Despite a lackluster premiere, the NBC sitcom brings some much-needed humanity to a superhuman universe.

Last night, NBC aired the premiere episode of its new series Powerless, the first television sitcom from comic entertainment company DC, which is responsible for superheroes like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Such familiar characters, however, exist primarily as allusions in Powerless, which instead focuses on the ordinary denizens of Charm City, a minor metropolis that tends to get repeatedly trashed while the Good Guys and the Bad Guys fight.

That begins to change when small-town girl Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) sets out to inspire the employees of Wayne Security to develop newer and greater means of protecting the “powerless” from villains and heroes alike. Locke faces an uphill battle, working against the cynicism of her boss, Bruce Wayne’s cousin Van (Alan Tudyk), and the company’s employees (Christina Kirk, Danny Pudi, Ron Furches, and Jennie Pierson).

Critically speaking, the jury’s still out on Powerless. Most reviewers appreciate its hybrid concept, though some find its blend of superhero action and workplace comedy an unstable mix, with others arguing that its actual humor falls flat. I appreciate Danette Chavez’s take at The A.V. Club that “Emily’s coworkers are audience stand-ins; they’re inured to the existence of superheroes and their nemeses, and don’t realize how much they need a fresh set of eyes.”

If Powerless is to succeed, it will be (at least in part) because of these “audience stand-ins,” since the show is foremost not about superheroes, but about what it is like to live in their orbit. Ironically, though, this could lend one definitionally “epic” quality to Powerless that all of DC’s prior screen offerings …

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