No Ordinary Family: “No Ordinary Ring”
Posted by therebelprince on October 18, 2010
Sometimes I feel really sorry for comic book lovers. Due to the relative niche of their interests, superhero/action series tend to fall in to two camps: the flabby formula dreck starring generic-looking thirtysomethings-posing-as-teens (Smallville), or those that genuinely try and incorporate a mythology and fantasy tropes, but as such are resigned to low-budget writing, directing and acting (Legend of the Seeker).
Every once in a while, though, a network decides to reward these patient fans with a show that has a network-sized budget: hire some real actors! use some special effects! Unfortunately, this particular network is clearly not the right place to achieve this. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with No Ordinary Family. Just… well, there isn’t anything.
There was some good material in “No Ordinary Ring”, the third installment of this series. Most of it came from the enjoyable characterisations of Autumn Reeser and Romany Malco as Stephanie and Jim’s respective sidekicks, who I suspect have some superpowers of their own: namely being able to speak amusing dialogue while those around them suffer through the pangs of family anguish. Everything else just felt so… restrained. I’m not one to write hostile reviews of shows like this. Bad TV deserves that kind of treatment, and this isn’t bad. It’s just playing to a wide network audience, but unfortunately it’s not even trying to colour outside the lines.
Stephanie’s plot, in which she schemed to avoid being exposed through a magical blood test, was the most enjoyable for me: perhaps because the workplace storylines seem to avoid some of the more laboured plot machinations of the family stuff. The series has set Stephen Collins’ character up as the big bad, but by putting him so close from day one, it seems like we’re going to be stuck in a holding pattern. How many times will he get close to the big secret, only for an array of henchmen – beginning with Reggie Lee, it seems – to meet their downfall instead? Probably quite a few.
More regrettable is Jim’s storyline, which continues last week’s investigation into his possibilities as a crimestopper. You know, I wish Jim had worked in a supermarket, or actually have been a struggling artist. By having him work at the police station, we’re forced into some very overwritten situations: the number of cops who apparently walk around telling everyone else that they aren’t as good as them is astounding! Don’t get me wrong: I’ve worked in only-for-the-cash kind of jobs before, and it can be painful when people clearly judge you on your work even though you know you have skills and attributes that far exceed theirs. But I don’t honestly believe that the police sketch artist is the butt of everyone’s jokes, so much as someone with a real talent that helps fight crime. No Ordinary Family takes pains to constantly remind us that Jim has never been able to make as much money as his wife, which is apparently still something to be ashamed about. Yet- whether it’s the character or just the fact that Michael Chiklis is clearly intelligent – I can’t help thinking he could probably take those skills and join a graphic design firm or something. And if he needed to work at the station for storylines, maybe they could have made Jim the janitor? (Or would that have made the family too ordinary for the network’s liking?)
The death of Jim’s superior last week seems to have gone unnoticed, and so it’s back to taking down well-choreographed gangs of jewel thieves. After some trademark wackiness involving mistaken identities and Jim ruining some poor schmuck’s wedding, we get the chase scene and a moment that I thought would change everything. Midway through the proceedings, our hero pursues some criminals up the exterior of a building and – underestimating his own strength – throws one to the ground below. “Great!”, I thought, “Jim’s going to have to face his own abilities, and how he has taken someone’s life.” Boy, was I mistaken. Instead, the perp crash-lands on the hood of a car, still very much alive and doing a comedy audible sigh to prove it. No Ordinary Family isn’t set in a specific city so much as it is set in a sunnier Gotham City (Metropolis?), and in cities like these, henchmen are always working for a supervillain, and as such have no identity. (It’s that old Austin Powers joke where the family of Dr. Evil’s henchman have to accept his death as an occupational hazard.)
At the end of the day, I’m not against this series existing. Honestly. It’s playing to a very wide audience, and I accept that some things have to be overwritten. (Case in point: Stephanie learns that a physical exam is the only thing standing between her and her research grant. A simple look between the women informs us that this is obviously not a great idea. However, we then get a forty-second conversation in which they tell each other exactly why this isn’t a great idea – just in case we didn’t get the premise of the show.) But even within the confines of trying to build a new flagship show for a family-friendly network, there is always room for some experimentation, particularly within the superhero genre!
The problem for me comes more from the series undervaluing the reality of this situation (within the show’s world, at least). The kids’ storylines – about abuse of powers and the need for secrecy – were adequate but nothing to write home about. However, the show seems to think that the stakes of J.J. learning Yiddish to impress a girl are the same as Jim pursuing robbers over rooftops. We’re given no evidence that either Jim or Stephanie can be seriously injured. When Jim comes home with his suit riddled with bullet holes, it’s a moment for a light scolding. I’m not saying this world has to be all shadow and cloud, but at the moment it’s decidedly bubblegum. Stephanie trips at super-speed and gets a few bruises; her husband’s biggest fear is that he’s not being recognised at work. Heck, Jim shows absolutely no concern that his teenage daughter has wandered from her home in the middle of the night and wound up in close proximity to a bunch of armed robbers. Unless No Ordinary Family can make us concerned for these characters, it just becomes a bunch of lovable people (very lovable, I’ll admit: who doesn’t adore Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz?) bringing down nameless bad guys.
I don’t plan to keep watching this show, but I’d come back if we learn that the reason the Powells are in this perpetually sunny city, filled with uncomplaining pothole-fillers and where cops only ever fight jewel heists, is because along with the superpowers, the family got sucked into an actual comic book. See, that would be a very cool and very meta idea for a show, ABC.
* Best line of the episode: JJ’s “I don’t need this tsuris“.
* I had to laugh out loud when George recovered Stephanie’s wedding ring from a later crime scene. So, some random lawyer is allowed to wander into crime scenes, and can somehow pick Stephanie’s ring from what was assumedly several bags of jewellery? Which the thieves had taken with them to a later heist? Those guys need to start selling their loot. Or at least get a locker down by the train station like Ted Danson in Getting Even With Dad. Jeez.
* Also, when Daphne was getting concerned about what her father was up to, it was clearly being played like concern over an affair. Only, since the first seeds of doubt were planted when she saw him dancing with George… is that what she’s concerned about? If so: way to be modern, ABC!