4 Issues That Could Make No Ordinary Family Very Ordinary
The premiere of ABC's sci-fi-family-mockumentary-Incredibles update No Ordinary Family did little to hide the fact that these suburban superhumans are pretty damn ordinary. From the looks of the ratings, the Michael Chiklis series seems destined to survive a full season. Or at least longer than Lone Star. In order to do that, though, it will have to survive its list of shortcomings.
Like most pilots, No Ordinary Family spent its duration establishing the characters and why we'll care about them going forward. It wasn't about story, and it didn't need to be -- we just need to understand why this quartet has superpowers and how they can provide more intriguing whizzbang than the average comic strip. They survived an Amazonian plane crash, and now they're weirdly abled. Fine. But here's where it gets shaky.
· Thank God Jim and Stephanie Powell (Chiklis and Julie Benz) upgraded to superhumans, because I don't see how they entertained themselves as average citizens. Jim's nice-guy jocularity and Julie's soft conscientiousness don't even qualify them to visit the Pritchett clan on Modern Family. They're flat. They're the kinds of characters who depend on egregious (yet predictable) plot-twisting to keep us coming back. Their kids Daphne and JJ (Kay Panabaker and Jimmy Bennett) show some verve: Daphne sasses off against a snippy peer, and Jimmy looks and acts like a solemnly sage retread of Keir Gilchrist's character Marshall on United States of Tara -- except without the conflicted sexuality, keen observations, and blips of callousness. No, No Ordinary Family will never be accused of producing brilliant characters -- or even good ones -- but the kids show the potential to evolve into beings with 2+ dimensions.
· But even when the family's extraordinary powers are revealed, we're only treated to expected peculiarities: super strength, super speed, telepathy, and genius abilities. They're at once too obvious and too wonderful. And in the case of Daphne's telepathy and JJ's smarts, they provide the dramatic tension of a '90s Nickelodeon romp -- to be exact, The Secret World of Alex Mack, with all of its teen angst and kooky mental tricks building into a television experience that's at best cute and at worst silly. When JJ stares at the school chalkboard and mentally turns the obstacle course of geometric drawings into gold-tinged solutions, I seriously had a flashback to Larisa Oleynik's brush with GC-161.
· I hoped that ABC's vapid My Generation would kill off the mockumentary format for good, but No Ordinary Family might do it first. They've (sort of cleverly, I admit) turned the confessionals into family psychiatry sessions, but the effect of their revelations is the same: tender moments with teary eyes and sputtered realizations. And did we glean anything new from Stephanie opining, "In the morning, there's that split second just before you wake up when the world hasn't pressed itself in on your chest"? Or Jim Powell realizing why his clan wasn't such an ordinary family to begin with? Because they seems like par Meredith Grey musings from here.
· Joining NBC's Chuck and Fox's Glee, No Ordinary Family is ABC's attempts to posit kiddy TV as offbeat primetime material. In fact, the "primetime" placement is all that's fascinating about No Ordinary Family thus far. This series would blend in anonymously on ABC Family -- and it's just as worthy of a Big 3 timeslot as Make It or Break It. In fact, I might prefer watching literal gymnastics to a family of smiling ciphers who sometimes do tricks.