No Ordinary Family – Pilot (S01E01) – Episode review

The cast of No Ordinary Family

I read Dan’s lukewarm review of the No Ordinary Family pilot, and almost didn’t watch it. But after the debacle that Heroes became, I have high hopes for a superhero series that doesn’t suck. Wouldn’t that be nice?

It’s a pilot episode, so what’s the show about? Well, the show wastes no time in showing typical nuclear family – stressed out parents and teenagers more connected to various electronic devices that they are to real life. In an effort to get everybody to spend time together, dad Jim (Michael Chiklis) suggests that the family tag along on a research trip wife Stephanie (Julie Benz) is going on.

That’s how they end up in a rickety aircraft, in a thunderstorm, crashing into a river in the middle of the Amazon. But whatever’s in the water bestows the dysfunctional foursome with fabulous super-powers. You know the drill by now.

We’re not going to be able to avoid comparisons with firstly The Incredibles, the awesome animated superhero family, and secondly Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four should spring to mind because Michael Chiklis played The Thing in the two Hollywood movies, but also because after ‘the incident’, the family’s powers don’t immediately manifest – it’s only when they’re back home that strange things begin to happen.

So far, it’s incredibly textbook. Daddy gets super-strength and a degree of invulnerability, Mommy gets super-speed with the suggestion of some kind of ‘field’ generated by her speed. Plain teenage daughter Daphne (Kay Panabaker) becomes telepathic and soon discovers her boyfriend and best friend are humping behind her back. Awww. And suspected ‘special needs’ schoolboy JJ (Jimmy Bennett) starts channelling Einstein. Or becomes super-smart.

The pilot concerns itself mostly with the discovery of these superpowers, particularly Jim – who begins by being slightly emasculated and whiny. His wife is a high-flying scientist, while he’s a police sketch artist and takes on most of the household responsibilities. So, when he develops his powers, he’s stoked and confides in his friend George. George (Romany Malco) helps him out by testing the limits of his powers and suggesting new things Jim can try – like his Hulk-like ability to take massive leaps, covering great distances in a single leap bound.

I’m less impressed by Julie Benz. I’m not sure she has a good dramatic range and I’m playing catch-up on Season 3 of [[Dexter (TV Series)|Dexter]], and I just can’t see any difference between her character in that show and Stephanie in this one.

As a pilot episode, No Ordinary Family seemed perilously self-contained. It didn’t seem to be setting us up for further drama, there were no lingering questions that I needed to be answered. That’s a shocking oversight in a pilot. I expected to be gripped, but the show ended with everything neatly tied up. Even the appearance of a super-powered bank robber (In a president mask? De-riv-a-tive.) didn’t get a second glance. Where’d that dude come from, how’d he get his powers, and are there more like him?

On the other hand, it’s never fair to damn a show based on the first episode. Let’s give the characters some time to properly develop, a few episodes to see what kind of storylines to expect.

Positives? The special effects were great. Not overdone, but enough to give us the right idea. I’ve got a soft spot for Chiklis, and I’m hoping for a Hancock-style storyline that deals with him damaging building roofs and roads with his clumsy landing style. I’ve yet to understand the benefit of JJ’s super-intelligence, unless he catches on quickly and starts inventing amazing stuff for the Fantastic Four family to use – gadgets and cool tech.

And the buddy relationship between George and Jim – especially after George set him up with a lair. I’m praying that George gets ice powers so we can call him Frozone.

Overall, decent groundwork set for the first episode. Whether it becomes more superhero-based, with secret identities, etc or if it’ll be more ‘regular folks with regular problems and super-powers’, remains to be seen. It’s a shame to be at this last paragraph and be issuing a sober wait and see instead of being awestruck. But there you go. Wait and see.

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