No Ordinary Family: Episode 1.01 & 1.02 (2010)

A family is transformed into superheroes after a freak accident. They try to forget their powers and live a normal life, only to find out that's not so easy (after all, with great powers comes great responsibility). Later they discover that there are superheroes everywhere, of course this means there are also super villains.

Now tell me, does this in any way sound familiar?

It should. ABC's new family drama is a mishmash of Fantastic Four, The Incredibles and Heroes, and let's be honest, none of those were all that original to begin with. They were all built on a legacy of superheroes stories - comic books in particular - going back nearly a century.

The very ordinary family at the center of No Ordinary Family is comprised of dad Jim Powell, played by Michael Chiklis, who previously had a massive hit with The Shield, and who starred as The Thing in Fantastic Four. He works as a police sketch artist, constantly bullied by the "real" cops. His wife is Stephanie, played by Julie Benz. We know her from Rambo and The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. She's a successful scientist, and the one who brings home the cash, a source of tension and drama in the family. They have two kids, Daphne (Kay Panabaker) and JJ (Jimmy Bennett). That's right, you've entered a world where Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz can hook up and create Kay Panabaker. How's that for a fantastic setting?

Cue family vacation to reconnect, plane crash in a strange river in South America, and superhero powers for everyone. Jim is suddenly indestructible and can jump really high. Stephanie can run really fast. Daphne can hear other people's thoughts. And JJ gets really good at math. Jim quickly decides he wants to be an actual superhero, he enlists the help of a friend and soon he's out fighting crime. When Stephanie discovers her powers, she realizes that she can be a good mother again, something her career has prevented her from being, but now she's got more free time on her hands, since she can do everything faster. The kids mope around and have teenage angst... Cut to commercial.

No Ordinary Family is a family show. It's not just about a family, it's also for the family. The whole family. Everybody can join, because this show is so G-rated it'll make you vomit. Everything is clean and safe. Actually, to call it "safe" would be the same as describing Mount Everest as a "somewhat sizable pile of dirt". This world feels like those chocolate commercials where grandchildren run to their grandparent in soft focus, to tell them how important they are, or the airline commercials where the well-manicured dad watches the sunset above the clouds with longing in his eyes, while his children are down on the ground waiting for daddy to come home. This is a show where no argument is too big to be solved in the first scene after the break, and where every conversation ends with "I love you" or "I'm so proud of you".

The first and most obvious question is: Do we really need another superhero story? After watching the first two episodes of No Ordinary Family the answer would have to be a resounding "Hell no, and even if we did, this wouldn't be it." Now, don't get me wrong, this show has space to grow, but we know it's never going to mess up the family unit, and since we're stuck with that the show is already too limited for me to care. If we give the show the benefit of the doubt, and say it manages to develop an interesting superhero story, and perhaps even embrace some darkness, it will still be stuck in family-friendly land, and it will still only cover familiar ground. More likely we'll end up with something closer to Lois and Clark than Heroes, with cartoon villains and sanitized violence. From my couch this is a show about superheroes made by people who seem clueless about the subject, not to mention completely uninterested in exploring that aspect, beyond the simple, obvious conflicts.

No Ordinary Family is also troubled by the kind of lazy writing that plagues many primetime shows these days. The pilot episode, for example, is wrapped in the "interview" format, where the two leads talk directly to the camera about their experiences. At the end of the episode we learn that the couple is in therapy to "work out their issues" and the whole story has been told to the therapist. This person is not mentioned in the second episode, so maybe someone said, "wait a second, weren't they supposed to keep their powers a secret?" This is such a clumsy and uninspired storytelling device. But it's the little things that annoy me the most, like the scenes where two characters are walking through busy hallways talking loudly and openly about their top secret secrets! You do realize that even the delivery guy you just passed could pick up on this conversation, right?

The second episode centers around the ongoing struggle of "let's use our powers!" "let's not!" "Let's!" "No!" "Yes!" I think the two leads manage to change their position on this issue EIGHT times during the episode. I'm already bored with this. The show is called NO Ordinary Family, for crying out loud! I think it's safe to assume they're not going to pretend to be a regular family again.

