Mix The Incredibles, Heroes, and Modern Family together and what do you get? Arguably, a bloody mess, particularly if you use one of those Magic Bullet blenders. Fortunately, No Ordinary Family escapes this fate. Although the pilot is bit too facile, the adult leads are likable and sympathetic in their roles, and the show has a buoyant energy, which honestly, is more than I expected. The jury's still out on the kids, though.
The Powells are drifting apart -- an all-too-ordinary tale. When scientist-mom Stephanie (Julie Benz: Darla, Angel; Rita, Dexter) has to travel to Belém, Brazil for work, unfulfilled police sketch artist-dad Jim (Michael Chiklis: The Commish and The Shield) decides the whole fam-damnily should go with her. Son JJ (Jimmy Bennett) and daughter Daphne (Kay Panabaker) comply only because they must. Their trip goes as expected, with everyone ignoring everyone else -- especially poor old dad, so he insists they take a prop plane to the rain forest for a little family time. Of course, they then crash into a phosphorescent phlebotinum-rich section of the Amazon River. Their pilot, Mitch, is presumed dead, but the Powells swim safely to shore. We don't see how they get back home from the rainforest, which I found disappointing. It might have been interesting to see their powers emerge while they were lost in the wilderness. Since they're even more lost in suburbia, though, perhaps this way is better.
Their near-death experience inspires the Powells to tighten their family ties, but as soon as they're back home, that dream goes up in smoke, faster than you can say "Tommy Chong." As they go about their daily business, they find things aren't quite back to normal. Jim, who has been struggling with feelings of inferiority, develops super-strength and the ability to leap tall buildings (and other distances of up to 1/4 of a mile) in a single bound. He finds he's also adept at stopping speeding bullets with his hand (his neck -- less so), and is generally invulnerable. Harried and hurried Stephanie now has super-speed, for which any mother would trade her eyeteeth. Virgin Daughter (I know, but the show dearly and clearly cares) Daphne, who has been suspicious of the wrong people, can now read minds, and learning-disabled son JJ turns into Good Will Hunting, just in time for a math test.
Their powers are, for now, a boon to everyone but Daphne. Thanks to her brand-spanking-new telepathy, she learns her "your-love's-worth-the-wait" boyfriend Lucas has been patient because he's been hooking up with her BFF. This results in the expected, including some WHINING that the writers better dial down a notch if they want the audience to stick around.
The whining is balanced out by Stephanie and Jim's respective sidekicks Katie (Autumn Reeser) and George (Romany Malco), who don't waste our time pretending the Powells' super-powers don't exist, and are genuinely delighted and amazed by them, like actual people would be. George even builds Jim a hi-tech lair, with Wi-Fi. Still, even super-powered marriages hit a few bumps, so Jim and Stephanie decide to go for marriage counseling and end up telling the counselor everything. He finds it all hard to swallow. I find it makes the show narration-heavy, and hope the writers will use a lighter touch with voice-overs, now that all the pilot exposition is out of the way.
Mix The Incredibles, Heroes, and Modern Family together and what do you get? Arguably, a bloody mess, particularly if you use one of those Magic Bullet blenders. Fortunately, No Ordinary Family escapes this fate. Although the pilot is bit too facile, the adult leads are likable and sympathetic in their roles (although the jury's still out on the kids) and are blessed with dynamic, pleasant sidekicks. Here, let me show you...
