Monday, 28 March 2011

'NO ORDINARY FAMILY' 1.19 – "No Ordinary Future"

Monday, 28 March 2011

Just prior to its first season finale, Heroes did an episode that leaped into the future to show viewers exactly why its characters must stop a city-wide explosion in New York. It was a clever idea, although its existence signaled the characters would triumph in the end, as the writers just wanted an hour to speculate on the road untraveled. No Ordinary Family attempted something similar with "No Ordinary Future", but because its own season arc is small-scale and hazy (a mysterious company are trying to develop super-powers is all we have) it was forced to attach things to a standalone story.

This inability to deliver something ambitious and relevant to Dr King and Mrs X's (Lucy Lawless) roles as villains on the show was, unfortunately, the big failing of an episode that might otherwise have been excellent. Still, this penultimate hour was brisk, entertaining, and comfortably the most appealing hour No Ordinary Family's given us all season. What a pity the show's started to deliver its most enjoyable episodes now it's almost certainly cancelled.

Continuing from episode 18's cliffhanger, Stephanie (Julie Benz) found herself disintegrating mid-run and appearing a few days into the future, where she witnessed a SWAT team closing on her house. Inside, Jim (Michael Chiklis) was attempting to smuggle JJ (Jimmy Bennett) and Daphne (Kay Panabaker) out of harm's way as the armed men moved in to arrest them, with Stephanie unable to help because she's invisible (conveniently and illogically), before being catapulted back to the present-day after a few minutes. The concept behind the episode was duly established: Stephanie played temporal detective by jumping into the future (at risk to her health) for a few minutes at a time, to deduce why, how, and when her family's secret is exposed to the world.

In the present, Jim was involved with trying to catch dirty cops responsible for gunning down his colleague in cold blood, with the help of George (Romany Malco); Daphne became more uncomfortable over boyfriend Chris's (Luke Kleintank) demands that she use her mind-control for immoral purposes; and Mrs X resurrected shape-shifter Victoria (Rebecca Mader) in order to have her pose as a doctor to get information on Katie's ((Autumn Reeser) super-baby pregnancy.

To be honest, none of the subplots were especially engaging when viewed separately, as the situation with Katie was simply laying groundwork for the finale's events (plus involved the cheat of bringing Victoria back to life), and the situation with Katie's pregnancy has arrived annoyingly late in the year. Elsewhere, Daphne's frustrating situation with Chris has been covered a few times already, so this was just the final go-around before a lasting solution -- which was admittedly rather touching, with Daphne agreeing to erase Chris's memory of her super-power, only to realize she's accidentally expunged their entire relationship. The look on Daphne's face when she saw Chris's affection for her drained from his face, knowing she's sacrificed a relationship and confidant in order to protect her family, was nicely done by Panabaker.

But it's the central time-travel story that demanded the most attention, of course. I really liked how it dovetailed with Jim's investigation into a dirty cop at the precinct, and the way current events merged with Stephanie's glimpsed futures. Sure, it made no sense that Stephanie was invisible whenever she visited the future, and it was awfully convenient that a "Future Stephanie" was always absent (thus avoiding paradoxes – like wouldn't Future Stephanie know about Past Stephanie's existence?), but I don't know anyone who watches No Ordinary Family for water-tight plotting. It's all about the warm family dynamic and playfulness with the superhero genre. So the basic idea of Stephanie trying to solve a mystery backwards did what was intended, and in the process we got to see a special effects highlight of the season: Jim flipping a van into the air, having it somersault a few times, before crashing on the other side of a street. Impressive.

It wasn't the best penultimate episode you could hope for, in terms of how it pushed the pre-existing storylines along, but it managed to deliver a few nuggets of information we'll need for the finale: JJ's duplicitous teacher Mr Litchfield (Jason Antoon) has gone missing from school, and Mrs X has decided to let Victoria steal Katie's unborn super-baby and raise it as her own. I continue to enjoy how the show deals with issues of family (kids, babies, marriage, sibling rivalry) to anchor everything on relatable issues. We all have families, after all.

It's a shame ABC originally gave No Ordinary Family a full season commitment, then trimmed the order down to 20. The show would have been more successful with a 13-episode order, giving the writers a focus, before potentially being given a back-nine. That's how Chuck has often staved off narrative tedium, by essentially have two mini-seasons every year. Instead, No Ordinary Family went down the familiar path of having too much mid-season slack (which didn't help people encouraged to give it a second chance, who tuned in to see filler), thus prompting ABC to reduce their total order. Then, ironically, with less episodes has come tighter focus on a nearer endgame, and a run of great episodes that aren't being seen by many people.


  • If you're not already aware, the finale will air on 5 April.
  • When did "zooping" become the verb to describe Stephanie's high-speed movement?
written by Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer / directed by Milan Cheylov / 26 March 2011 / ABC