May 26, 2011

[TV] No Ordinary Family: Season 1

No Ordinary Family: Season 1More and more I feel that the superhero TV show genre is cursed. It's very, very rare now that a new superhero-themed TV show manages to get anywhere far and this 2010 US TV season has been especially brutal on the genre. First there was the quick death of The Cape and recently this show received the axe as well.

I guess I'm not too surprised - there seems to be a lot of confusion in Hollywood as what they want to do with superhero TV shows. In the movie world it's a bit easier since you get bigger budgets, ridiculous special effects and a big climactic battle in place of a running plot. But TV is different and it needs a lot more planning, a longer term world view for your characters and a decent enough budget to make both the costumes and the fight scenes decent.

This show suffered a lot of identity issues that were never fully resolved, at least in my opinion. The premise and the fact that it was on ABC would make you think this was going to be some sort of a family-centric comedy. Instead is struggled between the comedy and drama genres and eventually chose drama and kind of sucked at it. There's a lesson here somewhere, but I'm just surprised that I actually finished the entire run of this show.

No Ordinary Family was an ABC superhero family drama created by Greg Berlanti and Jon Harmon Feldman. The show centered around the Powell family and how their life changes once they receive superpowers.

The show begins with the family crash landing in some Amazon rain forest while on a vacation to Brazil. Once back home in California, they slowly start to discover that their accident changed them somehow given each of them have started to manifest superhuman abilities. Jim (Michael Chiklis), the father, has superhuman strength and is almost entirely invulnerable. Stephanie (Julie Benz), the mother, has super speed. Daphne (Kay Panabaker), the older daughter, has telepathy. And JJ (Jimmy Bennett), the son, has super intelligence.

Jim is a police sketch artist but realizes his powers means a chance to really help out in a more significant way. He starts to act as a vigilante with the help of his best friend and assistant district attorney George (Romany Malco). Stephanie uses her role as a scientist at Global Tech to try and better understand their new abilities with the help of her assistant Katie (Autumn Reeser). And the two kids just do what kids would normally do in this situation - use their powers to either make friends or find love. Seriously.

Julie BenzImage via WikipediaThe show very much felt like a Fantastic Four type of adventure, which is ironic considering Chiklis played the Thing in the two FF movies as well. Of course they don't get to really work as a superhero unit since they spend most of the season either hiding their powers from one another, forbidding one another from using their powers and of course secretly using their powers on an individual basis. I suppose it makes sense to a limited degree but the lack of them actually working together made them feel a lot less like the family a lot of us viewers wanted them to be.

The show initially lacked a clear villain to act as a counter to the family. Sure, we all knew that Stephanie's boss, Dr. Dayton King (Stephen Collins) wasn't someone we could trust and was loosely connected to a lot of the bad stuff that would happen to the Powells, he didn't really have a clear goal. And this is not because the goal was a secret that was being kept hidden from viewers throughout the show. If anything, his plan was largely pathetic to the degree that it didn't even count as a plan by the end of the show. I never really understood his motivations or his methodology - he was just a random villain with a new random strategy almost every week.

The show did try to give the Powells a variety of challenges to face given their new abilities. These weren't necessarily good challenges since it mean Jim running after some petty criminal almost every week, Stephanie just being all uptight about something at work and the kids just making a mess of things. The prevalence of super-powered villains was of course artificially driven, but for the most part I suppose the premise sort of worked.

Beyond the usual tropes given their ability set, what annoyed my partner and I the most was how they interpreted JJ's super intelligence. Knowing a lot of things and being able to learn very quickly is all well and good but knowledge never equals skill! In the show JJ would be able to pick up new skills fairly quickly just by reading a book about the subject. No book can ever make you an amazing football player and no matter how well you can work out the formulas for the perfect through, you can't guarantee your non-athletic body can perform the task! But week over week we'd have to deal with JJ being a lot more like Marvel's Taskmaster given his ability to copy other skills fairly quickly. Ridiculous really, but the show needed some sort of gimmick to keep the son relevant.

There was a definitely attempt to accelerate the sense of tension in the latter half of the season - something which may have been a bit too late in terms of saving the show. Introducing other "villain" characters such as Mrs. X (Lucy Lawless) was a definitely attempt to bring in more talent to the show to little avail. And don't get me started on how ridiculous Eric Balfour's character was - just know he was freaky but not very scary.

No Ordinary Family showed a hint of promise during the pilot episode but a lack of clear direction for where the characters were going to go killed it in the end. The series gets 2 pathetic super-powered petty criminals out of a possible 5.

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  1. With me having the biggest crush on Julie Benz, I really wanted to like this show.

    First few episodes was pretty OK. It was slow but then other people with powers came up and it became a bit blah.

    I don't know. I just lost interest with it.

  2. I know what you mean - a large part of me was hoping that they'd figure out what the wanted out of this show and pursue that direction, but sadly that never happened.