With so many superhero stories dominating screens these days, you might start to wonder what it’s like to be an average person living among the superhumans catapulting themselves between skyscrapers every day. It’s a question that writer Ben Queen used to create a whole series, Powerless, as he explained in the latest issue of SFX magazine (opens in new tab).
Set in the DC Universe, it follows a group of insurance claims adjustors who deal with the aftermath and collateral damage of constant superhero battles. “Frankly, how do you get to work in the morning when you are dealing with super-related craziness like a tidal wave from Aquaman?” Queen muses. “The aggravation of that seemed like a funny thing to explore.”
Despite the tongue-in-cheek approach, Queen – who previously worked on short-lived legal sci-fi drama Century City – says DC Comics was whole-heartedly on board from his first pitch. “They were very encouraging and opened up the candy store for us in terms of what we can reference and what we can do,” he tells Red Alert. “Right now, when we reference a character or an event, we want it to be something people can relate to, and laugh at. We’re using less-recognisable superheroes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deal with Green Lantern-related insurance claims.”
That means, of course, that DC Universe fans should keep their peepers peeled. “In every episode, there are obscure Easter eggs for comic book fans,” Queen promises. “DC has been awesome about it, from Big Belly Burger [a fictional DC fast food chain] to Lex Luthor’s autobiography, and beautiful Alex Ross drawings that double as photographs on the cover of Rolling Stone.”
However, Queen is quick to point out the series is really about the parallels experienced by average heroes, like Vanessa Hudgens’s forthright Emily Locke who takes it upon herself to wage her own battle against their new manager, Del (Alan Tudyk), who wants to deny more claims to win points from his CEO father. The rapport among the cast is what solidified the concept for Queen. “We found these actors and went after them. We wanted them to be people you could love and get behind. So when Vanessa became available, everything locked together for our cast. Danny Pudi, we were lucky to get him because he’s crazy funny. And Alan Tudyk is amazing.”
A newbie to television comedy, Hudgens admits she’s got a learning curve when it comes to superheroes too. “I didn’t grow up a big comic book person, so I have some homework cut out for me, but I love [Emily] because she’s standing for the fact that you don’t need superpowers to be a powerful person. She wants to help people. It’s her way of making the world a better place, one claim at a time.”
Powerless will air on NBC in the US in 2017, with a UK broadcaster yet to be confirmed.
Read the full Powerless preview in the brand new issue of SFX magazine, which is out now! Alternatively, subscribe to future issues here (opens in new tab).