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‘No Ordinary Family’ – Pilot

An ordinary family’s life is turned upside down when they discover they have extraordinary abilities


This article may contain spoilers.

Life is not ordinary anymore when you can stop a bullet with your bare hand, run faster than a car, leap buildings with a single bound, hear what people are thinking, or do impossible math equations in your head. Life for the Powell family is now the opposite of ordinary — their lives are now pretty extraordinary. But as they will learn, just because you can do something others cannot does not make you extraordinary — it is what you do with those amazing abilities that matters.

For Jim Powell (Michael Chiklis), the discovery that he has super strength and can jump extreme distances means he can step out of his every day life and do something important. His abilities make him feel that he is important for the first time ever — and he wants to do something to help others with his abilities. But crime-fighting needs to be left to those trained to battle criminals — especially when Jim finds out that he is not completely impervious to bullets. He may be strong, but he is not bullet-proof.

For Stephanie (Julie Benz), finding out that she can run super fast is more of a blessing as she can now keep up with the frantic, impossible time-constraints of balancing her busy career while being a mom. She does not want to be a super-hero, just a better working mother.

For Daphne (Kay Panabaker), her ability to hear people’s thoughts is more of a curse. She does not want to hear their inner most thoughts. She was happy only hearing what people thought she wanted to hear. The disillusionment with those closest to her that were concealing the truth and keeping her from knowing how they really felt about her is devastating.

Then, as for J.J. (Jimmy Bennett), when his ability did not manifest right away, he assumed he was not given one. Already feeling like an outcast in society due to his educational struggles, being normal in an un-normal family was isolating and nearly crushed his self-esteem. Thus, his elation upon finding out that he was merely a late-bloomer and was not left out of the special club was nearly euphoric for him.

Developing a special ability has changed each of the Powell’s lives irrevocably. Yet whether they feel inordinately blessed or horribly cursed, their lives will never be normal again. Normal problems do not exist for them anymore. However, the flip-side is now they have to deal with the problems of the extraordinary. Jim cannot go to the hospital after getting shot because everyone will wonder why the bullet did not kill him. Stephanie does not yet know that she is working for a master criminal who is exploiting people with abilities. Daphne has no best friend or boyfriend because she found out that they were lying to her and cheating behind her back. And how will J.J. explain that he can now ace math tests when he was barely passing before?

Plus, now that Jim knows that they are not the only ones with abilities after running across the jewelry thief who could disappear and reappear like a puff of smoke, who else has abilities and how did they get them? As the jewelry thief, said, “You thought you were the only one . . . Don’t you know, you and me, we’re not alone.” And what exactly is Stephanie’s boss up to? Every good super-hero story needs a villain — looks like Dr. King (Stephen Collins) may just be that villain.

What Worked

By far, the best scene was when Jim asked George (Romany Malco) to shoot him with a gun and when the gun accidentally mis-fired, George fainted. Believing he may have killed his best friend, he passed out. That scene remained funny ever after multiple viewings, so the comedic camaraderie was perfect. The friendship between Jim and George actually feels like these guys may be friends. Plus, their mutual ecstasy over being able to play super-hero is like watching young kids in a candy store. They do not know which way to turn with so many fun and cool things to do at their finger tips. Testing Jim’s abilities to see if he could fly, only to discover he could jump building to building and leave craters in the ground as he landed was pure fun for them. Then, at the end, when Jim asked, “George, what did you do?” George excitedly revealed, “You got a new hobby now … [you got] what every secret crime-fighter needs: a lair.” The pride and excitement with which they have wholeheartedly embraced being super heroes invites us to play along with them.

Similarly, it was fun watching how excited Stephanie was upon discovering her ability to run super fast and how she could not wait to tell someone about it. It was just too amazing to not share. Also of note was the fact that both Jim and Stephanie chose a co-worker or friend to tell first, and not each other. Both were hesitant to tell each other because they did not want to come across as either crazy, or because they did not want to make their spouse feel bad because they were not special too. Thus, it is okay to make your friends and co-workers feel like they are less, but it is not cool to make your spouse feel that way.

It was even more beautiful when Stephanie reminded Jim, “You were extraordinary before you could ever catch a bullet.” The love that they feel for each other is much more important and it is nice to see that they value that love for each other. However, it was with a shiver of foreboding when Stephanie demanded that there be no more bullets, no more crime-fighting, and no more secrets. For that is all they have now that everything has changed. How will they keep their abilities secret and free from exploitation and coercion?

In addition, who would want to go back to just being normal? Does a lottery winner give the money back? No. Similarly, this may be a gift that perhaps cannot be returned — and being special is not something you can give back to the universe. Destiny has selected you and now you must fulfill your potential. That is the price of being special.

What Didn’t Work

Not sure the quasi-documentary style of having Stephanie and Jim talking to the camera during therapy really worked. It took the viewer out of what was happening. The secret of television is always “show, don’t tell.”

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

“Pilot” was based on a story by Greg Berlanti and Jon Harmon Feldman, with teleplay by Jon Harmon Feldman. It was directed by David Semel. “No Ordinary Family” stars Michael Chiklis, Julie Benz, Kay Panabaker, Jimmy Bennett, Autumn Reeser, Romany Malco, and Stephen Collins.

“No Ordinary Family” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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