With Heroes officially canceled, ABC attempts to fill television’s void of a superhero drama with No Ordinary Family. Centered around a subtle family drama, No Ordinary Family tells the story of the Powell family who after going on vacation and surviving a plane crash, realize that they have acquired select abilities.
In an attempt to tap into the 18-24 market while appeasing their current audience, ABC is combining a superhero storyline with a family drama - something that the network is specifically known for. As the film industry now relies heavily on superhero films to garner large audiences, television is attempting the same… while hopefully learning from the mistakes of past series of the same genre.
Will ABC be able to succeed where others have failed?
Preview (courtesy of ABC)
The Powell family must learn to deal with the super powers each has mysteriously acquired after the crash of their plane in the Amazon River. Jim discovers that he has the power of super strength and immediately feels a new sense of purpose and empowerment. With the aid of his best friend and confidant, George, he sets his sights on becoming a hero. Stephanie struggles to balance her family life with working 80 hours a week as an award-winning scientist, and after developing the power of speed, she can now move effortlessly through her daily responsibilities. Always the scientist, Stephanie immediately questions the phenomenon and, with the aid of her lab tech, Katie, the two begin to research the mystery behind the powers. For 16-year-old Daphne, she turns telepathic and hears other people's hopes, dreams, fears and joys, whether she cares to or not. And 14-year-old JJ struggles constantly to satisfy his parents and teachers as he grapples with a learning disability and bad grades. But he suddenly finds his mental abilities strengthened to a super genius level.
For a series such as No Ordinary Family, there’s no way to present this type of show without the comparison to Heroes. While it’s a fair comparison at first, No Ordinary Family attempts to separate itself from such parallels by blending a typical superhero story with a family drama. Admittedly, at first glance, this doesn’t sound like an interesting prospect as viewers have become accustom to cheap ploys from the network attempting to cash in on today’s milieu.
Fortunately, No Ordinary Family has found a perfect balance between these two genres. Although, I can’t deny that the superhero aspect of this series is the most interesting. That being said, the family drama portions aren’t so heavy handed and often pertain to the superhero side as well. So, even if you’re not a fan of family togetherness, each scene of that nature more or less propels the story to the next superhero feat.
Of course, not every aspect of the superhero storyline works - namely the origin of the family’s powers. Although, to the credit of the producers, they attempt to quickly move on past the horribly conceived power origins and by the time the pilot reaches the 7-minute mark, the family is ready to start their journey of discovering their powers.
Each of the powers gained are directly related to the weaknesses present in each of the character's lives. Jim Powell, who is unhappy with the direction in which is life is headed, receives super-strength. Stephanie Powell, struggling to keep up with her hectic schedule and inability to spend quality time with her family, gains super-speed. Daphne Powell, unable to understand the expectations of those around her, becomes telepathic. JJ Powell, the youngest member of the family who’s struggling to comprehend simple school arithmetic, becomes super intelligent.
While initially the power correlations feels a bit tongue-in-cheek, the characters newfound abilities really help progress their individual storylines while giving a natural sense of reality when the characters explore their enhanced dexterity. In many aspects, No Ordinary family represents what the typical person would attempt if he/she were to receive superpowers.
Like any great superhero story, the intrigue comes from not only the abilities of each character, but also their weaknesses. As fans of Heroes have previously witnessed, over-powered characters (Sylar) can be entertaining at first, but eventually those weighted personalities become stale as it is almost impossible to provide the rich character development that viewers now look for.
With that, we soon find out that Jim Powell is nowhere near as strong, or as invincible, as he originally thought. Sure, he can lift 11,000lbs and jump a quarter of a mile in any direction, but after the humble police sketch artist begins moonlighting as real-life superhero, the truth sets in as a shot to the back of the head forces him to call for help. As for Stephanie, while she can run at 485 miles per hour, doing so burns up a lot of calories. So, in a sense, she has to continuously nourish herself or else the use of her powers will quickly kill her. No weaknesses have been revealed to the powers of the kids, yet.
Refreshingly, the members of the newly dubbed "no ordinary family" don't shield their abilities from those around them. While they're far from "shouting from the rooftops," they do confide in select members of their inner circle (as anyone would do) in an attempt to better understand the true extent of their power. Jim has his best friend, who ultimately builds him a secret lair (with wi-fi) and Stephanie has her assistant who, while provide accurate calculations of her speed, can also help in the discovery of why this is happening to them.
As with any superhero series, there’s always a twist – an antagonist, per se. In that, we find out the Powell’s aren’t the only ones with abilities. It’s not like Heroes though, where everyone has superpowers, but we are briefly introduced to a new character who has the abilities of Nightcrawler from the X-Men. While his appearance is unfortunately brief, he does serve to enlighten Jim that “something is going on.”
In the original pilot for this series, the episode ends soon after, but upon watching the finished, final air version, it appears that they tacked on an “interesting” sub-plot. As the episode comes to a close, we find out that the Nightcrawler-esque character works for Stephanie’s boss, Dr. Dayton King. On some level, I understand that they’re attempting to hook viewers and keep them tuning in, but this final scene feels cheap and the “amazing revelation” is completely convoluted.
In a sense, many aspects of No Ordinary Family can be considered convoluted, but they don’t take away from the core elements of the series. Sure, Stephanie Powell being a high-level scientist is a bit “on-the-nose” as the family gains superpowers, but it’s only an element of the series. Although, with the newly introduced ending and subplot, I’m not sure if I feel as strongly for No Ordinary Family as I once did.
With an extremely talented cast, entertaining story-arc and realistic character development, No Ordinary Family and ABC accomplished what NBC and Heroes haven’t been able to do for the past 3 years – produce an entertaining superhero drama that will have viewers tuning in week-after-week. Although, with the newlyfound ending and sub-plot, I'm not sure if that intrigue will last.
No Ordinary Family airs Tuesday's @8pm, on ABC
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