Tonight's No Ordinary Family was not promising. It was just a handful of episodes ago that we had the sitcom trope of a plot with the family coming to visit. Back then, it was evil in-laws. This time, it's a deadbeat brother. It's not like one is any less cliché than the other, so doing them so close to one another is not an auspicious decision by the No Ordinary Family writers. It is slightly different this time around in that the brother finds out the family has superpowers early, so no sneaking around. But it gets worse when the deadbeat brother, Mike, takes JJ out to the tracks to use his brain to make money on horse racing.
The side plots of tonight's episode don't do much better. Now that Daphne is student council president, she's on a disciplinary committee, led by the evil math teacher in his triumphant return. This apparently involves students coming in, giving their side of the story, and then three students declaring him or her “innocent” or “guilty” as the math teacher pronounces the student's sentence. It's ridiculously terrible, and I'd think it was made-for-TV, but high school is pretty terrible these days. Maybe it's realistic. Either way, it's dumb, and doesn't seem to get less dumb when Daphne finds a guy covering his Adderall possession by being a nihilist about it.
Meanwhile, Katie is offered a promotion and a new lab in Miami, and Stephanie is unhappy about this, figuring that something is up. Something is up, as CEO Palpatine is trying to be an asshole at his roaming former Darth Vader, but his new Human Resources lady uses Textbook Television Manipulation to convince Katie that Steph is totally doing it because she's, like, jealous and shit.
So roughly 25 minutes into the episode, it's pretty much a disaster. All of the plots are bad, which, as mediocre as No Ordinary Family leans, is probably a first. Then something happens. Jim, discovering that his brother has been using his son's superbrain for gambling, lays into his brother for his history of deadbeatness. It's entirely predictable, but Chiklis nails it. I mean, he absolutely crushes it, completely out of nowhere. I felt bad for being a deadbeat afterwards, and I'm not $150,000 in debt.
Those particular debts are the focus of the rest of the episode. How he got so far in debt isn't described, but he's going to be a father, so the Powells decide that he needs to have the chance to be a good daddy, because babies change everything and everyone wants to be in a family and hey look at the name of the show. But somewhere deep inside all of this cliché, out of nowhere, No Ordinary Family manages to find a germ of an interesting moral conundrum. If family is what's most important, then what happens when your family includes a failure, and you actually have the power to help him out of his failure? No Ordinary Family has taken a dim view of classical liberal ideals of justice and their application in modern America. Last week, we saw a boring version of the implications of this point of view, as Jim and his family sympathized with another family simply because they were of a similar race, class, and age. This time it's more complicated. After twelve episodes of generally mediocre and always uncritical storylines about the importance of family, No Ordinary Family stumbled upon a conversation worth having.
I don't think it was an accident, either. In the Katie-leaving subplot, after an “accidental” assassination attempt, the rebellious Watcher returns to his former boss, and declares that he knows what's going on. He knows that Palpatine is trying to kill his girlfriend off because he quit working for him. But when confronted, the Big Bad says that Watcher can't really leave. “You and I are never done. We're family.” This idea of family is something inescapable and not entirely positive – downright malevolent at times – is far more appealing than the paean to the nuclear family that the show has been. I'm not saying that we're witnessing the second coming of Arrested Development as a satire of familial bonds, but at the very least, No Ordinary Family toyed with something more important than becoming a good show tonight. It toyed with becoming an interesting show.
Before it totally commits to being interesting, though, it has to resolve the plots from this episode. JJ and Jim decide to go to the tracks to raise the money for Mike's release, after a minute of hemming and hawing about using-powers-for-money. Lest JJ become a supergambler, he learns a valuable lesson about chance, as the horse they bet all their money on gets injured. So Jim decides to take Mike's place as the dude who gets killed for money. Mike decides to try to escape, Jim uses his superpowers, and a theoretically frightening situation is resolved quickly with the efficient application of violence. Now, why Jim, Stephanie, and JJ didn't develop a plan that utilized each of their powers is beyond me, and a sign that the show, as ever, wants to revert to mediocrity.
Likewise, the show demonstrates as little interest in resolving Daphne's plot at we had in watching it, as she and JJ discover that the Adderall-dude's overachieving younger brother was the one with the pills, thanks to Daphne brow-beating JJ into busting into the dude's locker to find the Adderall. There's an interesting story here involving superpowers being used to curtail civil liberties – and JJ briefly mentions it – but it's all swept under the rug. Maybe next time. Also, Katie decides to stick around after the accident, and it's revealed that the new HR lady, who is blonde and speaks with an English accent, is actually an evil shapechanger. Which is not at all a surprise, given all of those things.
I wanted to hate this episode. I did hate it after the first third or so. And somehow, against all odds, it won me over. It makes me think that maybe No Ordinary Family is trying to be a better show, after all. And it may deserve a second or third of fifteenth chance. We'll see how long that lasts.
- Do people really call their biological brothers “bro” all the time? Man that felt forced.
- Before you think that Vader has entirely reformed, he manages to get Katie off his journal-thievery trail by changing the text in it before her very eyes. The on-screen effect is that he actually changed the text – which would be totally bizarre and not his superpower at all – but it's probably more explainable as him changing Katie's mind. Either way, it's another instant resolution to the previous episode's cliffhanger.
- ”It's kind of in Miami.” Autumn Reeser's delivery continues to astound, with its charm and humor.
- On the other hand, she spent the entire episode in an overcoat. I think her pregnancy may be showing up.
- "In a highly cliched response, you said 'You'll regret this!'” Hooray evil math teacher, may you never run out of scenery to chew.
- I'm glad that JJ's gift for predicting horse races went askew, but that it was successful for so long was still idiotic. Maybe he can play the odds better than most people, but there's no way that he can constantly predict a winner.
- “Do you have anything helpful to say? At all?” “Not really, no.”
- We finally have a city name! It's Pacific Bay. Which is not Los Angeles, not at all.