Friday, 14 January 2011

'NO ORDINARY FAMILY' 1.12 - "No Ordinary Brother"

Friday, 14 January 2011

As fond as I am of this series, I acknowledge its faults and irritations. "No Ordinary Brother" started on a frustrating note, with a very lazy way to move past last week's cliffhanger, where Katie (Autumn Reeser) discovered her boyfriend Joshua (Josh Stewart) has best friend Stephanie's (Julie Benz) journal of her family's super-powers. We were poised for fireworks when Katie confronted him over this, but instead we got a fizzling splutter, as Joshua's own super-powers apparently stretch to manipulating pen ink so the journal was rendered innocuous. Did Katie question her own sanity, having spent the night pouring over the journal and wondering why her boyfriend has it in his possession? No. It was a very annoying way to dodge the issue, made worse because it's hot-on-the-heels of a similar moment in episode 11, when Daphne's (Kay Panabaker) lost memory was restored within minutes of the show's return post-hiatus, thanks to a family group hug.

Fortunately, the bulk of this episode was good fun and, in a few instances, surprisingly emotional and well-acted. As the title suggests, this episode saw the arrival of Jim's (Michael Chiklis) wayward younger brother Mike (Jason Wiles), the "black sheep" of the Powell family. It transpired that Mike owes thousands of dollars to a gangster notorious for making debtors "disappear", and when Mike discovered his brother's family all have superpowers (after witnessing Jim survive a rooftop fall), it seems like the answer to his prayers. In particular, JJ's (Jimmy Bennett) super-IQ comes in handy as the horse racing track, as he's able to calculate the probabilities and predict enough winners to solve Uncle Mike's cash flow problem.

Elsewhere, the evil Dr King (Stephen Collins) tried to draw Joshua back under his wing, by giving his girlfriend Katie a promotion and transfer to run her own laboratory in Miami, attempting to drive a wedge between their relationship. But the intended division only really appeared between Katie and Stephanie, who was both confused her assistant's being given a promotion so early in her career by Human Resources VP Victoria Morrow (Rebecca Mader), and selfishly upset her best friend's leaving town.

And, in largely inconsequential and unnecessary filler, Daphne started to use her mind-reading to assist her judgement of troublemaking students, as part of the school's peer disciplinary committee. However, after realizing one boy caught with drugs was just lying to cover for someone, she took it upon herself to investigate further.

I liked this episode, despite its faults. The show definitely needs to start finding a wider range of story possibilities, as the use of JJ and Daphne has been particularly repetitive. It wouldn't hurt if the show just put a few of the Powell clan to one side for a week, rather than struggle to give every single regular something to do. Daphne's subplot wasn't big enough to become actively annoying, but it could easily have been removed and the time used to improve the more pertinent stories.

I've also started to realize I'm very unclear about Dr King's motivations and long-term goals. He's clearly discovered a serum that can give people super-powers, and in this episode we learn that he's related to Joshua (I'm guessing it's father-and-son), but why is he sending Joshua out into the world to keep the existence of a few super-powered people (ex-guinea pigs?) a secret? Why isn't he cashing in on this discovery, by offering the military access to a serum that would give soldiers super-powers, or something? Maybe it's my memory playing tricks, but I think the writers need to spend some time explaining and strengthening Dr King's role on the show. He's the villain, that much is very clear, but what does he want and why does he want it?

In any case, the real success of "No Ordinary Brother" was the storyline with Mike's brother, which was played very well. Jason Wiles (last seen in last summer's ill-fated Persons Unknown) was plausible as Jim's loser sibling, and there were quite a few moments when the actor's performance raised the material. One scene in particular, with Jim revealing his anguish that Mike never came to support him at their sick father's hospital bedside, was probably No Ordinary Family's best moment in terms of straight acting. Chiklis and Wiles worked well together, creating a real sense of deep-rooted brotherly love. I was especially impressed because Wiles wasn't someone I rated much during Persons Unknown, but he did an admirable job throughout this episode.

As a side issue, I'm a little annoyed No Ordinary Family isn't a more cohesive show, week to week. It often feels like every episode is more isolated than it should be, particularly when guest stars appear, leave their mark, then vanish. For instance: what happens to half the kids Daphne and JJ befriend and help out at school? I understand not every guest star's going to be become a semi-recurring character, but it sometimes feels like someone's hitting a big reset button. After all, what happened to that student who was rescued by Jim and seemed likely to guess Jim's identity? It was nice to see the teacher Jim saved from a car accident in this episode, but remember when we thought he'd have a bigger role in the show? Or how about the two Cotton kids from last week? Have they vanished? Is Daphne still running for school president, as she was last week? And are guest stars in seemingly important roles (like Stephanie's parents and now Jim's brother) likely to return, or are they basically one-off deals? I'd just like to see the show keeping a few continuous strands.

Overall, "No Ordinary Brother" worked because of Jason Wiles' character, who brought a slice of realism to the show, and the story did a good job looking at the two brother's relationship. The Katie/Joshua and Daphne storylines were mostly a disappointment, but it was fun to learn that Dr King got himself another "fixer" in Victoria Morrow, who's revealed to be a shapeshifter.


  • You may recognize Rebecca Mader from Lost, where she played Charlotte. Let's hope she does a better job on No Ordinary Family, as she was quite uninspiring on that other ABC show.
  • I'm not sure why, but I got the impression Joshua's health when he's not full of super-serum is less than normal. Is it possible Dr King gave Joshua this treatment because he was disabled in some way? Or is the major flaw of the serum the fact you can't stop taking it without incapacitating sickness?
WRITERS: Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer
DIRECTOR: Michael Watkins
TRANSMISSION: 11 January 2011, ABC, 8/7c