to use,” said Schumacker. “We determined early on that the Global Guardians, which are a slightly more obscure group of characters, would be the resident heroes of Charm City. As far as actual superheroes are concerned, you’re going to see Global Guardians, inside from Crimson Fox, there’s a guy called Olympian who is like a Greek god. You’re going to see Natalie Morales from Parks & Rec and The Grinder. [She] is going to play Green Fury aka Fire. I don’t know if you know Fire and Ice. So Natalie will be in a few episodes.”
Writer and comedian Sabrina Jalees dropped in during the filming of an episode she wrote, which touches on a bit of feminism for our characters. She has free range on how she wanted to bring out the characters and their stories.
“What really interested me about this was A) it’s a strong female lead. I’ve always loved Vanessa Hudgens. And B) we have this whole universe to play with,” Jalees tells us. “I think now more than ever with the title being Powerless and the idea that we can all relate to having zero say or influence in these huge overarching things that have huge consequences to our life and the best and only thing we can do is lean on each other. Lean on each other and make the day to day better.”
Powerless premieres Thursday, February 2nd on NBC.