No Ordinary Family episode 1 review: pilot episode

The pilot for ABC's big new show, No Ordinary Family has now screened - so was it any good?


No Ordinary Family is one of those shows that I’ve been curious about, not just because it’s got some successful lead performers in it, but the airwaves seem remarkably short of fantasy titles these days.

The official trailer didn’t exactly set me on fire, but the full 44 minutes of the pilot – made available to those who got to a website ABC set up in time a while back – delivered a more enticing glimpse of what’s on offer here. If you’ve not caught that, then No Ordinary Family is effectively a live action reworking of The Incredibles, which is itself derivative of many things, including The Fantastic Four.

The pilot is presented in the style ripped directly from the movie Mr & Mrs Smith, in that it starts, interjects, and ends with the Jim (Michael Chiklis) and Stephanie Powell (Julie Benz) explaining their story to a marriage guidance councillor.

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From there, we rapidly progress to understanding how dysfunctional the Powell family is, including their teenage children Daphne and JJ (Kay Panabaker and Jimmy Bennett), and how they get their super-powers on an ill-fated trip to Brazil.

All the classic comic book scenes are reworked, as they discover their powers and try to rationalise what’s happened to them. To a degree, it’s all mixed as per the instructions on the back of the box, although they do manage to throw a few curve balls in there in an attempt to make it seem less like it’s on rails.

Stephanie’s character is clearly the major breadwinner, as she’s a successful scientist, which is a reversal of sorts on the Reed Richards persona. It’s hinted that this makes Jim feel inadequate, and has contributed to their marriage issues. But the diversion I liked most was that, in this first story, Jim tries to stop a criminal, only to discover that he too is super-powered, opening the book on super-villains they’re likely to encounter.

They’ve also avoided some of the secret identity stuff from the outset, with both Jim and Stephanie each confiding in a third party about their powers from the start. With this many people knowing, how long can it be before it becomes public knowledge?

I think what I liked least were the teenage angst stories, because a) I’ve got the real thing, and I don’t need to see it on TV, and b) kids are generally excited by anything new that happens to them, rather than whining pathetically about it as Daphne does.

We don’t get to see much of JJ, so it’s difficult to assess if he’ll be interesting or not, but his power isn’t an obvious one and might need some deft handling by the writers.

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My overall feeling was that this could have been much worse, and managed to draw a couple of smiles from me in the way that it referenced comic book lore.

The writing team includes (supposedly) people who worked on Smallville and Chuck, and especially in respect to the latter, the pilot wasn’t that great, but the show developed marvellously.

It left me wanting to see more, if only to see what Jim’s crazy buddy, George, can come up with, after he built Jim a secret lair. There is promise here, once you get past all the borrowed ideas, characters and presentation.

No Ordinary Family screens on Tuesday nights on ABC in the US.