Thursday, 24 March 2011

'NO ORDINARY FAMILY' 1.18 - "No Ordinary Animal"

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz are signing onto other pilots, ABC have announced this show's last clutch of episodes are going to bounce around the schedule, so I think it's safe to say No Ordinary Family has its neck on the chopping block. That's a shame, as it's a harmless and likeable superhero show the whole family can sit down to enjoy, which is actually doing very well in the UK (where it's shown on digital channel Watch, and grabbing solid ratings every week.) If only the same were true of its American performance, but clearly its native audience would prefer something edgier that takes risks. I can understand that, as I often wish No Ordinary Family was slightly less cutesy, too, but it's just nowhere near as disappointing as the ratings would have you believe.

"No Ordinary Animal" was another standard episode in terms of storytelling and construction, but it contained a handful of genuinely exciting and, for this series, fairly radical changes. Cumulatively, this was probably the best episode the show's done. Jim (Chiklis) and George (Romany Malco) were trying to catch a killer who appears to be targeting "supers" and has some kind of animal traits himself, as the police are convinced the murders are vicious dog attacks. Turns out Dr King's (Stephen Collins) recently injected Death Row patient Lucas Winnick (Eric Balfour) has joined his boss Mrs X (Lucy Lawless) in a mission to clean up the city of its itinerant supers, and is playing assassin. Matters are complicated when Lucas discovers the Powell family have powers (as they're not on Mrs X's list of supers), meaning Jim and Stephanie (Benz) must protect their kids from harm.

Meanwhile, there were some functional subplots with JJ (Jimmy Bennett) being pressured by his teacher Mr Litchfield (Jason Antoon) to complete difficult equations, unaware Litchfield is being passed this data by Dr King; while Daphne (Kay Panabaker) was encouraged by her boyfriend Chris (Luke Kleintank) to use her mind-control so they can skip school and go see an outdoor concert. Neither were particularly interesting on their own, but both knitted with the more important stories that are being told -- with JJ's equation revealed to be the secret to ensuring super-power permanency, and Daphne's life being put in danger from Lucas. The latter also prompted a series highlight in terms of special effects, with a Jim vs Lucas super-fight that was surprisingly enjoyable and actually better than most fights Heroes ever gave us.

But while this episode wasn't really anything special, it involved a handful of developments that made it standout from the crowd. Katie (Autumn Reeser) suddenly demonstrated telekinesis, coming to the later conclusion that she's inherited some of ex-boyfriend Joshua's powers because she's pregnant (a surprise that, frankly, was so predictably it was irritating they didn't reveal it until the end), and the show actually endangered the Powells in a credible way. In fact, the moment when Lucas managed to punch his claws into Stephanie's stomach and leave her dying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood made for a a genuinely tense situation. One that enabled Chiklis to shine as his character contemplated losing his wife, and cemented Balfour's villain as someone who's an unmistakable threat instead of a trivial villain-of-the-week.

After receiving some super-serum "miracle cure", Stephanie recovered, but in the final shot it appeared the serum has boosted her ability to an unprecedented level as she literally disintegrated during a late-night run. I assume she's travelled so fast she's jumped forward in time, so hopefully episode 19 will give us an entertaining look at the Powell family's possible future together. Katie as a mother with a super-baby? JJ and Daphne as twentysomethings? There's lots of potential.

Overall, "No Ordinary Animal" was one of the better episodes of this likeable show, if only because it gave the mythology a noticeable shove towards the finish. It's still a very soft show that feels like it should be airing in the afternoons, but it's efficiently done and plays to the strengths of its talented cast. I like this family, I enjoy their mini-adventures, I like how it's refused to become a tangled mess by keeping things fairly grounded. Was a better show possible with this premise and cast? Oh, definitely. But I'm sure a second season would have ironed out some flaws and reassessed a few things.


  • A reminder: in a change to the schedule, the penultimate episode will air on 25 March at 10pm. The finale will actually air on 5 April.
  • Unintentional hilarity: check out the crowd watching that outdoors concert, as they each appear to be dancing to a completely different song.
  • Katie keeps comparing Joshua to Wolverine, and Lucas is definitely based on Sabretooth. I think the stage is set for those two to fight, don't you think?
  • It seems that Chris is becoming a bad influence on Daphne, by encouraging her to abuse her abilities so much. It'll be interesting to see if their relationship fizzles out over this, or if Chris is understandable just excited to have a super-girlfriend.
written by Zack Estrin & Jon Harmon Feldman / directed by Greg Beeman / 22 March 2011 / ABC