CS tours the set of NBC’s Powerless, DC Comics’ first comedy series
Welcome to Charm City, the fictional (but sorta based on Cleveland) home to NBC‘s new DC Comics comedy, Powerless. While the DCU is setting up its own continuity on the big screen and the rapidly-expanding Arrow-verse takes over The CW, Powerless offers a fresh take on a bigger-than-life comic book world. Officially designated by DC “Earth P,” the world of Powerless is one where the Justice League exists and prominently operates. Just don’t expect them to drop by Charm City anytime soon.
Check out more than 60 photos from the Powerless set in the gallery viewer below!
“As far as an analogue, professional athletes seems like a good one,” executive producer Patrick Schumacker explained to CS last week when we dropped by the Powerless set on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California. “We’ve looked at it a couple of different ways. There’s always a philosophical conversation that can be had, which has been ongoing. Do we want to keep superheroes as gods up in the sky who are better than us and who don’t really react with us that much?”
Schumacker had been working on developing an earlier iteration of Powerless with former show runner Ben Queen. That version went so far as to screen its pilot episode at last year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. Even though the initial pilot was extremely well-received, some major changes to the series occurred that resulted in the version premiering Thursday evening. The major change is in the characters’ workplace. Formerly set at an insurance firm (appropriately called Retcon Insurance), Powerless now takes place at Wayne Security. As such, Alan Tudyk, who always played the company’s dimwitted boss, was rewritten to be the cousin of Bruce Wayne.
“He looks up to Bruce,” says Tudyk. “Bruce is a playboy. He goes to fancy parties. That’s what Van wants. Just to be loved… [He’s] still a rich guy who had been pampered,” Tudyk continues. “He just wanted to do nothing and stay in the office where he was. Now that he’s a Wayne, it brings in all of that. It brings in Batman and it brings in his family. When he talks about family, it immediately goes 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 there because he’s a Wayne.”
The new pilot also adds Ron Funches to mix as an I.T. guy named, coincidentally enough, Ron.
“I was working on another show called ‘Undateable,'” says Funches, “Which was cancelled. They brought me in with the previous show runner, Ben Queen. They were just like, ‘You’re very funny. We liked you on the other show. Watch this pilot. If you have any thoughts about what your place in this world would be, come in and talk to us about it.’ Basically, I pitched them the character. ‘Look, I’m great at being me. I’m great at being excited and cheerful and happy and I think people like that.’ They were like, ‘We like that! Also, we can’t think of a different name. You’re just Ron!'”
The Earth-P version of Ron shares quite a bit with Funches, including his love of superheroes.
“Ron is very excited,” Funches explains. “He has a lot of childhood wonder. He’s not necessarily a guy who is looking to advance his career and get out of here and go to Gotham like Van. I’m just happy to work with my friends.”
Working alongside Ron is Teddy, a significantly more cynical developer played by Community‘s Danny Pudi. Pudi is no stranger to comic book universes, having made a cameo in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
“So far, I’m here way longer,” Pudi laughs. “In the Marvel world, it was very quick. I was kind of bummed out, because originally I got punched by Captain America. That was my whole dream. That’s everyone’s fantasy.”
While Teddy may come off as being very negative in the pilot, Pudi says that the character’s personal motivations will be revealed as season one progress.
“He’s very loyal to his team,” he says. “He’s like a curmudgeonly old man that isn’t old yet… There’s an episode where you get to see Teddy’s family situation and you see why he is jaded a little bit. He’s used to superheroes getting all the coverage and the love. He has these really brilliant ideas, but they never go somewhere. It’s the same in his family. He’s done good, but it’s never good enough. That’s Teddy’s struggle. To try and make a big splash.”
Christina Kirk’s Jackie, meanwhile, is the Wayne Security employee who has been unlucky enough to become Van’s personal assistant. For her, superheroes are just like celebrities and sharing conversations about them is one of the things that pulls the office together.
“So many of the great workplace comedies have that thing that happens where the people you work with become a pseudo-family,” says Kirk. “…There’s definitely a feeling that we are each other’s [family].”
Powerless‘ central character, however, is none other than Vanessa Hudgens‘ Emily Locke who, as the series begins, has just moved to Charm City.
“She grew up in what she called a ‘Flyover State’,” says the actress. “No superheroes ever stopped there. She’s very new to this whole superhero/supervillain world… [She’s] very positive and very optimistic. I don’t think anyone can change that, because that’s really who she is. She really believes that she can change the world and she wants to motivate people to be able to do the same.”
One reason for shifting the action from an insurance agency was to keep Emily’s motivations pure. The writers quickly realized that the professional base case scenario for insurance adjusters is that they take money away from someone. Plus, dealing in security means a lot of fun inventions and makes for a more hands-on approach to the DCU. Among the episodes in the first season are plots that see Emily unwittingly dating a supervillain henchman and an ongoing plotline involving resident superhero Crimson Fox, who made her first comic book appearance in 1989’s Justice League Europe #23.
“We’ve got a few fun, random [superheroes],” says Hudgens. “One of the things that’s kind of fun about our show is that we’ve got kind of the B-list superheroes and super villains. You’ll never see Batman there.”
“We decided early on that the Global Guardians — who are a slightly more obscure group of characters — would be the resident heroes of Charm City,” adds Schumacker. As far as actual superheroes, you’re going to see, aside from Crimson Fox, a character called Olympian, who is kind of a Greek god. You’re going to see Natalie Morales as Green Fury, aka Fire of Fire and Ice. Natalie’s going to be in a few episodes as Fire.”
“There are some deep cuts,” says Pudi. “But I think it’s all about protecting the integrity of the universe… We don’t want to overpromise characters, though, because it then becomes about the superheroes and that world more than the office here. One of the things that’s important to distinguish that this is a separate city. We’re not in Metropolis, so we’re not going to be referencing Lois Lane and Superman the whole time.”
While Powerless should offer more than enough to keep comic book fans happy, the show is at heart a workplace comedy and one that its creators hope will find an audience for its non-superhero comedy ensemble.
“Now more than ever, the title ‘Powerless’ [is relatable],” says screenwriter Sabrina Jalees. “We can all relate to have zero say or influence in these huge, overarching things that have huge consequences on our lives. The best and only thing we can do is lean on each other and try to make the day to day better.”
You can browse photos from the Powerless set using the gallery viewer below and catch the pilot episode Thursday, February 2 on NBC!