No Ordinary Family is the latest television show from Greg Berlanti, creator of Eli Stone, Brothers and Sisters, and Everwood. The show will be the first that the public gets to see of how Berlanti is able to write superheroes, which is important because he is the screenwriter for the impending Green Lantern and Flash films. The cast has names and faces that nerds may be familiar with: Michael Chiklis was Ben Grimm/Thing in the first two Fantastic Four movies; Julie Benz was Darla in Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Jimmy Bennett played a young Captain Kirk in Star Trek; and if you think Kay Panabaker looks familiar, it’s because her sister controlled plants in Sky High. So with so much going for it how does No Ordinary Family stack up on its own and against it’s predecessor, Heroes?
Chiklis is Jim Powell, a failed artist who becomes sketch artist for a local precinct is married to Stephanie (Benz), a successful scientist at the top of a pharmaceutical company. In her rush of ambition, Stephanie has neglected parenting her teenage children Daphne and JJ (Panabaker and Bennett), leaving Jim to be the desperate househusband, fracturing the family. As a last-ditch effort to help the family reconnect, the Jim and the kids join Stephanie on a trip to the Amazon, where they have a near-death experience, surviving a plane crash. The Powells return home and discover how much the trip changed their lives.
What’s wonderful about the show is that it starts well and ends well. Michael Chiklis delivering the opening lines of the pilot in his bright and cheery tone is captivating and succinctly establishes a tone that greatly differs from most other origin movies and, most notably, Heroes. This is also reflected in the general look of the show that is full of light and golds, compared to the somber blues, grays, and shadows that were synonymous with its NBC predecessor. Because the parents are more excited at the possibility and convenience that their powers afford them, the episode doesn’t drag, so I was more forgiving of the clumsiness with which the story developed. Especially at the end—with a good twist that surprised me—No Ordinary Family manages to introduce so much in such a short amount of time that I think any fan of superheroes will want to stick around and see where Berlanti and the writers go with the world they’ve created.
What’s strange is that for the first time, something felt off with Berlanti’s dialogue. We’ve seen him write high-schoolers well (Everwood) and nail the family dynamics of not-so-average people (Brothers and Sisters). So why does this show seem so stiff, and lacking in heart/sincerity? The main culprit is that the pilot episode chooses to do in 42 minutes what most summertime blockbusters barely accomplish in two hours. Berlanti valiantly tries to set up the family obtaining their powers while also contrasting the dynamics between the characters pre and post power up. On top of that, the show must also indoctrinate the viewers with the daily lives of the four characters and their woes. Sadly, the pilot bites off more than it can chew. The children don’t get anywhere near as much attention as the parents, leaving the daughter with a flat characterization as an average girl with boy troubles, and the son trailing behind with some unknown learning disability. And as a whole, the Powells’ problems seem to exist only as a point of contrast to where they end up at the end of the episode. Rather than showing how dysfunctional the family is, Daphne merely exclaims her dissatisfaction during a meltdown tangential to the subject of a family meeting.
So, while No Ordinary Family isn’t without it’s flaws, it does manage to successfully hook the viewer with the promise of where the show could ultimately go. The show gets past much of the exposition that plagued Heroes and most comic-to-movie adaptations in the first episode, ending up in a place reminiscent of the last moments of The Incredibles. I think it’s worth a watch.
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