Saturday, October 2, 2010

No Ordinary Family 1.01: "Pilot"

“I have a lair. With wi-fi!”

“No Ordinary Family” is the one new show I’ll be covering this fall. It was either this or “Lone Star,” and while I found “Lone Star” to be the superior pilot, I’m thinking I made the right choice from a longevity stand point (a quick moment of silence for “Lone Star,” first casualty of the new TV season). That being said, I think “No Ordinary Family” has potential, and that’s exciting because I so want to see genre succeed on network television. Yep, if you’ve been living under a rock, “No Ordinary Family” is definitely genre. The superhero variety of genre, to be exact. This seems to be the new genre well that the powers that be in entertainment want to tap, as we’ll also be getting “The Cape” at mid-season. Anyway, I think that “No Ordinary Family” has potential because it’s a fun premise combined with at least a few well-drawn characters (some annoying characters too, but I’m choosing to let the good outweigh the bad for now).

We open on a hectic morning in the life of the very dysfunctional Powell family. Stephanie Powell, successful research scientist, is taking a trip to Brazil, and her husband, failed artist turned police sketch artist Jim, has decided they should make a family trip of it. The two teenagers of the family, Daphne and J.J., are less than thrilled about the idea. Daphne is afraid it will cut into time with her boyfriend, Lucas, and J.J. is just generally emo and ornery. Things don’t go much better when the family actually gets to Brazil. Jim wants everyone to go on a sunset tour of the rainforest together, and amidst much complaining, he gets his wish. It doesn’t go at all as planned. There’s a huge storm, and the plane goes down in the water (as Daphne is still texting, of course). The Powells survive the crash, but their pilot doesn’t.

The trauma leads the Powells to vow to be closer to one another, but it doesn’t last long. Jim is still lonely because Stephanie’s success keeps her way from the family so much. I guess he’s also frustrated because his wife has had so much success while he failed at art and had to become a police sketch artist to make ends meet. Jim’s fortune starts to change, however, one day when he’s at work. He had just finished up talking to a witness to a recent crime wave of guys in President Obama masks robbing jewelry stores when somebody in the station pulls a gun and fires. Nobody gets hurt, but Jim looks really shaken up. He rushes out of the station, opens his hand, and we see that he grabbed and held onto the bullet.

Jim’s first reaction to his newfound powers is to drag his friend, George the DA, to the batting cages for a little experimentation. I liked this part of the episode because I found it to be realistic on an emotional level. Getting superpowers is just the kind of thing you would tell your best friend, and George’s reactions are all genuine and amusing. I think George is my favorite character on the show. He gets a lot of good snarky lines, and it’s nice to see how excited he is and how supportive he is of his friend. He also has a heck of a lot of free time for a lawyer. At the end of their batting cage session, Jim asks George to shoot him so he can test his bullet catching skills again, but George refuses. The gun accidentally goes off, and George is on the ground. Passed out from the shock of Jim catching another bullet. It’s great comedy.

Stephanie, meanwhile, has gotten back to the grind of trying to balance work and family life and not at all succeeding. She begins her work day pitching the idea of researching a plant she found in Brazil to the lab’s board of directors. Despite a coworker who was so snooty about the whole thing as to be a caricature, Stephanie impresses the chairman of the board. She ends up having to cancel her planed date night with Jim because the chairman is flying in just to talk about her research, and she and her boss need to meet the chairman for drinks. Stephanie is a little confused when Jim doesn’t seem all that upset that she’s cancelling. Turns out he’s busy with George. They’re trying to figure out if Jim can fly. He can’t, but he certainly can jump. Anyway, when Stephanie is told that she’s running late for her meeting with the chairman, Stephanie begins jogging to her car. This turns into seemingly supersonic running, and when she finally slows down, Stephanie finds herself in the middle of a highway. She’s got super speed, and she’s thrilled to have possibly found a way to finally do everything she feels she needs to fit into her day.

Much like Jim, Stephanie wants to test the extent of her powers. She enlists the help of her lab tech, Katie. They do all sorts of very scientific experiments and determine that Stephanie does indeed have the ability to run at super speed without injury, and she also has extremely elevated metabolism. Lucky her. Stephanie wants to use her powers to make time to spend with her family. She starts by rushing home to help J.J. with his homework. Jim, predictably, wants to use his powers to fight crime. He’s got a police scanner in the car and everything. He gets a call from George that another Obama mask robbery is taking place. Jim leaps buildings “in a single bound,” as he likes to say, and arrives on the scene. He stops one of the Obama mask guys, but the second one shoots him in the head. In shock, Jim calls George for help.

Jim wakes up at home in bed, and George reveals that he told Stephanie everything. To Jim’s surprise, Stephanie believes it all and is not at all shocked. She reveals to Jim her own secret superpower, and she’s got a theory about what happened to them. Stephanie says she remembers that when they crashed, the water had a phosphorescence. She thought it was fuel from the plane at the time, but now she thinks it’s the cause of their abilities. Jim and Stephanie call a family meeting to discuss the situation. It turns out Daphne is telepathic. A mean girl at school was honing in on Daphne’s boyfriend Lucas, and one day at a basketball game, Daphne starts to hear the mean girl’s thoughts. She thinks about how stupid Daphne is because she doesn’t see what’s going on. Daphne is overwhelmed by all the voices in her head. It reminds me very much of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episode “Earshot.” J.J., meanwhile, is bummed that he doesn’t seem to have a special ability. Daphne pitches a fit about how their family is broken and her parents were just looking for superpowers to fix everything, and the meeting ends abruptly.

Jim, still trying to be useful, gives the detectives he works with a lead on the suspect in the Obama mask case, just telling them a “witness” described the suspect to him. He seems kind of bummed when his detective friend says he can’t come along, but after they leave, he decides to go along anyway. The detectives had gone to question the suspect’s ex-girlfriend, but while they’re visiting, the suspect arrives. There’s a big shootout, and Jim’s detective friend is taken hostage. The bad guy escapes with the detective to a parking garage, and that’s where Jim finds him. Turns out the other guy has superpowers, too. It looks like he sort of disintegrates and rematerializes at will. Jim has quite a bit of trouble dealing with him, and it’s the detective finally breaking out of the car trunk and shooting the bad guy that saves the day.

The episode ends with some interesting bits of family drama and one intriguing cliffhanger. Daphne’s telepathic powers allow her to find out that Lucas has been cheating on her with her best friend Emily. J.J. does have a superpower after all. He’s super smart. Have I mentioned that I find the adult characters much more well drawn than the kids in this show? Really, the kids are just plain annoying, while the adults are genuinely interesting to watch. Stephanie tells Jim he was a great man before he had superpowers, and she would really rather he didn’t fight crime anymore. George lures Jim back to the dark side, though, buy building him a pretty sweet lair. Jim and Stephanie decide to go to couples therapy, which is where the bits of narration that were used as a framing device for the episode came from. I’m kind of hoping that goes away when we get to the regular episodes. We finish off the episode with a bit of a conspiracy. Stephanie’s boss and some minions are standing around the dead body of the Obama mask guy, and Stephanie’s boss gives the order to kill whoever knows about the man’s powers.

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