I love Fall TV. All the new shows come out, we get to see familiar faces run around in new attires, and the chances for new favorite stories and characters to arrive is given it’s opportunity. There are a ton of great shows on right now that just started, but one brand new show that falls into our sphere here at MC is ABC’s new family comedy/drama, No Ordinary Family. It’s ABC’s new “super” show from Marc Guggenheim. The last Guggenheim show failed to take off with audiences (Eli Stone), but I’m willing to always give a new show an opportunity – especially if I have to review it anyway.
For this, I will also be adopting the “David” method of reviewing, as opposed to my normal sense of essay/rants. Hopefully this will allow me to focus a bit more and bring to you the reviews you so crave. Either way, take a look after the jump for my thoughts on the first episode of this new series.
Synopsis: An average family comprised of the standard “nuclear” elements is in a bit of an emotional rut together, only to find themselves each given special abilities, causing them to reevaluate their opinions of one another as a family as well as giving each member a newfound appreciation of their otherwise ordinary lives.
What Was Good: Well, if you look at this strictly from the idea of a “family comedy” aspect, quite a fair bit, actually. It’s not an outstanding show, but it delivers exactly what it needs to in it’s first hour. A show like this needs several things to work, and that includes a specific tonality as well as an enjoyable cast. Putting Michael Chiklis in here makes me enjoy it just for him, and Romany Malko makes for a good backup. Already they are the two most likable characters on the show, because they seem the most earnest and less reliant on stereotypes than the others.
For all intents and purposes, this makes for an entertaining hour of television. I like the idea of superhero families, especially in light of Chiklis and his role in the Fantastic Four. While not taking the direct powerset, there are obvious connections one could make to No Ordinary Family in that regard. On top of that, it gently lays the seeds out of something bigger in terms of scope to allow a plausible hook for us to continue to watch. The question of what exactly gave them their powers is under question, and during a well choreographed fight scene with Nightcrawler, a quick line of dialogue alludes to other super people out there. It’s not something that’s done in a very tacky way or in an overbearing sense, but it’s enough of a nudge that we have a plot device that can run through episodes.
That’s an important thing to note: just watching a show about a family with superpowers who don’t use their superpowers in public isn’t going to work. Guggenheim has a good sense for snarky dialogue and has shown this in comics especially in the past, but he also has a lot of heart in his work. It’s clear that’s what he wants to deliver here: a show about a family, a show about heart. Unlike other recent super shows on rival networks, the goal is not to have a big conspiracy pushing the show with mysterious helixes, but rather for us to get an emotional bond with these characters as they develop these new abilities. I think that the seeds for this are planted well enough to carry the show along for a bit.
What Was Bad: This is where I get nitpicky, because ultimately I saw more of the bad than the good with the pilot.
First of all, the way they get their powers? Meh. I understand this is something that will be explained as we go along, because it’s clear that the story of the mysterious water in the Amazon doesn’t end there. There’s going to be something behind this that will assumedly be explained towards the end of the season, or perhaps even near a midseason break. It’s a place they want to build – it’s just a silly place to start building. Mysterious glowing water in a conveniently placed plane crash? Meh.Continued below
Second, the powerset? Wow. The powers generally feel uninspired here. Chiklis is a big guy, so what is his power? To be strong. Not invulnerable or anything like that, but he’s strong. He can also leap tall buildings in a not-so-single bound. How does that work? Where is the corollary between jumping and lifting? It seems kind of run of the mill to me. Meanwhile, Julie Benz can run fast, Kay Panabaker can read minds, and – arguably the most egregious power of all – Jimmy Bennett is smart. That is his power. He now knows math. A kid who was once an imbecile can suddenly do mathematics and pass a test? Eh.
Super speed, super strength, and telekinesis are all run of the mill super powers, whereas the first villain can teleport. The creativity is there, but the implementation isn’t.
Lastly, I’m not crazy on the cast. The two new kids – Jimmy Bennett and Kay Panabaker – both have rather bland performances. They’re clearly actors who need time to grow, but as of now they’re largely based on stereotypes of the average assumption for high school teens. It’s not something I find myself at all enamored with. The girl has boy issues because she doesn’t want to sleep with him, the boy is an idiot. Well, ok. Additionally, I already have an unfortunate predisposition to not liking Julie Benz from her role as Rita on Dexter. Chiklis and Malco are the only two I really like, but somehow I don’t see them being able to carry the show on their backs alone.
Overall: No Ordinary Family has the cards stacked against it. I don’t think anyone is really looking for a superhero family dramedy at the moment, and unless this show proves itself in a truly unique category, I can’t see it really lasting. The pilot is enjoyable enough watch in a “oh, that’s cute,” way, but so far I still think I should be watching Glee over on Fox in this time slot. NOF needs something unique to it, something that really makes it’s version of this kind of story one that I should be watching over any other family dramedy on the air right now. Shows like this feel like a dime a dozen, and I’m really hoping that adding superpowers gives this show an opportunity to find a niche to stick out in.
As of now, No Ordinary Family is a rather ordinary show. I do, however, find the pilot “cute” enough to cross my fingers and hope for a better second episode. It just needs to move beyond tropes and expectations and really become it’s own entity for this to last more than a season.