There's real drama to be found in the setup, but you have to be fearless. Like Heroes was the first season. It was written as if every episode would be the last. The drama this kind of writing produced was unparalleled. No Ordinary Family is forced to glean its drama from thin air, and pump up the conflicts to laughable levels. "I could have lost you!" Jim yells, when Stephanie gets into an accident using her powers. The funny bit? She stumbled over a children's bicycle. That's all. Yup, when this is the level of drama, 42 minutes can seem like an eternity.

This is a gigantic step back for Michael Chiklis. This show belongs in the same box as The Commish, so far removed from his stunning performance in The Shield that it's not even funny. It makes his performance in Fantastic Four seem like award material. Julie Benz has problems of her own. Her character must be utterly offensive to women. Here is a successful, beautiful woman, and what does she do when she discovers her superpowers? Why, she uses the extra time she gains to make lunch for the kids, and then she vacuums really fast. As for the kids... Well, I got nothing. The first two episodes never get past the teen-angst, and since the writers have stuck the adults in the show with the "action powers" I can assume they'll never join the action at the same level as their parents.

Maybe they should have called the show No Ordinary Parents, and gotten some drama out of the tension between the kids and the adults, if the adults were living out the kids' fantasies. Just an idea.


Turns out that with great powers comes... more time for bake-sale.

Unsurprisingly No Ordinary Family has been deleted from my "Need To Watch" list.

This is the very definition of modern TV. Dumbed down and simplified until it's completely without taste, packaged in neat little boxes, with all the danger sucked out. So soft around the edges that you can look at it through squinting eyes, and it still looks the same.

These people may have the power to run at the speed of sound, or leap tall buildings in a single bound, but they seem unable to deflect mediocrity. Well, a good superhero needs his kryptonite, I guess.


She Shoulda Been A Contender, Part I


You know the situation: You're watching some random movie or TV-show and suddenly a hot girl shows up on the screen. You say to yourself: I know this girl! She's super cool! Why doesn't she work more? What happened to her? She shoulda been a contender...!

This is the first in a series of blogs to celebrate hot actresses who should have had bigger careers.


Piper Perabo

Piper burst onto the scene with the Jerry Bruckheimer produced Coyote Ugly (2000), playing a small time gal, who is trying to make it big in the music biz. She didn't actually sing, but she jumped on the bar and danced her little butt off. After that Piper took the indie route with the lesbian drama Lost and Delirious (2001) (yes, thank you), and then... Nothing. Middle of the road movies that went nowhere, and B-action movies. There was Imagine Me & You (2005), it was cute, but not cute enough. Forgettable bit parts in high profile projects like The Prestige (2006) or Because I Said So (2007) did nothing to further her career. Where are all the sweet romantic comedies? Or - continuing the course charted by Lost and Delirious - the edgy indie films?

High point: Lost and Delirious. Raw. Brutal. Heartbreaking. Perfection.
Low point: Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008). Haven't seen it. Don't need to. It's all in the title.
Should have been in: More lesbian movies.

Jennifer Sky

Don't knock a meager beginning in TV. Jennifer first made her mark on the tubes in shows like Xena: Warrior Princess (1995) and Cleopatra 2525 (2000), in the latter she even took the title role.

A significant contribution to the low-budget Big Brother-esq thriller My Little Eye (2002) earned her some nerd cred, but it was guest appearances on Fastlane (2002) and CSI Miami (2002) that made her HOT. In both cases she caused TVs to explode or melt all over the world, and on both shows she was brought back for encore appearances some episodes later. And then.... Nothing. A few scattered TV appearances, films no one heard of that were barely released, and holes in her CV several years wide!

You don't have to look much further than her FHM photoshoot to learn why this girl should have been a star, but her sweet and heartfelt performance in the pilot for Fastlane was a surprising addition to the action oriented show.

High point: Fastlane.
Low point: The Helix... Loaded (2005).
Should have been in: Something cool like The Matrix, or perhaps Lost.

Joey Lauren Adams

Were it not for her roles in two Kevin Smith films, we probably would never have heard about Joey.

