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November 23, 2014

'No Ordinary Family' Premiere Review: Family With Special Powers Not So Super

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 28th 2010 11:00AM
Wouldn't it be cool to have superpowers?

Television appears determined to tell us that it wouldn't be. On the clunky 'No Ordinary Family' (8PM ET Tuesday, ABC), an unhappy family becomes somewhat less unhappy.

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... marital counseling?

The show's blandness is a disappointment, given that its premise seems sturdy enough. In the opening minutes of the pilot, the Powell family is dunked in an Brazilian river, then the parents and two teen children return home to resume their ordinary, on-the-go lives.

I'd be hesitant to reveal what happens next if it weren't so entirely predictable. Superpowers are revealed, lives are sort of changed, but the atmosphere in the Powell house remains fairly fractured and dour.

Just as 'Undercovers' had its characters resume their espionage careers in order to inject a spark back into their marriage, 'No Ordinary Family' gives the proceedings an almost therapeutic air, and the ABC show also presumes that we'll care about whether these characters reconnect. But it's hard to buy into the origin stories of four almost-superheroes when the characters are vague types, not specific people.

Julie Benz plays Stephanie Powell, TV's archetypal working mom -- if a woman on network television has a white-collar career, you can be fairly sure that it's all-consuming to the point that her job stress puts her family's happiness in peril. Stephanie's husband, Jim (Michael Chiklis), is a police sketch artist who has lost his creative and personal mojo. 'No Ordinary Family' is in need of a little danger -- the kind of dangerous drive that Chiklis brought to his role on FX's 'The Shield' -- but Jim is something of a wet blanket. Everything that made Chiklis interesting on that FX show is defanged by 'No Ordinary Family's' overly earnest tone.

Still, the biggest problem with 'No Ordinary Family' isn't necessarily its plodding plot or its by-the-book characters, it's that the show doesn't allow viewers to discover anything for themselves. Every theme is telegraphed, if not communicated in capital letters.

Instead of a scene in which Jim and Stephanie don't quite connect, the couple talks repeatedly about how they aren't connecting. Instead of scenes showing us that Jim feels unfulfilled in his job, we get voiceovers telling us that he's unfulfilled in his job. We're informed (not shown) that the couple's son, J.J., feels like the dumb one in the family, so of course, he becomes a super-genius. Maybe if we had any sense of who J.J. was or cared about him in the slightest, that development would be kind of awesome.

Again and again, the show takes what should be subtext and turned it into stilted dialogue that grows repetitive very quickly ("We were all living under the same roof, but in different worlds."). Of course, every pilot has to cram in a lot of exposition -- that's just the nature of the beast. But as is the case with most ABC pilots in recent seasons, it's as if 'No Ordinary Family' doesn't trust that the viewer will pick up on what the show's about. Imagine if the 'Lost' pilot had featured Jack talking about his daddy issues -- you would have reached for the remote immediately.

In any case, 'No Ordinary Family' should have a greater sense of excitement and discovery, the kind that 'Heroes' had at times in its first season. One of many things that went wrong with that NBC show was that the characters' superpowers seemed less and less fun as time went on.

Thank goodness for Romany Malco, who plays Jim's lively best friend, George. Both he and Autumn Reeser, who plays Stephanie's assistant, inject a few much-needed sparks into the proceedings, and there's also an ongoing story that may hold promise.

'No Ordinary Family' may yet soar, but viewers might need to call on their super-patience before the promising concept behind this disappointing drama begins to pay off.



Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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7 Comments

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whatwasthen

This review is disappointing. Sci-Fi fans love the show and it's one of the best this television season. I encourage people to watch the show for yourself and enjoy.

October 01 2010 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike

This was pretty horrible. Bad dialogue. Hokey action. This belongs on ABC Family.

September 30 2010 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shaun

What a disappointment... How could they screw up "The Incredibles - The Series"?

September 30 2010 at 10:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
PB

What a stupid stupid show.

September 29 2010 at 12:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Derek

"That man" is Julie Benz, sir!

September 28 2010 at 12:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Derek's comment
robert

Julie Benz is a bald black man now?
Damn she's got some range!

September 28 2010 at 4:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jastrom

What is that man doing to poor Michael Chiklis in that photograph?

September 28 2010 at 11:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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