We're nine episodes into No Ordinary Family. The premise of the show is such that, in my opinion, we can reasonably expect a variety of situations where the family members use their superpowers in order to fight bad guys—supervillains, preferably. I'd like to think that this isn't a controversial reading of the show's concept. Yet here we are, nine episodes in—nine!—and we've just had our first family-versus-supervillain fight. It's also the first supervillain fight of any kind since the pilot episode.
I would be okay with this if I got the distinct feeling that No Ordinary Family was slowly escalating its conflicts. But “No Ordinary Anniversary” actually goes out of its way to press the end-of-episode reset button. Stephanie, after spending much of the hour raving about how exciting it is to fight crime with Jim, decides that it's too dangerous for the two of them to do this together and specifically says that she won't do it again. Now, I doubt that this is actually going to be the case, but it seems that the writers have the characters intentionally try and reject the show's premise just to slow things down. That's frustrating enough that I've lost my goodwill towards the show.
It's unfortunate, because by a certain kind of logic, this was one of the show's best episodes. Jim and Stephanie teamed up to fight a pretty cool Pyro-esque supervillain. The special effects during the fight were some of the better ones that the show has done, as the flame villain transformed into a fireball to chase and attack a fleeing Stephanie. The overarching plot moved along at a decent clip, as Vader found out about Jim and Stephanie's powers and possibly Daphne's as well. Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz got the chance to be a little more relaxed and more entertaining than usual. All these things are good things.
And yet we also had to suffer through another “what are the ethics of using powers” debate with JJ and Daphne. JJ gets bullied by some assholes at school, and then decides to pretend to be a bootlicker in order to beat them at poker by using his powers. They change the game to 5-card draw, where his powers are useless, so he recruits Daphne to help him out. Hilarity fails to ensue. Lessons are probably not learned. Whatever winnings the kids get are lost when they have to bribe a security guard at school because they're desperately trying to fix the statue that Jim made as an anniversary gift for Stephanie. It's about as pointless and annoying as it sounds, even when Katie and Watcher Will Vader show up to "check in."
I feel like No Ordinary Family hasn't learned that generic high school kids with superpowers aren't interesting unless their superpowers are pushing them to do something interesting. Buffy had to learn to balance her powers with her high school life, but she also had to balance her desires with her evil-fighting responsibilities. The latter part is what made her interesting as a character. JJ and Daphne just muddle along.
Speaking of the anniversary plot, its first 15 minutes are equally painful, as Jim and Stephanie try to go to a fancypants restaurant, where they're blocked by a No Ordinary Family-trademarked asshole hostess. Stephanie uses her powers to move their date up the list, but oh-so-conveniently, she ruins someone else's night. And he was just about to propose to his girlfriend! Yeesh. Likewise, after their adventure with supervillainry, Jim and Stephanie both get home and do Awkward Television Lies about their evening, as Daphne and JJ respond with their own Awkward Television Lies. If you didn't get that this was an ironic moment, then ABC's Wacky Comic Interlude Music played over the entire scene.
I've been waiting for this episode since the pilot. I've been waiting for a good superpowered fight. I've been waiting for the main plot to move forward in a meaningful fashion. I've been waiting for Chiklis and Benz to show an appreciable amount of chemistry. All these things happened, but they were wrapped in the same awkward format that's been holding the show back since the beginning. I've been grading the show on a “potential” curve with the expectation that at some point it would reach its potential. I've come to the conclusion that, barring the Reeser-Malco-Acker spinoff or some really big surprises in the second half of the season, what we see is what we're going to get.
- If you're interested in my grading pedagogy, I'd say that most of my grades have been inflated about two notches. So compared to the other episodes this season, this is close to a B. Or the rest of them are mostly C's.
- The episode opened with a fire in a big building that Jim didn't hesitate to jump into. This immediately made me think that it had been set by the Green Goblin. Then I wondered why Jim's clothes didn't burn off. But I didn't wonder too hard about that.
- “Impervious like Powerman?” Reeser was poorly used in this episode, but had a few good lines early on.
- Jim and Stephanie discuss leaving the kids home alone for the night. “They're never alone. That's why we had two.”
- These kids are 16 and 14 years old. Is leaving them alone even a discussion?
- “That's what you call it? 'The Lair'? Kinda on-the-nosy.”
- George is impressed with Stephanie's crime-fighting enthusiasm: “I shoulda teamed up with her.”
- Has the director of this episode ever seen or played poker? This was terrible. In poker, people actually fold their cards. (Come to think of it, only The Sopranos has done a really good job of depicting a poker game on television or movies, at least that I've seen.)
- Some important plot points: Palpatine's injections are apparently giving Vader different powers. He now has the power of mental suggestion, telling JJ's bully friends that this isn't the poker game they're looking for. Last week, some of you thought that this might be the case, so well done.
- Also, Jim ends up accidentally (possibly) killing the supervillain by dumping a ton of asphalt on his head, which is a new direction for the show.
- Stephanie's annoying jerk of a lab partner, Dr. Childes, refuses to spy on her and gets fired. He then manages to pick up some of Vader's superserum.