Meet the Powells. This picture-perfect family seems to have lost their footing, shaking their family to the core. The destructive teenage years have taken effect. Jim (Michael Chiklis), the father and husband, struggles to return his family to that magical moment when their happiness seemed to be indestructible. A time when their daughter, Daphne (Kay Pnabaker), wasn’t superglued to her cell phone and their son, J.J. (Jimmy Bennett), wasn’t struggling in school.
He wants to return to a moment in their life when finding time for romance with his overworked and over-scheduled wife, Stephanie (Julie Benz), wasn’t just a silly daydream.
One vacation and a plane crash later, the Powells return home. They are not, however, reunited by their near death experience. Instead they are forced together by the shocking revelation that they have been given superhuman abilities.
Meet the Powells again. Same people, same problems, but now Jim can catch bullets and jump five city blocks at a time. Stephanie is finally finding more time on her hands when she realizes she can run a mile in under six seconds. J.J. suddenly isn’t struggling so much in school now that he has super smarts and Daphne is hearing her friend’s thoughts in addition to her own. Nothing brings a family together like a good plane crash in a florescent lake of superpowers.
As I began to write this, I found myself struggling with the same dilemmas I had while watching ABC’s newest drama, “No Ordinary Family.” I wrote and re-wrote several different openings varying from the popularity of family dramas over the past couple of years to my soft spot for superheroes (which is why I am still watching “Smallville” despite all logic). This struggle of finding the right angle from which to describe the show encapsulates the way I felt throughout the first hour of this series.
Creator Greg Berlanti (“Brothers and Sisters” and “Everwood”) constructed a world for these characters where there is just a hell of a lot going on. We jump from story to story without enough concentration on one to fully embrace the character or the plot.
It’s no surprise that the pilot’s strongest angle came with the discovery of each new power. Who doesn’t love a good origin story? It’s what made “Smallville,” the early years, a legitimately good show and it’s the reason neither sequel to “Spiderman” came even close to living up to the first.
Sidekicks are immediately established in Jim’s friend George (Romany Malco), who wastes no time in building a secret lair (complete with Wi-Fi), and Stephanie’s lab assistant Katie (Autumn Reeser), who is more than willing to time her boss as she races around a horse track to test her speed. These scenes were the most fun in the episode and Chiklis and Benz did a great job reacting to the excitement of their new gifts.
The family scenes, for the most part, were less fun. Some of the dialogue felt forced and unnatural, which could be a trap of the pilot episode in itself. It is hard to know how the chemistry of a cast will develop in relation to the writers’ stories over time.
One scene in which the family confronted one another about what was happening to them provided the one moment in the episode in which I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to see more of.’ The honesty of Daphne at her parents’ ignorance and the way J.J. felt completely left out were real. Several times Jim and Stephanie’s interactions just felt like someone picked up a book of clichés and said ‘Hey why not this one.’ The family is the foundation of the story. I hope this is the place that the show will focus on, analyzing the key aspects of their lives as opposed to jumping from story to story without ever really landing.
“No Ordinary Family” has the potential to be an extraordinary show. It is hard to locate a delicate balance between family and fantasy. From what I saw, it could be worthwhile to watch the Powells as they embark on their heroic journey.
“No Ordinary Family” airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.
Rosenberg is a member of the class of 2012.