Public service announcement: Despite going up against Glee's cultural juggernaut, No Ordinary Family managed to pick up some solid ratings, so the show is likely to stick around. I guess I should be happy I didn't pick Lone Star as my first TV Club assignment, right?
This week, No Ordinary Family heads into the murky waters of the second episode. The second episode of a season or series is often problematic. The pilot is usually shot months in advance, and in case word of mouth spreads, the second episode has to fill in all the blanks of the first in order to make sense to new viewers.
It would be nice to say that No Ordinary Family managed to sail through those murky waters this week, but it would also be lying. We got the premise shown and told throughout the episode, over and over. Jim and Stephanie, concerned for each other and their family dynamic, work on convincing each other not to use their powers. Yet “should Jim and Stephanie use their powers?” isn't good drama. I mean, it's not like they're not going to use their powers, right? It's the show's premise! There's no tension here.
I'll grant that there is a certain narrative sense to the family questioning their abilities. It is, after all, a common chapter within the superhero form. But it's one thing to pay homage to the form, and quite another to just go through the motions semi-competently. The part where Jim says that his three favorite words are “I love you” was gag-worthy. And Stephanie making Jim promise to not use his powers because it might be dangerous, then she crashes and hurts herself while using her superspeed - it's like Irony For Dummies.
The kids' side of the story is better. In the pilot, we didn't spend much time with JJ and his new supermath skills, which the show quickly rectifies in tonight's episode. He convinces his sister to keep the powers a secret, because he wants his parents to be proud of his suddenly good grades. As far as sullen teenager stunts go, this is understandable. But his math teacher is surprised by the sudden improvement and becomes convinced that JJ is cheating. This leads to a fairly entertaining bout of mathematics-based shit-talking. I have no idea what they were talking about, but the idea of people on network TV throwing it down over the proper way to solve an equation amuses me.
The plot comes together far more in the second half of the episode. The bank robbers that Jim and George have been trying to stop turn out to be connected to the villain from the pilot, and one of them is a big Darth Vader fan. We get to see a bit more of the Emperor Palpatine of this metaphor, Stephanie's boss. Meanwhile, Stephanie and her assistant get a water sample from the plane crash site, but the water turns out to be...just water! (insert dramatic noise here)
My biggest issue with this episode as that it didn't have any of the charm of the pilot. Stephanie and Jim each have a funny sidekick type, who got good lines in the pilot – but not tonight. Other than the new villain, there wasn't much new to discuss on the superpower front. Maybe it was necessary to get this kind of episode over with as soon as possible, like pulling a band-aid off, but that doesn't make me like it any more.
- Last week, a few of you started discussing how each character's superpowers exist to fix weaknesses in their lives, like JJ's learning disability turning into functional genius. This is an interesting kind of teleological cause for superheros – that is, the effect is the cause. I'm not just bringing it up to say the word “teleological,” as fun as that may be, but because I think it has interesting consequences for the show's storytelling. For one thing, it gives the writers an effective route for changing characters' powers. Are there any comics that have used this device?
- I was kind of looking forward to seeing the opening credits for the show. There aren't any. Disappointing.
- “You know the drugstore on the corner? About 500 miles east of there.”
- 500 miles west of Flagstaff is Los Angeles, so I guess we have a setting.
- How long until George gets his own superpowers? I'm guessing first season finale.
- Here in California, there were a few political ads, but all on the Republican side of things. Do you think the show's audience is more likely to skew right-wing? Could just be a coincidence, of course.
- No Ordinary Family drinking game: a shot every time someone says “I know this sounds crazy, but...” or “Something has happened to me.”
- Stephanie wants to find a cure. Now that's how you do superhero drama!
- Was George wearing a seatbelt when he tried to drive over Jim? Because that seems like when you'd want to be wearing a seatbelt.
- I kind of liked Detective Cho.