No Ordinary Family: “Pilot”
Posted by therebelprince on October 1, 2010
I wasn’t going to watch No Ordinary Family. The idea seemed a bit too network-perfect for me, and – even though I’m one of the few who defends Heroes season 2 (at least in concept) – we’ve been burned before. But a few people I know came out in favour of it, so I gave the show a chance. And you know what? I’m glad I did.
You know the premise: the Powells take a work/vacation combo trip to South America, survive a plane crash, and return home with super-powers. Dad Jim (Michael Chiklis) has super-strength, his wife Stephanie (Julie Benz) has super-speed, their daughter Daphne (Kay Panabaker) has telepathy, and son JJ (Jimmy Bennett) has… something.
(Incidentally, please forgive me if I sound ignorant at any point. I’ve never picked up a comic book in my life, so if I call something “new” or “innovative”, I’m speaking from a naive perspective.)
There’s a lot to recommend here. Jim’s power is used in new (see?) ways. It isn’t just crime-fighting super-strength; he jumps around the city! (Of course, this also seems really stupid: a) people are bound to notice him soon, and b) he’s going to leave Michael Chiklis-sized craters all around this Gotham-lite.)
More to the point, the show quickly eradicates some of the possible dark paths it could have gone down. Immediately upon discovering their powers, both Jim and Stephanie reveal them to a colleague. That same day, they reveal them to each other. If nothing else, at least the show won’t have to go down some of those well-travelled trails in which quirky clarinets flare any time Stephanie “dashes” to the store for milk. (The most cliched moment of the hour was when Detective Cho just fails to notice Jim’s superpowers. Hello, Lois Lane.)
Of course, it’s very network. Everyone’s powers are on-the-nose perfect for their life situation (a condition made painfully clear by Stephanie’s fear of work consuming her life). I know I’m one of those jaded HBO junkies, but things felt a little saccharine whenever music got involved. However, I’m actually quite optimistic, I promise. We’ve got four characters with real problems, and each of whom has a reliable genre to explore with a superhero twist – teen drama, cops-and-robbers, family struggles, industrial espionage, etc. Beyond this, the show has the implications of a larger mythology. In my notes at about the 30-minute mark, I wrote “I hope the larger mythology doesn’t involve a shadowy conspiracy”. By the end of the hour, I had to eat my words, but hey – at least the conspiracy involves *spoiler if you haven’t watched the episode!* Stephen Collins!
And there are some other great details too: the effects seem up-to-scratch (again, see my disclaimer); and ABC continues to represent on the casting rainbow issue, with perennial favourites Romany Malco and Christina Chang playing full-blooded characters whose ethnicity is a non-issue. The talking heads premise (which I hope is a pilot-only device) seemed ridiculously unnecessary, as they explained nothing we couldn’t have discerned from the acting and script alone. But you can’t have everything.
No Ordinary Family was a lot better than I thought it would be, and I’ll be sticking around. Here’s hoping the show can fuse character and mythology better than Heroes, and that we don’t descend into formulaic monster-hunting each week. (Charmed was at its best for the first five or six episodes, as the characters discovered their powers. After that, it was the bubbling morass of bubblegum and bullshit that was Charmed.) Plus, Stephen Collins!
* I appreciate that Stephanie’s friend pointed out the possible physical inconsistencies of her super-speed. Not that I had any clue what she was talking about, but I’m sure many a forum-dweller has weighed in.
* The first time they cut away from Powell taking a basebll to the gut, it was suspenseful. When they did the same trick five minutes later with a bullet? Pathetic.
* The epic plot nerd in me hopes that the plane’s pilot comes back as Walking Mangled Corpse Man at some point. (Jim’s rather throwaway mention of his death was laughable.)
* Kay Panabaker and Jimmy Bennett are well-cast as normal-looking kids. All the rest are TV-attractive (which means they’re 25 and, like most models, are only hot in the one pouty position).
* Also, it was a nice little ploy for JJ to learn about the powers before discovering them. He gets to avoid the freak-out and go straight for the appreciation. (I predict a drunk-on-power subplot for the boy soon)
* And I’m aware that comic books have probably exhausted every super power available, but the ones here seem particularly standard. On the plus side, jumping rather than flying is a nice update to the trope, I feel.