ABC‘s No Ordinary Family takes gimmick television to a whole new level, but does so in the smartest possible way. For months the show has been referred to as a live-action, television version of The Incredibles, and that’s pretty accurate. Sure, it’s the mom with the superspeed, and the son and daughter are superbrained and telepathic respectively, but the underlying theory is rather similar.
Most of the fun of The Incredibles came from the “normal” family problems they had to deal with, and No Ordinary Family builds on that model. The pilot enters us into the story as the family first gets their powers. When their plane goes down during a tour on their jungle vacation, the mysterious green water is the last thing on their minds. But, when strange things start happening back home, it’s the only link they can come up with.
Jim (Michael Chiklis) is a police sketch artist, and handles most of the daily routine, because Stephanie (Julie Benz) isn’t around that often. A scientist on the move, Stephanie works a lot of hours, and the couple feels rather disconnected. The kids, Daphne and JJ, feel similarly that the family has little “family” about it.
Though infused with a somewhat surprising amount of fun, the pilot is clearly a standard effort, but it’s hard to imagine how it could bypass the necessity. The family slowly learns of their newfound abilities, and hilarity, more or less, ensues. We’re spinning it together with your normal “married more than fifteen years” woes, and eventually that will work its way to the foreground even more. At least, that’s what many of the pilot’s steps lead us to believe.
We’ve clearly got something new, perhaps mostly silly, and probably dangerous, but as I say, it has a strong measure of brilliance behind it. I’m not sure how much I would be able to get behind this show on its own. The concept is iffy, even if the writing is pretty good so far. I don’t know that I would have been overly pulled toward it, though, except for the show’s main sell… the cast.
Michael Chiklis is probably one of the most underappreciated actors working today, and I mean to take into consideration the fact that he’s fairly well appreciated. The Shield had a lot in the plus column, but I doubt it would have come together without Chiklis leading it. He simply makes you watch him, whatever he’s doing, and has even back as far as The Commish, which I frankly don’t think anyone would have watched otherwise.
Add in the rather hip draw of Julie Benz (recently from Dexter), and Romany Malco (of Weeds, and several other gigs of varying coolness), and the show is pulling down a lot of viewers with its cast alone. More importantly, it’s a very specific draw, as opposed to simply throwing in the biggest names you can find.
The best thing about the show is that it is something of a throwback, despite the lack of live-action, superhero television to put it up against. It may not be a comedy (it’s hard to tell what it is exactly), but it reminds of certain screwball excuses to look at life’s real problems from times long gone. One of the lessons television learned early on is that you can dive into some pretty serious things if you put a goofy enough covering on it. Often, things more serious than people want to watch, and in ways that get past their defenses.
Television has, here and there, been coming back to this idea recently, and whether it’s All in the Family, or Modern Family, you can make some interesting statements by tricking people into letting you. Nonsensical political views, or scheduling a time to shoot your kid, it’s all just the ludicrousness that is family, and using superpowers to try to explain it isn’t that different in the end. Will our particular craziness pull us together, or tear us apart? That’s just everyone’s question.
No Ordinary Family is a fun show, so far, and has potential enough to leap tall buildings. A few of the plot beats felt unnecessary to me (I think you’ll know what I mean), but overall this one is worth the effort. If it gets a chance to get moving, it could be unstoppable. Alas, few things get that chance these days.