Things get rolling right away on ABC’s No Ordinary Family. Minutes into the pilot episode we learn that the Powell family is coming apart at the seams. Parents Jim and Stephanie (Michael Chiklis and Dexter’s Julie Benz) have grown so far apart in their marriage that it’s now effecting the kids. Stephanie is too busy as a research scientist that she doesn’t notice that her daughter, Daphne (Kay Panabaker), is getting pressured by her boyfriend to have sex and it’s bearing down on her, and that her youngest, son JJ (Jimmy Bennett), has a learning disability.
Jim decides that it’s time for a family vacation and the Powells travel to Brazil, where Stephanie is doing research on a rare plant with special properties. Cut to somewhere in Brazil and they board a plane. While flying they hit a terrible storm and the plane’s engine catches on fire. Daphne screams “I’m going to die and I haven’t even done it yet!” Jim and Stephanie share a look of desperation, of love, to which she replies, “I do, too,” and suddenly they’re under water. The plane has crashed in a lake. That’s all contained in the first two minutes!
Upon returning home, the Powell’s quickly fall back into the same miserable routines they had before the trip. However, they soon learn that they’ve all changed.
Jim works as a police sketch artist and when a criminal manages to get hold of a cop’s gun (I swear, police detectives really have to do a better job at holstering their weapons) and fires random bullets in the squad room. Jim stops a bullet with his bare hands and he’s uninjured. Amazed, he calls his closest friend, George (Romany Malco from Weeds), a D.A., and they begin testing his abilities. Jim is near indestructible and he can leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Meanwhile, Julie discovers that she can run with super speed, going so fast that time around her seems to slow to a halt. Julie has a confidant, too, in the form of her lab assistant, Katie (Autumn Reeser). Soon thereafter, Daphne finds out that she can read minds; and by the end of the hour, JJ has become a genius. Earlier in the show, Jim wished that the disaster of the plane crash would have changed his family. It didn’t happen right away, but he got his wish.
No Ordinary Family is a clever super hero show in that it hides its fanboy tendencies behind the guise of a sentimental family drama. The show is co-produced by Greg Berlanti (Everwood, Brothers & Sisters), so expect to have your heartstrings pulled throughout the course of the season. But this is a good thing. Characters have always come first to Berlanti’s productions, whether they be small, like Everwood, or high concept, like his underrated Eli Stone. Because of that emphasis on this show, No Ordinary Family may pull of something that Heroes (the series this one will most likely be compared to) forgot how to do: make us care.
Everything about the first episode was well done. The writing was tight and they devised a clever method to allow Jim and Stephanie to speak to directly to the camera. The visual effects were excellent (especially for television) and all of the acting was superb. Plus, there were a couple of “holy crap” moments toward the end of the hour that made me set my DVR. There are obvious hints as to the source of the powers, but I don’t believe the search for how they got their powers is going to matter. My big hopes for this series is that it takes a slow approach to these characters learning their abilities; more Greatest American Hero than Heroes.
For comic geeks watching, there were allusions to many popular heroes, from Superman and the Flash, to the Hulk, Fantastic Four and X-men. These little shout outs to the inspirations of No Ordinary Family will be fun to look for as the series continues. No Ordinary Family had the potential to be a cheesy glob of super goo; instead it has the potential to be that rare program on television: A family show that most of the family can sit down and watch together.