Interview: Danny Pudi on Powerless, his favorite graphic novel and more

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Jan 8, 2019, 11:00 AM EST (Updated)

For six seasons of Community, comedy fans got to relish the brilliant performance of Danny Pudi as media-obsessed community college student Abed Nadir. His character was an oddball who used film and television lessons to navigate the emotional hurdles of life. When the series ended two years ago, fans lamented its loss and the character who was core to its success.

Now Danny Pudi is back on the small screen starring in Powerless, a series that Abed would surely rally around, perhaps with even The Cape levels of adoration. The first DC Universe sitcom, Powerless has gone through quite a few changes since it was filmed as a pilot in 2016. Once centered on insurance adjusters dealing with the aftermath of superhero collateral damage, the show now finds the ambitious Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) managing the R&D department at Wayne Security. Pudi plays Teddy, one of Locke's inventors responsible for creating the gadgets used to keep citizens safe in a superhero-filled city.

In an exclusive chat with Syfy Wire, Danny Pudi talks about Teddy's goals, what we can expect for his character as the season progresses and if he was a DC kid as a youngster.

Teddy was Emily's BFF in the original pilot but now the series dynamic has changed. How would you describe their personal relationship now?

Danny Pudi: When she first comes to Wayne Security, there's a power struggle between us. Over time, we both realize we can help each other.

What's Teddy's goal now as a character?

Teddy has ambitions. He sees himself as an iconoclast. Teddy takes his design and products very seriously. I believe a product should be inevitable. I believe color scheme matters. We can't just package anything and throw it out there. There's all this stuff that goes into a really good product design. I think Teddy has dreams of designing something that makes a really big impact on the universe. He's aware of his limitations physically, and even from a basic level within his family. It comes into his relationship with Emily too. He's had these great ideas that haven't come to fruition.

Emily's a very chipper boss. In real life, would you cotton to that kind of management?

(Laughs) I grew up in a very positive household with my mom. I literally wanted to sit at home and watch Duck Tails. But she made me take speed reading classes, so I had to tell my friends that the reason I wasn't playing basketball in the park was because I was speed reading. But now it's paid off! So I'm familiar with that experience growing up. And I think it's good to be surrounded by people who can see things that you can't. Like in some ways, Teddy can help Emily because he can see her point of view and how she wants to make a big splash, but at the same time he lets her know that the team needs to do a Fantasy Superhero League Draft too. It's just as important in our creative process.

The R&D team is comprised of stand-up and improv vets. Do the writers encourage you all to riff during filming?

I think because the way the show shifted they've been very open to us talking about our characters. We've been talking about them a lot. But that being said, there are six of us in the cast and we all bring something new and different. We look for appropriate moments where we can add value to the scene without distracting too much. If it adds value to the scene and helps inform our characters, we pitch it and they're open to it.

Now that you are swimming in DC Easter eggs with this show, is there a DC character that's always been close to your geek heart?

There's so much that I've always loved about Batman. He's the most human and a great detective. His color scheme is awesome. He's got a tragic backstory, which isn't great for comedy but great for storytelling. The Long Halloween is one of my favorite graphic novels.

Were you well-versed in the DC world coming into the series?

I definitely had to brush up. I didn't know any of the Justice League Europe characters or Justice League International. They have a huge amount of characters so it's taken me some time. (Laughs)

What can you tease about Teddy's adventures this season?

The family episode is nice to see for his backstory. Beyond that you start to see some of Teddy's designs make an impact. A lot of that has to do with Emily pushing and challenging him. And then an episode has Teddy dealing with some romance. He goes on a date and we get to see how truly powerless he is. (Laughs)

Powerless airs Thursdays on NBC at 8:30 p.m.