Friday, 21 January 2011

'NO ORDINARY FAMILY' 1.13 - "No Ordinary Detention"

Friday, 21 January 2011

There was a tweak to the usual format of No Ordinary Family this week, as three separate stories were told that all involved members of the Powell family being detained/trapped in some way. Jim (Michael Chiklis) found himself entangled in a hostage crisis at the police department with George (Romany Malco); Daphne (Kay Panabaker) and JJ (Jimmy Bennett) were held back at school for detention; and Stephanie (Julie Benz) had to deal with an emergency lockdown at the laboratory after Katie (Autumn Reeser) tricked her sick boyfriend Joshua (Josh Stewart) into work for medical treatment.

Coincidentally, "No Ordinary Detention" is the second TV show this month to take inspiration from the movie Die Hard, following a similar storyline to Human Target's "Imbroglio" recently. As I mentioned before, John McTiernan's '80s hit must rank as one of the biggest influences on modern TV screenwriters, who often riff on Die Hard's core premise because it lends itself brilliantly to comparatively micro-budget productions aiming to save cash by only filming on their standing sets. It may be a clich├ęd setup, but seeing Jim enact John McClane, using his super-powers to immobilize the criminal gang who've escaped from custody, one by one, was an entertaining use of his character. It helped spice things up that Jim had to keep his everyday identity a secret, not just his powers, in order to keep his cover, because Internal Affairs officer Rachel Jacobs (Joanne Kelly) is investigating her theory there's a vigilante cop in the city.

The least involving storyline was foisted onto the Powell teens, with a storyline for Daphne and JJ that evoked The Breakfast Club. Writers Zack Estrin and Leigh Dana Jackson sure did raid their DVD shelf for pop-culture muses this week, huh? The result was a pleasant but forgettable story, where a group of kids (including JJ's curiously distant girlfriend, the boy Daphne knows lied about possessing drugs, and the "mean girl" Daphne beat to the position of student president) came to better understand each other. I appreciated this storyline making the effort to utilize some supporting players, having recently bemoaned how No Ordinary Family doesn't have many throughlines and seems to use and dispose of its guest stars. I hope this continues and the show starts to build a social group for JJ and Daphne that doesn't feel like it gets rebooted every week.

Finally, in terms of the mytharc, Stephanie's storyline offered the biggest thrills for fans. Joshua became a quivering wreck as he went cold turkey from Dr King's super-serum, and after being taken to Katie's workplace under false pretenses, came under attack from shapeshifter Victoria (Rebecca Mader), Dr King's wily new henchman. It wasn't the most plausible of subplots (why did Joshua agree to accompany Katie to work if he's so ill?) and the lockdown was an awkward way to avoid the problem Stephanie's workplace would ordinarily be crawling with scientists the show can't allow to witness super-antics, but otherwise I appreciated the steps forward it ultimately achieved.

Katie now knows that Joshua has super-powers (although she didn't press Joshua for details on how he obtained them?!), and Stephanie knows Victoria is a shapeshifter who may return in a different guise -- but was this reveal done too early, considering Victoria was only introduced last week? I think it would have been nicer to play around with Victoria awhile, and the fact Stephanie appeared to disregard so much of the weirdness was a little annoying. In the denouement, it was played for laughs that every character was reticent about going into the details of their day, but it felt very strange that Stephanie wouldn't be gossiping about a shapeshifter having an unexplained interest in herself and Katie.

Overall, I'm probably too soft on No Ordinary Family, but for what the show's intended to be I think this was a very good episode. Some firm developments told within three entertaining storylines, together with an improved performance from Josh Stewart (who isn't a dynamic actor, but plays victimized well), and an impressive turn from Mader as the boo-hiss villain. I often find myself making a list of nitpicks and issues as I watch No Ordinary Family, but the show's a pleasant viewing experience and the fact it's so unpretentious makes me forgive its holes.

WRITERS: Zack Estrin & Leigh Dana Jackson
DIRECTOR: David Petrarca
TRANSMISSION: 18 January 2011, ABC, 8/7c