Much like another TV show I’ve recently reviewed called ‘The Tomorrow People’, this show also dealt with seemingly ordinary people given superpowers, both were sadly cancelled before they could really utilise their story to its full advantage. However beyond some superficial elements, these shows are very different from one another, for example while The Tomorrow People was a sci-fi action series, No Ordinary Family was a sci-fi comedy/drama, Tomorrow People focused on one male lead, with a variety of other supporting characters, whereas No Ordinary Family was an ensemble cast, playing unsurprisingly, a family.
Enough comparing it to another show, if you do however want to read my review of The Tomorrow People then click here, but for now let’s move on.
Something that I noticed, Hollywood clearly likes to put Michael Chiklis in a position where he can just smash things, which is strange because he’s clearly a very talented actor, just check out his roles as Vic Mackey in The Shield or Dell Toledo in American Horror Story: Freak Show if you need examples. But unfortunately, the roles I most associate with him now are The Thing in two Fantastic Four films and Nathaniel Barnes in the second season of Gotham, both of which, although contextually different, have him playing a character with enhanced strength and anger issues. I mean not that I’m complaining, he suits the role and does it justice, and in No Ordinary Family, they manage to subvert it slightly, he’s softer, more human, and more in control.
Anyway, I totally feel like No Ordinary Family started out as a spec script for a live action version of The Incredibles, and details just kept being changed until we had the TV show we ended up with, not that I’m complaining, I guess it’s just hard to do a family superhero show, especially one which blends comedy and drama, without it seeming like The Incredibles. I enjoyed the show, the family dynamic is strong and works well (which isn’t always a given) and I found the story to be worth watching, and I was annoyed that presumably they knew they were cancelled and yet still left it on a cliffhanger, forever resolved.
No Ordinary Family, follows a the Powell family, and wow Powell sounds a lot like Power, isn’t that weird. In the pilot episode, they feel they’ve become disconnected as a family unit and have decided to go on a holiday together. While flying through the Amazon, their plane encounters a particularly vicious storm, which brings the plane down, and they are exposed to a bizarre form of plant life that grants each member of the family their own unique superpower, which seemingly reflects an expression of some subconscious element of their personality. They aren’t aware of their powers immediately however, instead they are rescued and return home, where they then discover their abilities and have to reconcile those with living ordinary lives.
Something I really liked, is that especially given his previous role on The Shield, they opted not to make Chiklis’s character Jim Powell a cop, instead they went a different way with it and made him a police sketch artist. I think this subverted audience expectations while still showing his desire to help people, which made his decision to later fight crime using his superpowers more realistic.
Overall I don’t think there was a single misstep with the casting for this show, in the parental roles we have Michael Chiklis as Jim Powell and as his wife Dr Stephanie Powell we have Julie Benz (who you may recognise as Darla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel and Rita Bennett on Dexter) and they have a kind of ‘Flintstones’ thing going on, where you have an average looking, working class guy with an inexplicably attractive wife. Again, however they do subvert the trope, he’s not just some meathead, he’s a talented artist and has a lot of heart, and she’s not just some stepford wife, instead she’s a genius scientist, working for a company called Global Tech, and yet still finds time to do all of the household things that are conventionally expected of her, especially after she discovers her power, super speed. We also have the obligatory moody teenage daughter, Daphne Powell (played by Kay Panabaker, who you may know from her roles as Debbie Berwick in Phil of the Future and Nikki Westerly on Summerland) who hides behind her stroppiness to avoid dealing with things like relationships and that she feels distant from her family. She was given the power of telepathy, and can read minds and influence people’s actions, and she is surprisingly mature with the use of her powers. Rounding off the main cast, we have James ‘JJ’ Powell Jr more commonly just called JJ (played by Jimmy Bennett, who you may know from his roles as a child actor in Daddy Day Care, The Amityville Horror, Evan Almighty and a young James T. Kirk in the 2009 film Star Trek) who is my personal favourite character (probably because I can see myself in him) and prior to getting his powers, was implied to have some sort of mild to moderate learning disability, which was compounded by the fact that his mother, a scientist, both didn’t seem to understand why he was struggling, and by her own success gave him what he perceived to be an unattainable role model to live up to. His power reveals itself as an intuitive and highly advanced intellect which not only allows him to master concepts which used to boggle him, but also to do far more impressive things such as learn new languages in a matter of hours. His ability is the last to be revealed to the entire family, as he initially keeps it a secret so he can enjoy his parents pride in his sudden academic success.
