First Look at No Ordinary Family

ABC ran the entire pilot episode for No Ordinary Family today at Comic-Con, followed by a brief Q&A session with Greg Berlanti, John Harman Felman, and stars Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz. It looks promising.

It’s a little hard to pin down, genre-wise. It’s not a super-hero show, but it has super-powers (and lots of references that comic book readers will catch). It’s not really an action show, though there is some action involved. I’d say it’s primarily a family drama with comedic and action highlights.

On one hand, there is a bit of an Incredibles vibe to it: It’s about a family with super-powers, the father is trying to reclaim his glory days by going out and secretly fighting crime, etc. But it’s different enough not to feel like a retread. For one thing, the powers are new, and it’s set (like Heroes) in a real-world setting that hasn’t seen super-powers before.

The pilot is structured as an interview with flashbacks, first with Jim Powell speaking, then with Stephanie Powell taking over, then switching back and forth. The episode shows the characters and how they relate, then shows each of them discovering their powers, then delves into how those powers affect them. Edit: You do eventually find out who they’re talking to.

Sort of like Freshmen, they all gain powers related to their self-perceived shortcomings.

Jim (Michael Chiklis) is a police sketch artist who feels like he can’t measure up. He gains powers similar to the Golden-Age Superman: strength, can catch bullets, some invulnerability but not completely, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. (He discovers that he can’t fly in, I believe, the same alley where Peter Petrelli attempts the same experiment.)

Stephanie is a research scientist, head of R&D for a biotech company, and is so busy that she’s constantly falling behind in one thing or another. Naturally, she gains super-speed. The scene where she first bursts out running is one of the better depictions of super-speed that I’ve seen I hate to compare it to The Incredibles again, because visually it’s entirely different, but it manages to capture the same sense of wonder that Dash’s first all-out run does. The effects for that sequence are also more elaborate than later scenes (which mostly make use of the standard blur-and-wind technique), adding in distortion, shock waves, and a mix of high-speed and slow motion.

Their daughter Daphne is dealing with social pressures as a teenager, and is constantly texting. She picks up telepathy (which, as we know from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is not easy to deal with in high school). Their son JJ may have a learning disability (Stephanie refuses to admit the possibility, so he hasn’t been tested), and when the super-powers start breaking out, he seems once again to have been left behind. The effects team has managed to find a way to provide visual cues for non-visible powers.

Rounding out the cast are Jim’s friend, the DA, to whom he confides his powers immediately, a detective who will probably be the main “hide the powers from her!” character, and a lab tech to whom Stephanie reveals her abilities because she’s both a scientist and a comic-book fan.

Edit: The scenes with the confidantes are great, particularly the DA’s changing reaction to Jim’s powers, and Stephanie’s assistant’s gleeful hypothesizing as they start running experiments to see just how fast she is. (After all, what else would a scientist do after getting super-powers? Experiment!)

Thankfully, they don’t drag the “hide the powers from the significant other” plot out longer than a few minutes — and the hiding is presented as a symptom of their fracturing relationship, not as the standard Silver Age “I must lie to my girlfriend in order to protect her” line.

From the discussion it sounds like they will be making some adjustments to the pilot to set up more elements for the series. I’m not 100% sold on it yet, and at moments it is a bit sappy for my tastes, but I’ll definitely be giving it a shot when it airs this fall.

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