On the surface, No Ordinary Family seems tailor made for someone like me. I’m a guy who has made camping out to see every Batman movie on opening night a priority in my life. Growing up, I had debates with friends about which superpower would be better – flight or invisibility (for the record, the answer is totally invisibility). Hell, for the past few days in my head I’ve been going over the pros and cons of hiring Zack Snyder to direct the new Superman movie. If I’m not the target demographic for a show about a family with superpowers, then I don’t know who is.
And yet, I’ve felt completely apathetic toward the show. I can’t exactly pinpoint why, but I just haven’t been interested in watching it. Perhaps it’s superhero fatigue after the slew of films Hollywood has released over the past few years or maybe I just still feel burned by Heroes and am not ready to open my heart up to another superhero TV show again, but whatever the case, I was content to take a pass on this series.
But because of my dedication to you fine readers (and because it’s a slow news week … but, you know, mostly the dedication thing), I decided to give No Ordinary Family “One Shot” to impress me. Without further ado, here is what I took away from the series’ second episode …
No Ordinary Family – “No Ordinary Marriage”
(ABC – Tuesdays at 8 p.m.)
Part of the fun of superhero origin stories is that we get to put ourselves in the shoes of the hero and imagine what it would be like to discover we had supernatural powers (which, let’s face it, deep down we all want). Watching Spider-man swing through Manhattan for the first time in Sam Raimi’s first film was great fun because we could all imagine how exhilarating it would be to experience that initial thrill (before web-slinging became sadly routine and monotonous and Spider-man found himself begrudgingly doing swinging through the city at two in the morning to appease Mary Jane after forgoting to pick up the milk once again).
My biggest problem with No Ordinary Family at this early stage is that the family already sees their powers as a burden – and it’s only the second episode. In the world of the show, having a superpower seems awful. None of the characters know how to control their gifts or what to do with them, so they just sort of mope around with these extraordinary powers that have no real purpose yet. There’s plenty of time to address the downside of being a superhero – I mean, that’s basically what all good Batman and Spider-man stories are all about – but crime fighting should at least be fun starting out. There should be the thrill of discovering what they are now capable of.
To his credit, the father of the Powell family (for those of you who have never read one of these “One Shot” pieces before: no, I didn’t bother to learn these characters’ first names) seems to at least be trying to have some fun with his newfound gift. Since he is played by Michael “Chicklets,” his superpower is super strength (with an impressive vertical leap thrown in for good measure). So essentially, he’s still playing The Thing, except without the rocky façade and the cool catchphrase (“It’s clobberin’ time!”). Papa Powell spends the episode trying to figure out how to stop cars barreling toward him by throwing his shoulder into the front of them. It doesn’t go so well.
Papa Powell is the only family member who wants to be a superhero, but he’s not very good at it. He is, however, a good sport about the whole thing. He allows his “sidekick” to run over him repeatedly while trying to figure out how to stop cars. His sidekick is played by Romany Malco from The 40 Year Old Virgin and Weeds, who is apparently an Assistant District Attorney fed up with the system. I found myself really wondering how these two ever became friends – it doesn’t seem likely that they would ever actually hang out with each other. Unless there is some unwritten code that states bald guys have to stick together, I’m not really buying their friendship.
Papa Powell also shows just how bad he is at the whole superhero thing by trying to thwart a bank robbery – not once, but twice – without so much as a ski mask to hide his identity. When you are a family man, it’s always a good idea to piss off bank robbers who can easily identity your face, not to mention police officers, who frown on the whole vigilante thing. (Jumping into this show in the second episode, it was hard to tell what exactly Papa Powell does for a living – he seems to work at a police station, but behind a desk, so he is either a flat-footed cop or the burliest secretary ever.) A female officer instantly recognizes him at a crime scene and ends up confronting him at his home at the end of the episode.
If there is one thing Hollywood truly loves, it’s a good wet blanket wife, so of course Mrs. Powell (played by the lovely Julie Benz) forbids her husband from being a superhero, even though it’s pretty clear he is impervious to pain. To her credit, she does at least have some super-sex with him at the beginning of the episode (which is thankfully implied and not actually shown) which couldn’t be fun with a regular Michael Chiklis, let alone one who could easily crush you with his super-strength. Mama Powell has been blessed with super-speed, which is beneficial to her as tries to balance being a mom with her career. The mom part gets her involved in a boring plotline where she attends PTA meetings and helps plan a carnival, while the career woman part gets her involved in a boring plotline where she is apparently some kind of scientist attempting to uncover the source of the family’s superpowers. Between the lame storylines and her general wet blanketness, the only real highlight for her is when she texts while running super fast and ends up tripping over a tricycle left out in the street.
Daughter Powell has the ability to hear everyone’s thoughts, which frankly would be awful. (After all, being able to hear what women think apparently drove Mel Gibson insane.) She spends the entire episode wishing she could turn her power off. Thankfully, by the end, Mom helps her figure out how to focus on just one person’s thoughts instead of being overwhelmed by everyone’s brainwaves at once. It’s unclear why it takes her two entire episodes to think of that.
While Dad is struggling, Mom is a wet blanket and the daughter is miserable, no one seems worse off than the Powell’s son. Before the family got superpowers, he was apparently a moron. Now, he’s been blessed with the amazing ability to … um, be really good at math, I guess. It’s not quite as lame as Meg Griffin’s ability to quickly grow out her fingernails, but it’s up there. Of course, he may be super-smart now, but because he was such an colossal idiot before, no one actually believes he is capable of the grades he is getting and they all just assume he is cheating, which defeats the whole point of his lame power. If only he was Asian – no one would question him.
A supervillain with a “Force”-like ability to control objects with his mind is also introduced in the episode, but only briefly. While the episode didn’t show much of him or his power, he did at least seem to be having fun, which is more than I can say for the Powells.
So if mopey, boring superheroes are your thing, then I recommend No Ordinary Family. I, however, found the Powells to be much too ordinary for my liking. I wasn’t really interested in this show in the first place and there wasn’t anything about this episode that really sucked me in, so I don’t think I’ll be tuning back in. I’ll stick to Batman and Spider-man – they at least making being mopey seem fun.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.