In terms of the supporting cast we have Katie Andrews (played by Autumn Reeser, known for her roles as Taylor Townsend on The O.C and Lizzie Grant on Entourage) who plays Stephanie’s lab assistant and after she discovers her boss’s superhuman abilities, confidante. I liked her character a lot, she was nerdy and adorable, and was so instantly supportive, she reminds me a lot of Felicity Smoak (played by Emily Bett Rickards) from The CW series Arrow. Another great supporting character was George St. Cloud (played by Romany Malco, known for his roles as Conrad Shepard in Weeds and Rome Howard in A Million Little Things) who was a district attorney, as well as Jim’s best friend. I mentioned above that No Ordinary Family has a real ‘The Incredibles’ feel to it, and the dynamic between George and Jim does nothing to dissuade me from that belief, for a start, at the beginning of the first Incredibles movie, Bob Parr or Mr Incredible (played by Craig T. Nelson) is fighting crime, in secret, against the wishes of his family and the government, and this is mirrored in the earlier episodes of No Ordinary Family where Jim goes out to fight crime/test his abilities, with George acting as technical support, a bit like Oracle from Batman or Felicity Smoak in Arrow. George, concerned about his friend’s welfare, excited about his abilities, and as a district attorney, fed up with the state of the American justice system, builds and funds a crime fighting HQ nicknamed ‘The Lair’ out of his garage so that he can better serve Jim in his role as a vigilante.
As for the antagonists/villains, we have the complicated case of ‘The Watcher’ (played by Joshua Stewart, known for his role as Holt McLaren on Dirt and Detective William LaMontagne Jr in Criminal Minds) also known as Will or Joshua, who is really more of a villain due to personal circumstance. He was originally a henchman for the real villain or ‘big bad’ of the show, Dr. King, and he served as the main superpowered foil for the powells, he was dangerous not only due to his powers but also because he wasn’t above killing. However we slowly learn that he doesn’t have much choice, his powers are only temporary and without regular injections to maintain them he will not only lose his abilities but suffer from complete organ failure and die. He was one of the strongest and most compelling story arcs on the show, and additionally he has the powers of telepathy and telekinesis, reminding me a little of Sylar (played by Zachary Quinto) another complicated character, compelled to commit acts of violence due to influences outside his control.
Finally we have, as I mentioned above, the real villain of the show, Dr. Dayton King (played by Stephen Collins, known for his roles as Eric Camden on 7th Heaven and Gene Porter on Revolution) who is Stephanie’s boss at Global Tech. He is arguably the most evil person on the show, and while he’s shown a willingness to kill, have people killed or at least have them placed in dangerous and potentially lethal situations, I think the most evil thing he did was how he used his ‘adoptive’ son for his own ends, with little concern given to the physical or mental damage he would be inflicting upon him.
Now I spent a decent chunk of the review talking about the characters, but honestly I think that’s because the characters are among the strongest aspects of this show, not that the casting or the characters were the only thing that made this show, but it was certainly a contributing factor.
It also has a strong production team, with Greg Berlanti who has been involved on shows like Riverdale, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and CW’s Arrowverse and David Semel who has been involved in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, American Horror Story, Roswell, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Watchmen. Both bringing considerable talent and experience to the show, and yet despite this, and a talented cast, the show was met with a lukewarm reception, with viewers dropping like flies, after the pilot episode.
The show just blended all of its elements really well, it did comedy well, and drama well, and knew when to reach for either, and it wrapped up all the complexities of a family show, with a sci-fi bow. Showing that even if you can break the sound barrier in high heels or take a bullet at point blank range, that nothing but tender care and a willingness to work on problems can fix family issues. So with that in mind, I think I’ll give No Ordinary Family, a 7.5/10.
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