No Ordinary Family
What happens to the strength and stability of a normal, nuclear American family that just can’t find enough quality time to spend together after they all survive a plane crash on a rare family vacation, become exposed to some reality-altering plant (no, not that one), and consequently acquire various supernatural powers? I know this may seem like a question you ask yourself every day, but it also just so happens to be the premise of ABC’s new hour-long dramedy, No Ordinary Family. Despite the show’s juvenile writing style and predictable dialogue, this action-adventure manages to light up primetime TV by appealing to the kid in all of us. The show has a distinctly fantastical, comic-book tone a la great tales like Superman and Spiderman, wherein good and evil are wholly distinct concepts, trigger-happy bad guys wear president face masks and harass little old ladies, and the physical laws of nature dissipate into thin air. In a word, No Ordinary Family is just good ol’ fashioned fun.
In light of all this, you won’t be surprised to find out that the show’s writing style and plot developments don’t carry a whole lot of heft. In addition to being intended for the primary purpose of mere exposition and basic communication, they seem to be geared toward a younger audience. For example, wife, mother, and award-winning research scientist Stephanie Powell (played by the enchanting Julie Benz, fresh off a very different role in Showtime’s Dexter) explains her strange transformation to us simple laymen with this clarifying statement: “In science, we call this an ‘unexplained phenomenon.’” Thanks, Stephanie.
The way the story unfolds is definitely amusing, though. After the family miraculously escapes the crash (without anyone suffering so much as a scratch, I might add) each member notices they can do things they’ve never been able to do before—things that defy human limitations altogether. And their discoveries are neither gradual nor subtle. Instead of “bench-pressing another 20 pounds” kind of metamorphosis, think “catching a speeding bullet without even trying” sort of transformation. In fiction, we call this a ‘conflict.’
Each family member finds him or herself instantly imbued with similar talents. Jim Powell, the dad (portrayed by The Shield’s Michael Chiklis), can lift up to 11,000 pounds and leap tall buildings in a single bound. Literally. Stephanie can run almost fast enough to break the sound barrier. Teenage daughter Daphne (Kay Panabaker) becomes telepathic, and her younger brother JJ (Jimmy Bennett) becomes a whiz kid at math.
The relevance of their talents all being different is that each family member takes on powers that directly compensate for existing areas of weakness: Stephanie never had enough time to spend with her family, so now she moves faster and thereby gets things done quicker; Jim always felt inadequate as the family’s patriarch because he wasn’t the breadwinner, so now he is exceptionally strong (in a traditionally masculine way) and capable; Daphne felt disoriented by the confusing motivations and backstabbing customs in her high school culture, so she became a mind reader; and—you guessed it—JJ struggled with his grades in school, so he turned into a super genius.
Somehow I suspect that No Ordinary Family will try to teach us lessons about how one should be careful what one wishes for or how the grass is always greener on the other side and we should therefore accept ourselves for who and what we are. One way or another, it will almost certainly enforce that fantastic solutions we may daydream about only solve surface problems and, at the end of the day, we still have to be true to ourselves and make time for our loved ones.