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Saturday, 8 of August of 2020

No Ordinary Family – “Pilot”

As part of the new fall season coverage, we’re doing what we call audition reviews for new shows. An audition review doesn’t necessarily mean the show will enter the normal rotation, but it will provide an initial reaction to a new series. Especially in light of time shifting practices, we think this is a valuable way to read brief reviews on new series to help you decide if you want to watch the show. For those who watch it live, it’s a good way to begin a conversation about a new series. These reviews will typically be shorter than our regular reviews, and may include thoughts from more than one of our writers.

Matt’s Take

You’ve all heard the pitch before: No Ordinary Family is a live action version of The Incredibles. There are similarities to be sure, but it quickly (a little too quickly) establishes its world and characters and dives into creating its own mythology.

Through the first act I was not too impressed. For starters, the 3 minute long trailer we were given over the summer made the show come across as cheesy and boring so of course that is what I was expecting going in. The exposition flies by at supersonic speeds, introducing us to the four members of the Powell family, their problems, and crashing their plane in the Amazon River all in about 5 minutes. I understand getting all of that out of the way quick and early but it felt rushed. To top off my early discontent: interview style narration.

I am very very tired of character narration from the perspective of an interview. It is too widely used now and I have become mega jaded by its prevalence. The Office (may it die and finally rest in peace) utilized it very well. Modern Family is probably the last show I will overlook the use of the device. At least The Office had a (loose) reason for using it. Modern Family just kinda does and it looked like No Ordinary Family was going down that same route.

Jim (Michael Chiklis) and Stephanie (Julie Benz) go back and forth in separate interviews talking about their marital and family problems as well as the genesis of their powers. But in the end of the episode we find that they are telling their stories together on the couch of a marriage counselor. Grounding the interview narration into a story element like that won me over not only on the use of the device but on the show.

The characters took some getting used to as well. The episode focuses more closely on the parents so there isn’t as strong a connection with the kids yet (especially JJ (Jimmy Bennet)) but I’m sure it’s coming. One of the great things about the show is that the powers each family member gains can somehow help fill a hole in his/her life.

Jim is a police sketch artist (and failed painter) who feels powerless, wants more both at work and at home. He gains immense power in the forms of invulnerability and super strength. Go ahead and make your Mr. Incredible comparisons but it makes sense for the character and they’re reinforcing patriarchal and masculine archetypes, which could be a whole discussion in and of itself. Jim has a best friend, George (Romany Malco), with whom he shares the secret of his new powers. A lot of the humor in the episode came from the banter of these two as they test the limits of Jim’s abilities. And George builds him a liar. That’s a best friend.

Stephanie is a brilliant scientist who finds herself short on time to do all of the tings she wants to do. She’s spreading herself thin between work, her marriage and her family. So she gets super speed, giving her the ability to get everywhere she needs to go and do everything she needs to do. Katie (Autumn Reeser), Stephanie’s lab tech and resident nerd on the show (Kitty Pryde is her favorite of the X-Men), clocks Stephanie at running over 700 miles per hour. She also serves to explain to the audience why Stephanie’s clothes don’t burn off and why she’s not blinding herself while running.

JJ has a learning disability coupled with a severe case of not giving a shit. He ends up with super intelligence, a no brainer there. Daphne (Kay Panabaker) is a typical misunderstood teenage girl. She gains telepathy. The misunderstood now has the ability to understand everyone.

While the show claims to be a family drama (and at its heart it most certainly is) there are a lot of components to draw in fans looking for more superhero related elements. For one, the effects are great. Hard to believe, I know. They’re most impressive in a fight scene between Jim and someone else with powers near the end of the episode. That brings up two more factors: fight scenes and other people with abilities. Fight scenes aren’t something one typically thinks of when naming characteristics of family drams. This one has them.

Now about others besides the Powell’s having abilities: I am both surprised and excited. It’s inevitable that other gifted individuals would show up on the show, but I wasn’t expecting it this early. I figured we would focus on the family for a while, their own struggle with their abilities, and then introduce some others. But No Ordinary Family leaps right into its universe building. And I love it.

No Ordinary Family is definitely worth watching. It has a great cast (including Stephen Collins as the apparent Big Bad of season 1) and is a great example of successful genre blending. It has a lot of potential. I’d like to see it become what Heroes (may it burn in hell) could have been.

Final Thoughts:

  • The pilot isn’t dead. He’ll be back, with powers, at some point. I’m hoping in a villainous capacity.
  • Mega extra points for use of The Ting Tings.
  • I love Julie Benz in everything she does. The streak continues.

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