Saturday, 20 November 2010

'NO ORDINARY FAMILY' 1.7 – "No Ordinary Mobster"

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Unquestionably, "No Ordinary Mobster" was this show's finest episode to date. I've been warming to No Ordinary Family in recent weeks, actually; the cast are so effortlessly likeable, it clearly has its heart in the right place, and there's a real sense of potential whenever they add a grittier component. Writer Marc Guggenheim (Eli Stone, FlashForward) managed to include everything that's worked about the show up until now, and drew it together to give us a clearer focus going forward...

This week, District Attorney George (Romany Malco) lost a court case that would have seen city mobster Lukan (Jon Sklaroff) finally jailed, leading the victorious Lukan to twist the knife by shooting Amanda Grayson (Amy Acker), the Assistant D.A who George has feelings for; Jim (Michael Chiklis) resolved to help George get justice using his powers, but accidentally exposed his identity and thus gave Lukan some leverage to avoid jail again (with Lukan insisting he'll blow the lid on the police department's apparent "super-cop"); Stephanie (Julie Benz) continued her investigation into Dr Volson's pioneering research, tracing the scientist's wife to Mexico, only to learn that Volson died and his wife's paraplegic as a consequence of the super-powers they gave themselves; Daphne (Kay Panabaker) tried to impress a boy at school with the help of JJ (Jimmy Bennet), who accompanied them on a date to a modern art gallery to telepathically feed her trivia; and JJ himself decided to help Kate (Autumn Reeser), by pretending to be her "ideal man" on an internet dating site -- intending to boost her confidence, but succeeding in getting a face-to-face date he can't possible attend...

What I appreciated about this episode was how it pushed the mythology onwards, and also found a way to use its cast in a more interesting way. We learned that the Powell family's powers may be slowly killing then, which adds some urgency and point to Stephanie investigating them, as she'll likely be after a cure now. There was also the return of The Watcher (Josh Stewart), whose motivations are unclear but intriguing. He once again turned up to surreptitiously help Jim, by eliminating the problem that Lukan knows his identity, which makes you think The Watcher is a "cleaner" whose job is to keep super-people a secret. And maybe that's true, but as he's working for Stephanie's boss, Dr. King (Stephen Collins), you're given the impression his actions aren't righteous, but perhaps just helping Jim cover his mistakes as a by-product of what his main priority is.

It was also good to see Kate brought into the fold more, as she became JJ's home tutor and, in the episode's climactic scene, the likely girlfriend of The Watcher, who's been tasked by Dr. King to ingratiate himself with Stephanie's family. This in turn means that The Watcher is now involved with the family directly, with the assumed complication that JJ will know he's a fraud of some kind – especially as The Watcher's made the mistake of using the fake name "Will P. Jerome" that JJ came up with as an anagram of "Jim Powell Jr". That should be a simple and effective way of proving to Kate that Will's a fraud, so it'll be interesting to see how the next episode deals with that issue.

Overall, there was much to enjoy about this episode. I like the fact the subplots, while usually lighthearted diversions involving Daphne and JJ, are nevertheless quite engaging or fun to watch, so they don't become irritating when we keep returning to them. The episode also piqued my interest quite a few times (especially with the connection between Dr King and Volson's widow, who fed Stephanie a story on his behalf), and for once I was a little disappointed I couldn't dive straight into the next hour to see what happens next. Which is how every TV episode should leave you feeling.

For all its creative issues and middle-of-the-road feel (especially now the anarchic and compelling Misfits is back on television), I think No Ordinary Family is beginning to take shape as a family-friendly piece of superhero fun...

  • The quality of special effects appeared to be much improved throughout this episode; especially for Jim's super-jumps. I also like the sand storm Stephanie kicked up while stopping her super-run in Mexico.
  • Interesting to note the additional information that JJ's super-intellect has a weakness: he can only retain whatever facts he learns for six hours. I don't recall that being mentioned before, so it's a wise rethink. After a few months, JJ would otherwise be the brainiest person on the planet.
  • If I was still a teenager, I want that bookcase/door Daphne has.
  • Even for the la-la land that is US network drama, I'm having a tough time believing Autumn Reeser is (a) a serious geek, and (b) unable to get dates whenever she wants. I'm not saying they should have cast someone who fits a stereotype, but why not insist Reeser plays Kate with less outgoing panache? Or simply accept that she doesn't fit the criteria and drop the "dateless wonder" idea.
WRITER: Marc Guggenheim
DIRECTOR: John Polson
TRANSMISSION: 16 November 2010, ABC, 8/7c