If I’m watching a TV show, movie or medieval pantomime, and I start rewriting and recasting the production in my head, it’s a pretty sure sign that something’s amiss. I’ve been somewhat suspicious of ABC’s No Ordinary Family from the beginning. I couldn’t help drawing the obvious comparisons to Fantastic Four and The Incredibles. I mean, they cast Michael Chiklis and everything. But even familiar territory can be given a new spin from time to time, so I tried to keep an open mind. However, as I watched the premiere of No Ordinary Family not once, but twice, I couldn’t help imagining (or re-imagining) what could have been.
First of all, I wondered what the show would be like if it weren’t about the whitest family in the world. What if an Asian or Latino or mixed-race family suddenly developed superpowers? I guess we’ll never know, because only white families ever get blasted with gamma rays or drenched in radioactive goo? But even if they needed to be white for some reason, I imagined what it would be like if, instead of being affluent, the family was working class, struggling with whether to use their powers for monetary gain or for purely altruistic reasons. My mind wandered away from the awkward pairing of Julie Benz and Michael Chiklis and started watching the new show going on in my head. Which is why I ended up watching the pilot twice. I kept confusing the show in my head for the blandness on my screen.
I respect the superhero genre, and while there’s no escaping the tropes and archetypes necessary in superhero storytelling (especially origin stories), I do believe there’s still plenty of opportunity to do something original with it. To say something new. A disconnected family is not a bad place to start, but No Ordinary Family leaves all the other super clichés in place, sometimes with really lazy results. For instance, I expected the writers to formulate some reason for Julie Benz to start running, in order to discover her new super speed. I was predicting her car wouldn’t start or that she would find herself in the wrong terminal at the airport, some situation where she’d suddenly need to run, out of necessity and desperation. But no, she summarizes her busy schedule, then takes off running down the freeway. She just started running. For no reason. The other characters discover their powers in considerably more organic ways, but I couldn’t get over the missed opportunity to drive home the idea that we lead ridiculously overscheduled lives and what that can lead to.
The cast is talented. Even Julie Benz, who I have to admire for somehow never leaving an impression on an audience. Plus, Michael Chiklis not only has impressive acting chops, but superhero cred as well. And he’s kind of hot. Rounding out the newly superpowered Powell family are Jimmy Bennett and Kay Panabaker, playing your typical surly teenagers who may not be the brightest bulbs around, but know that mom works too much (for a woman?) and dad is slowly dying inside.
Pilots are tricky, and they can be deceiving. With the origin story out of the way, maybe No Ordinary Family will start playing with the precepts of the genre and tell a unique story about a family facing extraordinary circumstances. More than anything, No Ordinary Family needs to earn its title.
No Ordinary Family airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on ABC.