On Community, Danny Pudi’s character, Abed, helped drive some of the show’s most creative explorations of genre tropes and pop culture tributes. In Powerless — a workplace comedy set within a superhero world — the goal isn’t to dissect, but to highlight (in a comedic way) the lives of those people that we often only see fleeing the chaos. But what about the people who take this stuff very seriously? Pudi is aware of the intense passions that propel comic book fans, and in our recent conversation, we discussed that, the changes his character went through from the first attempt at the show to this fresh effort, getting inspiration from comics, and the prospect of a superhero fantasy draft.
How has your character, Teddy, changed from the first pilot that was screened at San Diego Comic-Con?
In the original version of the pilot, Teddy is a little bit more Emily’s best friend. In terms of his job, the specificity is also different, because he’s sort of this guy who’s just kind of working in an insurance office. The newer version is way more specific, I think because we’re in the research and development unit at Wayne. Now Teddy’s job is chief design officer, so he’s got a little bit more ambition and a little bit more drive. I think in the newest version, he kind of sees himself as this iconoclast. Because of that, he also bumps into others in the office a little bit more because he has a very specific way of looking at the products and sort of the integrity of products. He’s very concerned about the difference between sangria and amethyst and how there is a very specific, unique, important difference between those two colors. If we lose sight of that, we lose sight of everything.
Sometimes, he can kind of get in his head a little bit. But I think it kind of gives him a little bit more direction. I think he has dreams and aspires more in his work life to create some really cool products. In terms of the office, he’s a little bit more of a realist. I think, in some ways, Emily is very optimistic and Teddy’s, I think, a dreamer in a different way. Teddy kind of is a dreamer in reality. Based in reality. A lot of that has to do with sort of his life because he comes from a family with really high expectations, and he’s also kind of been stuck in this job a little bit. So his dreams, I’m not sure how much he believes in his own dreams.
Are we going to see Teddy interact with his family? Maybe see more outside of the lab with friends, a love interest?
We meet his family coming up, which is a fun episode for me. Not sure how much I can say about it. But we do meet his family. You get to sort of see sort of the backdrop for what Teddy is dealing with at home and how that influences his life day-to-day in the office.
He definitely comes from a family of high achievers, and as brilliant as Teddy thinks he is or might come across, he is quite insecure because of his family situation, because of all the other brilliant minds in his family. That was fun for me to explore. The family’s really great in the episode, and I think it also kind of gives a little bit more of a layer to Teddy, so you don’t just kind of take him as this character who is this real specific techie who’s coding all day and creating some kind of new product. He’s actually this person that is hoping to accomplish great things, not just for himself and the world but also to impress his mom and dad, for the first time possibly.
There’s a familial connection between Van (Alan Tudyk) and Bruce Wayne, but are there other relationships or interactions between some of the other characters and comic book characters that people are going to be familiar with? Or is it more about dealing with it on an everyday, “Oh, look, there goes Superman flying through the sky” kind of thing?
In terms of specifically bouncing off characters, I’m not sure what I could say about that. Not really. Teddy is definitely grounded in the real world. In some ways, he has… I don’t want to say he’s jaded, but Teddy understands his limitations in terms of physical abilities very well. I think that’s why he’s very focused on his products and what they can do to make him and the people around him feel heroic.
I think that’s why Teddy takes his job so seriously, it’s the ability he has as a human. Becaus, just like Teddy, we have frail bones, and our bird bones can’t compete with real superheroes. In terms of actual superheroes, I think you kind of get to see… Teddy talks a little bit about some of his favorite superheroes. We have a fantasy superhero draft episode where we’re all looking at some of our favorite superheroes and why, specifically, we’re picking them.
For Teddy, Teddy loves The Flash for many reasons. Just like Danny. I think you kind of get to see why Teddy loves The Flash because there are some similarities there, but it takes a lot to impress Teddy. One, you’ve got to have a really well-tailored outfit. You have to have good color coordination. Probably similar body type. You’ve got to be helping out people for the right reasons. Some of those things, I think, make Flash a really great pick for his fantasy superhero draft.
Did you ever read Marvels? The Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross comic?
When I first started researching the show, it was Marvels, Kingdom Come, and there was one other comic that I read. Those were the three right away that I read to kind of get a peek into it. In each version, it gives you an idea of what it’s like for everyman and for all of the people who are looking up, and what’s going to fall on their faces, which is… That’s me in general life. I run into a lot of stuff.
I think they all work to a certain extent. I think the cool thing is that this show is like we’re still trying to figure out exactly the tone here. Because it’s new, it’s different.
For very good reason, superhero movies and comics work because superheroes are incredibly interesting and riveting and can do things that we can’t do. The fun thing about this is that we’re trying to really kind of build out the world for these people that you only see on a few panels on a page. That’s exciting, and it’s cool to kind of find, “What are the similarities we have?” What are the differences and how can we find that balance between a real office comedy where people are dealing with the struggle of finding a good place to go to lunch every day, and, at the same time, facing the reality that at any moment, there might be an alien attack. Which is very real in our world.
There are some fans who take the way that comic book movies deal with the collateral damage caused by superheroes very seriously, and these movies have spoken to that, especially in the DC movies. There’s been consequences for those things. Do you worry, going into something like this, that people are just not going to find the funny in rubble crushing someone?
I mean, a little bit. I worry about everything. I worry about the integrity of the comics, I worry about making sure that my character has a unique point of view. I worry about all of us getting along on set. I worry about all of that. I think that’s kind of the job, but it’s also, I think, the exciting thing, is that we’re dealing with something that has a lot of meaning and value to people in their lives. I think that’s cool. Just like me, I think that in a world where Batman could potentially show up, not that he has or probably will ever, I think that is something that’s really exciting for me as an actor to work in a world where that sort of exists or could exist.
At the same time, yeah, I know it’s tricky and I know there’s a lot of pressure there, especially because this is the first time DC has done a comedy, to find something like that. I think that with anything new, different, and that has this sort of childhood nostalgia attached to it, as well as like this whole deep, deep, deep mythology, there’s a chance that certain people will not fall in love with it or not feel like it’s connecting with them in certain ways. I understand that. I hope that we do a good enough job so that people forget about that, and also show them that I think our intentions are good. I don’t think that we’re trying to, in any way, disrupt the DC canon. I think we’re more trying to really explore some everyday lives within the DC universe as a backdrop. That’s what we’re digging for, and I hope it comes out.
Powerless premieres tonight, February 2, at 8:30pm ET on NBC