Tuesday, September 28, 2010

No Ordinary Family Off to an Ordinary but Okay Start

Admittedly, I don't think this can be a full-on review of the new SF/comedy/family drama series No Ordinary Family because I missed the first half hour of the pilot tonight (The Mercer Report was on, and as much as I'm a die-hard SF fan, nothing trumps a new episode of Rick Mercer), so I'll just jot down a couple of quick impressions.

The superhero family schtick has been done before, from The Fantastic Four to The Six Million Dollar Man and his bionic spinoffs and their family reunion, to The Incredibles. NOF is definitely on the Incredibles end of the spectrum, even echoing the animated film's tone through the use of asides, only instead of talking to a reporter in a documentary, Mr & Mrs Powell self-reflect and narrate to a mostly unseen family therapist. As with The Incredibles, this plot device actually works as a means of letting us see a little deeper into two of the characters and injecting a little more humour, rather than slowing things down as I feared they might the first time the story made one of these cutaways.

Of course, with things beginning with the family discovering they've recently acquired super powers, and the discovery of a villain who is also specially endowed (and no, I'm not referring to anything X-rated under his trenchcoat, I'm talking about his teleporting ability with the SFX that looked exactly like Nightcrawler's in X-Men 2), NOF also has the same feel that the fallen NBC show Heroes did in the first season. Michael Chiklis' (already a superhero veteran, having played the Thing in the Fantastic Four movies) character's giddiness at finding out he has powers reminded me a lot of Hiro Nakamura, and his tests were a lot more fun than Claire's.

But rather than Heroes-style blunders, I'm actually more worried that NOF will stumble down the road of typical American family dramas and become insufferably sappy. Sure, some love and support amongst the family members is warranted - they are a family, after all. But there's a line, and if the show heads into Party of Five territory, I'm out.

In terms of main characters, again, I really enjoyed the father, Jim Powell (Chiklis), who's acquired abilities much like a powered-down version of the Tick: super strength, the ability to leap great distances, and significant durability (although not seemingly totally indestructible like the Tick). Without having seen the opening of the show, it's clear that Jim's been the primary caregiver for the kids, isn't satisfied with his job (not sure what it is, although from what I caught he seems to be a civilian working in a police setting), and is trying to hold together a relationship with his wife where there's been increasing distance between them. Chiklis does a great job in the role, showing us a family man who's dissatisfied with his life (not dissimilar from Bob Parr/Mr Incredible) and is grabbing at the opportunity to be someone he thinks can make a real difference in the world.

Julie Benz also does a good job as Stephanie Powell, a 21st Century supermom even before she became a metahuman. If there's one thing that's indicated to me this early in the game that the show won't be too sweet, it was near the end when the daughter Daphne (Kay Panabaker) is confiding that her boyfriend cheated on her, and the first words out of Stephanie's mouth weren't something hackneyed and soft like "oh, honey, I'm so sorry"... nope, instead she spits something to the effect of "that bastard!" (correct me if the wording was a bit different, but that was certainly the tone). That's a believable - and more importantly, watchable - modern character, ferociously supportive. A very well-written and well acted moment.

Almost as entertaining as Chiklis is Romany Malco (Jay from The 40 Year Old Virgin) as George St Cloud, Jim's friend who's a District Attorney, part of the show's comic relief, and from the looks of it, is becoming Jim's enabler/handler a-la Robert Culp in The Greatest American Hero. You've gotta love a buddy who not only supports you in your desire to become a superhero, but helps out by transforming your garage into a crime-fighting lair - with WiFi!

As for the kids, Daphne and JJ (Jimmy Bennett), I haven't formed much of an opinion of them yet, except that they're whiny.

At this point, No Ordinary Family seems like a good enough show, though nothing amazing. The real question is, with Mercer conflicting with the first half hour of NOF, will I remember to record NOF so that I'll actually get to watch entire episodes?

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