ABC’s No Ordinary Family joins the ranks of The 4400 and Heroes by bestowing fantastical abilities to ordinary television archetypes. Indeed, the title is only a half-truth. Sure, most families cannot spy on your thoughts or outrun a bullet train but trust me: you’ve seen these people before.
Michael Chiklis (The Shield) plays patriarch Jim Powell, a police sketch artist who is still waiting to live the dream, though I’m not clear if that means being on display at MOMA or expensing donuts. He has essentially found a way onto the bottom rung of two completely different professions at the same time, so I guess he has some right to be a bit downtrodden.
Jim’s wife Stephanie (Julie Benz, Dexter) is a respected scientist at a place that does respectful science. His daughter Daphne (Kay Panabaker) is exactly what you imagine when I say ‘high school girl with a monumental texting plan.’Son JJ (Jimmy Bennett, Star Trek) is a mildly outcast youth with a learning disability that can only be overcome by healthy doses of green Amazonian phosphorescence.
The pilot episode of No Ordinary Family wastes absolutely no time initiating the origin story of the Powells. Jim wants to take a trip to bring the family together. They get on a rickety plane in Brazil. It goes down in the Amazon River, where some strange green glowing goo envelops our heroes. The pilot dies but the family survives. Cue title card.
This entire sequence of events was a bit haphazard and could have benefited from utilizing the entire length of the pilot, rather than just the first few minutes. Also awkwardly presented is the family’s return home after the most traumatic event of their entire lives. Everything is completely status quo. Stephanie walks through the door on her cell phone talking business, Daphne is texting, and JJ is playing his PSP. There is not even a moment of ‘Our plane crashed in a remote South American river and we watched our pilot die and we escaped and were left shivering in the jungle for an undisclosed period of time during which all manner of unholy atrocities were imposed upon us. Home sweet home!’
Then they continue on with their lives, and no one else seems to care about their brush with death. Jim’s coworkers still subtly degrade him, Daphne only gets a cursory expression of relief about her safety from her boyfriend, and Stephanie gets openly mocked by a co-worker in a board room meeting.
Thankfully things start to pick up when the family begins to discover their powers. Jim learns of his super strength when he catches a bullet fired inside the precinct. Stephanie surprises herself with super speed when leaving the office. Daphne starts hearing people’s thoughts during a basketball game. JJ mopes for a while, but that’s not his ability. No, it appears that JJ’s true ability is smarts. He begins seeing the answers to math equations during a test that he clearly didn’t know beforehand. Let’s take a moment and break this down…
Jim’s power is super strength and the ability to jump really high. Sure, some genetic mutation could make this happen. Stephanie can run really fast. I’ll buy that. Daphne can read minds. The mutation has opened her up to utilize parts of her brain that normal humans cannot in order to communicate telepathically. I’m still with you, NOF.
But how can a genetic mutation instill in someone the knowledge of something that they don’t already know? Albert Einstein had to be taught the alphabet. It’s not inherent knowledge because man created it. So how can this mutative ability make JJ see equations and numbers that are not natural, but manmade constructs? On the other hand, I suppose one could argue that the power gives him the tools to process information better. He has a learning disability that robs him of the ability to follow formulae and the power compensates for that.
Now that I’m done picking apart this pilot I’ll say that it does have quite a lot going for it. It has a much lighter tone than something like Heroes and should be easy in which to settle. Chiklis and Benz are likeable in their roles, and the kids will surely develop over time. We’re also introduced to a villain who displays powers, so it’s nice to know that the show won’t just be about overpowered people fighting underpowered schlubs.
As I mentioned earlier, this episode would have certainly benefited from a tighter focus, specifically on the time spent in the Amazon. Things certainly felt rushed here, and by the end we had established everyone’s power, the new family dynamic, and a big bad that will surely provide plenty of villainy and dimly lit rooms. I’m intrigued to see what adventures await the Powells, and now that we have dispatched with the formal introductions I believe we’re in for a fun time.