Mallrats (1995) put her on the map (topless appearances for the win), but Smith's more serious followup Chasing Amy (1997) should have propelled her to the A-list. It secured her a Golden Globe nomination, for best lead actress, and the film proved, beyond any doubt that she was massively talented. Unfortunately this beautiful girl has been completely and utterly incapable of finding a film project that showcases any of her talents. In all fairness she also turned in a solid performance in In the Shadows (2001), but that's pretty much the extent of her watchable work.

High point: Chasing Amy.
Low point: Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001) apparently she voices a squirrel.
Should have been in: Something where she talks a lot. And gets into screaming fights, maybe something like West Wing?

Bridget Fonda

1992 was the big year for Bridget. She starred in the thriller Single White Female and indie darling Singles. Then came a string of bland movies, like the Nikita remake Point of No Return (1993), nothing that really captured her delicate features and girl-next-door natural spark. Tarantino cast her in Jackie Brown (1997) as a skanky ho, and Sam Raimi cast her as a conniving bitch in A Simple Plan (1998) - That got her some attention. In Kiss of the Dragon (2001) she played opposite Jet Li, a perfect example of what she could bring to an underwritten role. And then… Nothing.

The TV movie Snow Queen (2002) became her last appearance - at the moment anyway.

High point: Kiss of the Dragon. You can't beat "hooker with a heart of gold".
Low point: Monkeybone (2001). It's pure evil, captured on film.
Should have been in: Ally McBeal. Would have made it halfway watchable.

Sabrina Lloyd

This one REALLY pisses me off! Sabrina has paid her dues on TV. She starred in Sliders (1995) for several seasons, then she hit the big league in Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night (1998), a series that perfectly presented her winning combination of irresistible feistiness and heartbreaking tenderness. One would think such a performance would make her a household name, but no. She showed up in the high-profile series Numb3rs (2005), only to disappear after the first season. In terms of feature films she did the Sundance favorite Dopamine (2003), and that's pretty much it.

Is it really possible that we live in a world where a cute, talented girl like Sabrina can't find work? If that's the case we might as well give up and push the button, but I refuse to believe it. Sabrina can do so much! Somebody hire her! She's is a diamond! Make her sparkle!

High point: Sports Night.
Low point: Sports Night being cancelled.
Should have been in: Any number of indie films, romcoms with an edge, or fast-paced TV shows with lots of dialogue.

Sean Young

Of course we all remember Sean from Blade Runner (1982). She was also in the curious turkey Dune (1984), and she played opposite Kevin Costner in the brilliant No Way Out (1987). In Wall Street (1987) she appeared to be legitimately drunk, or perhaps high, during all her scenes. (That was a bit odd.) I remember liking her in Cousins (1989), but in Fire Birds (1990) she was just miscast, actually everybody was. The last remotely respectable film she did was A Kiss Before Dying (1991).

After a particular nasty breakup with James Woods she got a reputation for being certifiably insane. Other eccentric behavior didn't help her, and soon she was poison in Hollywood. She has tried to claw her way back since then, but nothing really solid has emerged. And now it's probably too late.

High point: Blade Runner. Classic. Epic. Unbeatable.
Low point: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994). Her character is really a man.
Should have been in: Batman Returns. Michelle Pfeiffer was great, but imagine what Sean could have done with the part.



When actresses like these disappear, despite being capable of delivering a captivating performance - some in more limited fields than others - it's hard not to speculate. Did they just pick the wrong scripts? Were they unlucky? Perhaps they were unbearable to work with? Whatever the reason is we can do little more than mourn.

It sounds really mean to say this, but these actresses should also be aware that they come with an expiration date, more so than their male counterparts. If you're a woman in Hollywood your career decelerates drastically when you look 30 (I stress the "look"-part). It grinds to a halt when you look 40. Luckily modern science can extend this period a good 10 years, if not more, but once you hit "that zone" you'll only get parts where you play "mother". There are exceptions of course, but they are few and far between. Like Helen Mirren, she's still foxy at 65.

Add your suggestions below, and stay tuned for the upcoming Part II.