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From Ozzie and Harriet to Marge and Homer, television has offered up various representations of the so-called ordinary family. But after years of such efforts and dozens and dozens of domestic dramas and comedies, the TV family continues to be mostly a fun-house-mirror version that rarely bears a resemblance to any family we’ve ever known.
What’s different — and refreshing — about ABC’s “No Ordinary Family” is that the efforts made to convince you that the Powells are normal, while entirely sincere, don’t last long. Their supposed normalcy disintegrates into something more fun and potentially more compelling well before the pilot’s end credits begin to roll.
The Powells are Dad Jim (Michael Chiklis), a frustrated artist who has primary parenting responsibilities in addition to his job drawing sketches at the police department; and Mom Stephanie (Julie Benz), a workaholic research-science executive. They have two “typical” teenagers: a darling daughter, Daphne (Kay Panabaker), with major insecurities and a chronically discontented son, JJ (Jimmy Bennett), with a learning disability.
At the insistence of Jim, who believes that they haven’t spent nearly enough time together, the family vacations in Brazil, where they charter an airplane for a sunset ride over the rainforest. The plane gets caught in a sudden electrical storm and crashes into a river with water that bears a vague resemblance to Mountain Dew. Miraculously, they are unharmed. However, soon after they return home, they discover that they’ve turned into a family version of “Heroes.”
Dad has superstrength and is nearly invulnerable. Mom can move faster than the Flash. Sis has telepathic problems, and junior eventually becomes some sort of genius. Their reactions are as different as their superpowers. Dad is thrilled, Mom is curious, sis is anguished and junior relishes knowing the answers to tests, for a change.
Subsequent episodes will reveal whether executive producers Greg Berlanti and Jon Harmon Feldman use their creative powers for good or evil. Cheers if they give primacy to the family drama; shows of that genre comprise much of Berlanti’s background (“Everwood” and “Brothers and Sisters”). Jeers if the show emphasizes cartoon action, evil psychopaths and special effects while only incidentally exploring the family dynamic.
For Chiklis, the role is a neat blend of previous roles in “The Commish” and “Daddio.” Viewers who know him mainly as crooked cop Vic Mackey from “The Shield” will marvel at how adroitly he reveals his softer side. The other roles are more one-dimensional, though that might simply be the result of constraints placed on a pilot that bears the burden of explaining the premise.
The pilot will air again at 9 p.m. Friday before the show settles into its regular 8 p.m. Tuesday slot.
The Bottom Line: Unusual superpowers make it possible to move the family drama in extraordinary directions.
Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28 (ABC)
Production: Berlanti Television and “Oh That Gus!” Inc. in association with ABC Studios
Cast: Michael Chiklis, Julie Benz, Romany Malco, Autumn Reeser, Kay Panabaker, Jimmy Bennett, Stephen Collins, Tate Donovan, Christina Chang, Reggie Lee, Tom Amandes
Executive producers: Greg Berlanti, Jon Harmon Feldman, David Semel, Morgan Wandell
Co-executive producer: Michael Chiklis
Supervising producer: Joe Hartwick Jr.
Producers: Ra’uf Glasgow, Samantha Thomas, Melissa Berman, Michael Cedar
Co-producers: Jennifer Lence, Carl Ogawa
Director: David Semel
Creators-story: Greg Berlanti, Jon Harmon Feldman
Teleplay: Jon Harmon Feldman
Director of photography: David Boyd
Production designer: Phil Toolin
Editors: Mark S. Manos, Troy Takaki, Tirsa Hackshaw
Music: Blake Neely
Set decorator: Beau Petersen
Casting: John Papsidera
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