With two of its latest episodes, Powerless is back to low-level funny and high-key annoying.
Van v. Emily: Dawn of Justice
Somehow, this episode manages to be all about Van’s white man ego without actually… burying the white man ego. I mean, it’s one thing to present the status quo as “funny” by speaking from the position of the oppressed and using cynicism to say, ‘this sucks, but it’s the way we survive because life is shit.’ That’s comedy you can do. But Powerless doesn’t do it well.
Because Van will act like a child throwing a tantrum if he doesn’t get what he wants, everyone on the R&D floor advises Emily to let him win and throw the game of Green Arrow darts; or otherwise it’ll be hell for everyone if he gets a reality check. There’s humour in there somewhere, yes, it might even be a hint of satire. And yet, I didn’t even laugh once. Why? Because even on a show that has pretty diverse casting, this storyline was still all about white man’s ego and Emily still doing a TON of emotional labour to make him feel better in the end. As Emily’s main antagonist, of course the story will focus on him, but the show still somehow works more with his feelings than with Emily’s refusal to appease the status quo.
That’s due to one basic conceit: Van cannot grow. He has to remain a (ha!) cartoonish villain who never learns from his mistakes. The problem is, placing that cartoonish villain into the same damn office as our supposedly progressive protagonist means that her storyline is stumped every single time. And to have characters of colour plus all the white women in the office cheering for Van because him winning means they’ll be left in peace (instead of pieces) is the ultimate commentary on how comedy cannot win when revolving around white man’s ego.
Also, another man’s ego was on display this week: Teddy gets an unhealthy obsession with superhero Green Fury (Natalie Morales) and… insists she’s into him. After she saves him from a drop off a balcony. Actually, have this quote from the IGN article on this episode that a friend sent me, complete with eyeroll emoji:
Not to mention that Green Fury’s debut inspired the writers to actually give Danny Pudi’s Teddy a reasonably interesting storyline. This week he struggled with being torn between his current, stable relationship and his sudden attraction to Green Fury. For once, it felt like the writers were actually taking advantage of Pudi’s comedic energy and give the character a conflict of his own to grapple with. If anything, I wish Teddy’s one-sided romance with Green Fury had been a bigger focus here. The show’s approach to continuity is too loose to assume we’ll see that love triangle continue to play out. But this subplot was certainly a step in the right direction in terms of both Teddy’s role in the series and the inclusion of DC characters.
Ok, um, full offense: but this could have only been written by a dude. I hated this entire storyline, in this episode and the one following.
“She’s into me, dude.” No, Teddy, she did her goddamn job. Just like all those poor baristas, waitresses, shop clerks, actresses, artists, writers, lawyers, professors, mechanics, hairdressers, doctors, physicists, stunt women, florists, ……. who are women out there, on the planet, who have to deal with men thinking they’re irresistible because they were polite to them at their job. So, no, this wasn’t a “one-sided romance,” or a “love triangle,” this was Teddy being a dick. And the only fun in it was watching him make a fool of himself, but frankly: I see no entertainment in it.
This episode was better, even though it was ailed by the same status quo affirming cynicism: Jackie tells Emily that you don’t rise in the ranks of Wayne Security by pitching your own ideas, you do by sucking up to the old boys’ club and telling them how great their ideas are.
Emily, of course, doesn’t see the value of that, either. Thank god.
After saving Green Fury from a fireblast and defending her from the bullshit she has to deal with (the incessant questions over her diet and her former relationship with superhero Olympian) on a daily basis, Emily receives the heroine’s emergency button. Teddy, still caught in his stupid “unhealthy obsession” with her — and no, that he calls it that himself doesn’t make it comedy, it just makes it a lame punchline — is pissed at Emily for having it and not giving it to him.
Of course, the execs from the board meeting turn Emily’s pitch into a sexist male fantasy, and it’s some kind of twisted to have Teddy literally walk around in a “this is what a feminist looks like” sweater in order to Nice Guy (TM) pick up Green Fury (who, thank god, tells him to take one good look at her fire-bursting hand and beat it) while Emily pitches her the “see it as sex-positive feminism” spin on having her wash a sports car, in the commercial she agreed to do for Wayne Sec. There’s so much to unpack there, and it’s all bad.
Again, there’s also the seeds of great comedy there. For instance, if we got the sense that Teddy’s “feminist” get-up was lampooning the fake geek girl trope so rampant in fandom. But the jokes just… still don’t land, because they’re still only doing the bare minimum. The jerky purse was actually the funniest bit about that whole sequence. At least the commercial they did shoot was doing what it said on the tin — only with male abs instead of further objectifying Green Fury.
Ugh, ok. Either there’s something wrong with me, or the show’s just not getting any better. I really did like the middle there, but these last two episodes… meh.