By Jordan Walker
ABC’s new sci-fi/family comedy/drama hybrid “No Ordinary Family” has intrigued me all summer with its premise. A regular family gets superpowers after surviving a plane crash, then tries to figure out how to use them in everyday life. I wasn’t interested because of the hero aspect, but the setting of the series caught my eye. How are normal, everyday suburban people going to cope with something that’s going to change their lives forever?
We don’t exactly get the answer from the first episode, but we do receive a proper introduction to all of the characters. The cast of “No Ordinary Family” is led by Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor Michael Chiklis (who isn’t a stranger to superhero dramas, as he played The Thing in the 2005 action movie “Fantastic Four” and its 2007 sequel) as the patriarch of the Powell family. Julie Benz plays his breadwinning wife, Stephanie. Kay Panabaker plays their teenage daughter Daphne, a typical teenager who is always stuck to her phone, and Jimmy Bennett plays youngest son, JJ, who has a learning disorder.
The pilot didn’t dwell too much on the actual South American vacation and cause of the accident. It was a very swift three- to- five-minute scene. The family boards a tiny plane and, bad weather causes the engine to go out midflight. Although the plane lands in the Amazon River, the whole family survives the plane crash, avoids drowning, and heads home with only scratches and bruises.
The show was at its best when following around Chiklis’ emasculated Jim, who gets no respect from his co-workers for being a sketch artist for the local police station. He struggles with his feelings of failure at home, since he’s not the sole breadwinner and sees his family going separate ways right in front of his eyes. It was his idea to take the vacation since he was feeling his family “drifting away.” Benz also does a great job of playing the uncommon television wife role, working 80 hours a week, and being out of touch with her home life.
Half way through the pilot, however, I started to see flaws. The superpowers that each character has are useful to that person, but are very stereotypical for that particular character to have. It would have been nice to see something a little more inventive. Jim gets super strength, so he can get shot without harm being done, catch bullets, and jump hundreds of feet in the air. This power will probably allow his character to develop, and begin earning respect from his co-workers on the police force. Stephanie has the most boring power of all, super speed. But it works for her as a mother on the go who doesn’t have enough time between work and her family. Daphne gets the coolest powers, being able to hear what people are thinking before they say it – a power that everybody could have used in high school. At first, JJ doesn’t get any powers and feels left out from the rest of the family. It isn’t until he’s in class taking a math test that he realizes he’s become a math-wiz. We don’t know if it’s just math, or if he will soon become a super genius at everything.
Another apparent flaw of the series seems to be that the show doesn’t have a defined genre. The show tries to be a gritty cop/buddy drama, with Chiklis fighting crime with his best friend George St. Cloud (Romany Malco) and his superior detective Yvonne Cho (Christina Chang). Then it transitions into a medical-type show when it focuses on Benz and her career as a research scientist. The next scene feels like you’re watching a teenage soap opera on ABC Family, when the focus shifts to Daphne and her boyfriend troubles. There was also a tiny hit of “Modern Family,” when both Jim and Stephanie talk into the camera to explain their powers. This adds to the unnecessary amount of clutter in the show. In one of the final scenes, we find that they are in fact talking to their therapist Dr. Young (Stephen Collins). Sadly, the cop, medical, “Modern Family” – esque “talk to the camera” therapy session seems to be a recurring thing on the show. The show is most interesting when it focuses on the family. When the core cast is together doing family activities, like trying to figure out why they have the powers, the show hits its stride, and that’s where it should stay permanently.
The show’s creator and writer, Greg Berlanti, has created other family-driven ABC shows, such as “Brothers & Sisters.” If Berlanti does what he does best, and that’s telling family oriented stories, “No Ordinary Family” will be one of the top shows on my must watch list. But it will take a few more weeks to make that call.