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Monday, June 27, 2011

No Ordinary Family - Episode 1.01 - Pilot - Review

Hey all! This is a review of No Ordinary Family I wrote for the 2010 pilot season. As is evidenced in my review below, I was quite taken with it. Sadly, what started off as a funny and episodic family-friendly show quickly devolved into schlock, nonsense, and generic superhero tripe. I even included a shoutout to the possible success of The Event. My bad. Anyway, this is the last of the articles I wanted to transfer from SpoilerTV to my blog, so, enjoy!

This television season, I was most excited about watching The Event. Sure, I love the complicated time jumping story and am intrigued by the constant maddening WTF IS HAPPENING; however, it requires a fair amount of intellectual investment. NOF came out of left field and completely drew me in with its simplicity and cheesy metaphors.

I heard about NOF like most people did. When a new show is launched, a lot of the hype tends to involve namedropping already popular programs in an attempt to label it as some sort of pleasant mishmash. This show was no exception as people compared it to Heroes + The Incredibles + The Fantastic Four + run-of-the-mill Police Procedurals. I want you to take every single comparison you have heard and throw it out the window. Except the one about The Incredibles. Or The Fantastic Four. Maybe. Mostly just stay away from Heroes Comparisons.

All that you need to is that NOF is well paced, decently written, very well acted, and above all else, it’s loads of fun!!!!!!

I spent the first few minutes worrying that we were going to be treated to an episode of exposition in which father figure Jim Powell narrated specific sequences of events for 42 minutes of my life. Luckily for everyone involved, the first 9 minutes covered their superhero origin story in a fairly interesting manner. This allowed the rest of the episode to concentrate on adding depth to the characters and allowed them to explore their newfound powers.

What you need to know about the opening sequence is the following:
Jim: Unhappy police sketch artist father.
Rita… Uh, I mean Stephanie: Busy super hot super smart scientist working mom.
Daphne: Average self-absorbed cell phone-savvy teenage daughter.
J.J.: Unfortunate looking learning-disabled son.

The Powell Family = dysfunctional.

Family vacation leads to plane crash somewhere in South America, which leads to super powers. SUPER POWERS THAT ARE CHEESY METAPHORS FOR THEIR REAL LIFE STRUGGLES! AW YEAH! The show goes so far as to explain this to you. That’s fine by me. 12 year olds are watching.

End of Origin Story.

What made the above fun is how reminiscent of 60s marvel comics the plot was. There was some phosphorescent stuff in the water. Now they have super powers. It’s this show’s version of cosmic rays, gamma rays, radioactive spiders, or anything involving the commies. There was no dwelling on how they got their powers. All that matters is that they have them now.


Although we learn plenty about their powers, the heart of the show is the family dynamic.


Most shows have disparate people come together because of some mutual conflict. This show has a dysfunctional family come together over a gift. Though they all shared a traumatic plane crash, nothing had changed when they got home. The show made certain to stress this point. It was only after they started developing powers that they started to come together. Even more than that, coming together was messy. Both parents had legitimate reasons to be extraordinarily unhappy with each other. Both children had reasons to feel neglected. Things still weren’t perfect in the end, but the increasing closeness was totally believable and really heart-warming.

Watching each of the characters slowly discover their powers was a joy.

The ridiculous manner in which Jim gets himself shot, only to realise that he’s indestructible is awesome. Also, he can jump really far. The episode later outlines his weakness. Being shot in the head point blank will likely kill him. We discover this because Jim winds up fighting some other super powered baddie! The family isn’t alone! There are Super Villains! In Obama Masks! Hurrah! Awesome, in one episode, we understand his powers and see their limits. As long as the show doesn’t somehow screw up and introduce awkward facets of their powers that aren’t particularly coherent with what we have seen, I’m happy. *coughs* HEROES *coughs*.

Stephanie needs to get somewhere quickly. She’s bailing on dinner with her husband, again, but he’s too busy catching really fast baseballs to care. She starts running and suddenly finds herself in the middle of a highway. The running really fast sequence was done extraordinarily well. It’s annoying watching shows like Lost or The Event and seeing all of these awkward airplane or submarine special effects shots. Besides Jim trying to jump really high, I bought most of what I saw.

Daphne starts hearing people’s thoughts and eventually learns that her best friend is sleeping with her boyfriend. In the words of Julie Benz: “That bitch!” As far as child actors go, this girl is great. She was both unpleasant teenage girl and sympathetic teenage girl in one episode. That’s difficult to do.

On top of all of this, Jim has a friend to confide in: Geroge St. Cloud, a D.A. Or something. Stephanie also has a friend to confide in: Katie Andrews, a lab assistant. Or something. Daphne has her parents to confide in. Unattractive son J.J. has minimal screen time and is sad about his lack of superpowers until a few minutes before the episode ends. Yeah, the son’s transition from learning-disabled to super genius was kind of awkward and jerky, but everything else fit really well. To be fair, the “I CANZ DO MATHS?” sequence was kind of fun to watch.

The epic final battle was like watching The Thing (who Chiklis really did play) fight Nightcrawler. Without blue skin or a tail. With a gun. It was frakking awesome! Seriously. The slow-mo frantic bullet blocking and fast paced teleporting were really cool.

*Has an intense superhero fanboi moment*!!!!!!!!

Ahem.

Eventually, Jim’s cop buddy, who had been shot up pretty bad, kills the teleporting baddie right when Jim is about to get his head blown off. Later on, we see Stephanie’s boss Dr. King (Stephen Collins from 7th heaven!!) hanging out in dark shady basements where super powered baddies seem to congregate. Dead Nightcrawler guy is lying on a slab while creepy electricity guy takes orders from Stephen Collins.

Can I just stop and mention to how awesome it is to see Stephen Collins be (seemingly) the big bad? Eleven years of religious minister father figure can do a lot to typecast you. It’s nice to see him be something that is in every way that role’s opposite. Not that we know anything about the character at all, but come on, instructing super powered baddies to take care of things is as stereotypically evil as it gets.

Anyway, did anyone else notice how much damage these people did to the world around them? Something like 3 people get shot (2 presumably fatally), mirrors shatter as Stephanie runs by and Jim jumps around and destroys helpless streets and innocent roofs. It’s kind of like Red Faction, but a television show.

One of my few complaints involves NOF’s grounding. I know that I just spent the entire article explaining how much fun this show is and describing silly supernatural situations, but it doesn’t mean that the characters aren’t believable. While the entire cast works hard at keeping the show grounded, George St. Cloud and Katie Andrews might have been a little over the top. They were reasonably amusing, but they were also intensely ridiculous. Especially St. Cloud. I guess I’ll give him a week or two until I judge him harshly.

Conclusion: This show is fraktacular. I know no other word to describe its awesomeness. This is coming from a guy who is obsessed with serial dramas and anything on HBO, AMC, and Showtime. It’s silly, it’s fun, it has action, it’s simple, it’s heart-warming, and it’s well rounded. Give it a chance. DVR it if you’re a Gleek. Just promise me you’ll check it out.

Thanks all!

- Cadence

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