No Ordinary Family

Being a lover of superhero shows (and particularly the Incredibles movies), I was extremely excited about this show.

The show is about an ordinary family that is having trouble connecting. Jim, the dad, is frustrated because his job as a sketch artist for the police is unfulfilling (he wants to actually HELP people). The mom, Stephanie, is a researcher who is so busy with work she rarely has time for anyone in the family. Daphne, the older child and daughter is in high school and struggling with boys. JJ, the brother, is struggling with a learning disability that makes him feel stupid and that his mother can’t seem to accept. The dad gets the idea to take his family on a trip when their plane crashes in the Amazon River and they suddenly find themselves with superpowers.

This first episode felt very much like a set up episode, so it was hard to really get a sense of how good the show will be. (Not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but it was a bit slow.) It was the origins story, whereas the rest will be more like learning how to use their abilities and how to hide them. The show is intended to be first and foremost a story about a family and uses their powers to explore their relationships. I’ve always felt that superhero stories are always strongest when the powers come secondary to the character and the powers just add an extra element of awesome, so this show certainly has the right make up.

The family’s abilities were perhaps a bit too convenient: the dad wants to help people and ends up being super strong, the mom is short on time and becomes super fast, the daughter is a high school teen who can’t figure out what’s being kept from her and develops telepathy, and the son has problems in school and suddenly becomes a genius. (Anyone else think JJ got shortchanged there?) It might have been more interesting to see how the family members utilized abilities less geared towards their issue to use their issues (for example, the dad became the smart one and used his intellect to solve crime the son could read minds and uses it to cheat on tests, the daughter is super fast and uses is to spy on her boyfriend, and the wife becomes super strong and uses her own blood for research). But since that isn’t an option, we’ll have to make do.

We get a very strong sense of the family in this first episode (though JJ isn’t in very much of it and we will hopefully meet him more later) and the dynamic between the mom and dad, played respectively by Julie Benz (Dexter) and Michael Chiklis (The Shield and also the Thing from Fantastic Four, similar to this really), is particularly believable and touching. Daphne is played by Kay Panabaker (remember Summerland?) and while I’ve never been a fan of the Panabakers, she fits her character perfectly (she’s very good as the insecure, bad at rebellion teen). Jimmy Bennett (Star Trek) had such a small part this week that it’s hard to say if he’s any good, but here’s hoping.

I’m also hoping that there is some actual explanation about where they abilities come from and not just “something in the water,” because they’re not the only people to ever go into the Amazon River and they’re not the only people with superpowers.

There’s also a nice little surprise waiting at the end of the pilot that I appreciated but will not ruin. It’s nothing shocking, just a nice moment (not quite but almost comparable to the end of Modern Family when you discover that the three families we’ve been following are actually related).

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