We open with police sketch artist-dad Jim Powell (Michael Chiklis: The Commish and The Shield) giving a talking-head segment about his wife, kids and life. Oh, Ricky Gervais, what hath thou wrought? Have we now forgotten how to do scripted television without this sort of device? It was so fresh when The Office (UK) burst on the scene. It was still fun when the U.S version of The Office debuted, but as that was years ago, I'm still trying to figure out why the sitcom Modern Family is doing it. Now, if you've read any couple of my recaps, you know I'll employ the occasional aside (or parenthetical)...(see). It's not like I don't get the why this is fun. And hey, I'm a child of the 80s. I still get a kick out of Ferris Bueller breaking the fourth wall, but I think I'm ready to watch a show where the characters don't assume someone is paying attention to their lives. Why can't they think they're floundering in obscurity? You know, like the rest of us. In the case of No Ordinary Family, we'll later learn Jim Powell and his wife mostly do think they're floundering in obscurity. They are just giving their backstory to a couples' therapist. Thank goodness for small favors, but I still spent the lion's share of the episode feeling otherwise, and was not at all happy with it, which is why I'm revealing the set-up, right up front for you. I am grateful there's no docudrama premise here, so I'll end this digression, and get back to the Powells. I just want TV to know I'm ready to welcome non-narrated fictional TV back into my life with arms, eyes and ears wide open. Anyhow...
About the Powells: they are drifting apart on the sea of post-modernity. Mom Stephanie (Julie Benz: Darla, Angel; Rita, Dexter) has a successful but demanding career as a scientist. Son JJ (Jimmy Bennett) struggles with a learning disability, when he's not lost in the boob-tube, and the Most Blessed Virgin Daughter Daphne really likes text messaging, her boyfriend Lucas, and holding fast to her virtue while bitching about it. And Jim? He needs to read some Betty Friedan, acknowledge his struggle with The Problem That Has No Name and get a life.
Stephanie has to travel to Belém, Brazil for work, so Jim proposes a family get-away. The kids truly suck so they don't want to go to freaking Brazil, but they're going and that's it. We cut to Belém, and as the Powells head across the tarmac to a propeller plane, Jim hollers that they're going on a sunset tour of the rain forest and they're going to have a good time whether they like it or not. Heh. There'll be no sunset tonight, though. Their pilot Mitch (reportedly played by Tate Donovan, but who can tell with this lighting and camera work) flies them straight into a storm of bad CGI. When one of the engines bursts into flame, Our Maiden of the Hymen cries "We're going to die and I haven't even done it yet" (no really, she does). After some Meaningful Looks between Jim and Stephanie, we're subjected to more narration. At that moment, Jim can't figure how his family ended up not only endangered, but so fractured.
We flash back to some washed-out scenes of a family touch football game, long ago and far away, when the kids were little and had no whiny, petulant dialogue. And somehow the film editors manage to shave 50 pounds off Jim's beefy frame. Once upon a time, the Powells were perfect, you see. Flash forward to a brief talking-head in which Jim confesses he was happier during those days. Now there's more voice-over narration: "If there is a downside to your family being the center of your world, it's that eventually, all families grow up." We watch as Jim's kids reject his invitation to toss the football around, and then to scenes of Stephanie's professional success. Narrator Jim says he's happy for her, but he misses "us." They may all live under the same roof, but in different rooms and that is how they got here (which we'll later learn is the therapist's couch). It's also when I first thought of telling my editors my TV blew up and I would be unable to complete this weecap. I'm glad I changed my mind, because it gets better, but this first stretch of the show is killing me.
Back in the present, the plane crashes in the water. Mitch is presumed dead, but the Powells find one another. Jim: "Fortunately, we all survived. [...] We held each other close, vowing a new beginning to things -- sincere, heart-felt promises." Promises that evaporate by the time the family returns home. Jim is noticeably discouraged, so Stephanie makes a half-hearted promise for a romantic date night, to remind them of how good they are together. Jim nods, but his smile never reaches his eyes.
Alone at the batting cages with his friend D.A. George St. Cloud (Romany Malco), Jim praises Stephanie's success while bemoaning his failure as an artist, dissatisfaction with his transition to police sketch artist, and the fact that they're now (cue Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin) living separate lives. The twice-divorced George gives Jim a business card which turns out to be for a divorce attorney, but that's just a mistake. He then hands Jim a card for a couples' therapist -- one both of George's ex-wives wanted him to see -- one George refused to see, both times. Jim takes it, because he "gets" it.