In­cred­i­ble pow­ers

A dip in a lake changes them into No­Or­di­nary Fam­ily.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TV -

IN Anna Karen­ina, Leo Tol­stoy fa­mously wrote that while happy fam­i­lies are all alike, the un­happy ones are un­happy each in a spe­cial way. But this is not true in tele­vi­sion, where un­happy fam­i­lies tend to come in with a few pop­u­lar flavours.

The Pow­ells of ABC’s No Or­di­nary Fam­ily – the ti­tle is ironic, and then again, it isn’t – are a com­mon type: One par­ent too busy to pay at­ten­tion, the other won­der­ing where the good times have gone, and kids who hate them­selves. And like a lot of un­happy TV fam­i­lies, they are ac­tu­ally a happy fam­ily just wait­ing for the thing that will re­mind them of that fact.

As does the car­toon movie The In­cred­i­bles, this new se­ries pro­poses the ex­er­cise of comic-book su­per­pow­ers as a tonic for do­mes­tic malaise. But as this is ap­par­ently meant to be a fam­ily drama as much as it is an ad­ven­ture se­rial – it is co-cre­ated by Greg Ber­lanti, whose CV in­cludes the prime-time soap Broth­ers & Sis­ters, and Jon Har­mon Feld­man, who also cre­ated the su­per­nat­u­ral Tru Call­ing – we should as­sume that it is not a panacea.

Michael Chik­lis, late of The Shield (and the Thing in Fan­tas­tic Four), stars as Jim Pow­ell, a man in a funk. Jim, who once thought he’d be an artist, now sketches sus­pects for the po­lice and dreams of do­ing some­thing “im­por­tant” but is con­stantly re­minded of his place: “Why don’t you leave the crime fight­ing to those of us with a gun?” says one de­tec­tive (a woman too!).

A fam­ily man whose fam­ily has been drift­ing apart, Jim forces his protest­ing teenage daugh­ter and son on vacation to Brazil, where wife Stephanie (Julie Benz), a dis­tracted cor­po­rate re­search sci­en­tist, is in­ves­ti­gat­ing a pow­er­ful strain of jun­gle flora.

Things for the fam­ily go from bored to worse when on a one-hour aerial tour of the rain­for­est, the weather starts get­ting rough, their tiny plane is tossed and, not­with­stand­ing the courage of the fear­less soon-to-be-late pi­lot, the Pow­ells crash-land in a strangely phos­pho­res­cent lake.

This amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, amaz­ingly, has no dis­cernible emo­tional ef­fect on the fam­ily, who re­turns home as if from a trip to SeaWorld.

The kids nei­ther re­sent their fa­ther for nearly killing them nor ex­ploit the so­cial ca­chet that al­most dy­ing in a jun­gle would surely con­fer on any teen.

Jim goes back to mop­ing and Stephanie goes back to work. And then, with metaphor­i­cal apt­ness, come the pow­ers.

Im­po­tent Jim sud­denly can leap tall build­ings in a sin­gle bound and catch speed­ing bul­lets in his bare hand.

Stephanie, peren­ni­ally pressed for time, finds her­self mov­ing faster than the speed­ing bul­lets Jim can catch.

Daugh­ter Daphne (Kay Pan­abaker) gains the power to read minds, which was cer­tainly on my want list as a teenager, though she is less than pleased: “I don’t want new abil­i­ties; high school is hard enough as it is.”

And son JJ (Jimmy Ben­nett), who has a “learn­ing dis­abil­ity”, gets re­ally, re­ally smart.

“In the world of sci­ence we call it an un­ex­plained phe­nom­e­non,” sci­en­tist Steph says of these un­ex­plained phe­nom­ena.

Just what they’ll do with all this new­found mojo is hard to say, so packed is the pi­lot with vary­ing sorts of busi­ness and at­ti­tudes, the sound­track oblig­ingly swinging from comic-bright to melan­choly-mi­nor, to ac­tion­bold.

De­vel­op­ments late in the episode sug­gest that No Or­di­nary Fam­ily will look a lot more like He­roes than it will, say, The Ad­ven­tures Of Su­per­man, a course we have seen to be fraught with dan­ger.

Some scenes are not quite thought through (Jim jump­ing off a sky­scraper to see whether he can fly), some of the di­a­logue too stale to be emo­tion­ally con­vinc­ing (“I missed ... us”), but the show does have pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Still, if it’s go­ing to work as a fam­ily drama, the char­ac­ters are go­ing to have to show them­selves to be more than just poster chil­dren for de­pres­sion, over­work and teenage anomie.

And while the su­per­pow­ers are well imag­ined – the scene in which Stephanie dis­cov­ers her gift of speed is es­pe­cially pretty – they’re go­ing to need an out­let or en­emy worth their pos­sess­ing.

To be con­tin­ued. – Los An­ge­les Times/ McClatchy-Tribune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

Su­pers: Michael Chik­lis and Julie Benz head an ‘av­er­age’ fam­ily in NoOr­di­naryLife.

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