The show has fun with its premise but unevenly blends family drama with adventure.
Hardly original — think Pixar’s “The Incredibles” in live-action form — “No Ordinary Family” isn’t exactly ordinary either. Mixing comedy, drama and fantasy, it’s clearly ABC’s boldest new offering, designed to attract a family audience at 8 p.m. — a super-heroic feat few recent scripted dramas have managed. Featuring Michael Chiklis (already part of another “Fantastic Four”) and Julie Benz as the newly empowered parents, the show has fun with its premise but unevenly blends family drama with adventure. Fertile as the concept might be, then, the first tall building to leap will involve motivating enough viewers to keep the show airborne.
Racing through the set-up, the Powell family embarks on a South American excursion — mom Stephanie (Benz) brings them along on a research trip — only to see their plane crash during a storm into eerily glowing water.
“We were all living under the same roof, but in different worlds,” Jim (Chiklis) says in direct-to-camera confessionals — one of the heavy-handed elements in Greg Berlanti and Jon Harmon Feldman’s script.
Back home, Jim and Stephanie are clearly stuck in a marital rut, teenage daughter Daphne (Kay Panabaker) is surly, and son JJ (Jimmy Bennett) has pubescent inferiority issues. But then funny things start happening: Jim begins noticing strange powers, enabling him to bound like the Hulk, catch bullets and exert enormous force. Stephanie, meanwhile — overworked and racing to keep up with family and work — suddenly realizes she has super speed.
Each parent has a confidante: His friend George (Romany Malco) and her co-worker Katie (Autumn Reeser), who provide wide-eyed comic relief.
Comicbook origin stories always benefit from the thrill of discovery, and Benz and Chiklis make the most of those scenes — endeavoring, as Jim puts it, to “write the owner’s manual for my new ride.” As for Panabaker — a talented young actress — her high-school-age character is left with less-flattering outbursts about her newly acquired ESP, which can complicate life. Hey, just ask Sookie on “True Blood.”
Inevitably, Jim puts his powers to use, superhero-style, though it’s not entirely clear how these sequences will be reconciled with the ongoing, more mundane family drama. Practical questions also linger about spending enough to keep the special effects coming — always a pilot-vs.-series concern — and whether the kids will ultimately become an asset or (as they are in the pilot) remain more of a distraction.
For all that, there’s too much here to simply dismiss, including intriguing hints of a larger serialized plot that’s more elaborate than simply having Stephanie race — no longer just metaphorically — from work to PTA meetings.
“No Ordinary Family” doesn’t completely burst out of a dramatic mold that ABC has almost single-handedly overdone, and the shadow of “Heroes” lingers uncomfortably over the whole affair.
So is it super? Not yet. But there’s enough spinning around these extraordinary visitors to at least provoke a second visit.