So this is what it looks like when No Ordinary Family tries. Instead of intentionally spinning its wheels, tonight's episode went half-speed ahead. No angst about whether powers should or shouldn't be used. More importantly, the Silver Age comics vibe from the pilot is back. The main characters are actually having fun again, the side characters are entertainingly over-the-top archetypes, and there's an undercurrent of danger to make it all interesting. It still doesn't entirely work—nine weeks of occasionally affable mediocrity isn't that easy to wash away—but it actually gives me a good feeling that what's coming next might not be such a disappointment.
Maybe the show was outlined in this way. The first half-season, in theory, was about the characters coming to terms with their powers. I don't think this was terribly effective, but if that was the plan and that chapter of the show is largely over, then that's acceptable. This episode certainly seemed like something of a conclusion to that section. Jim, Daphne, and JJ all seem to embrace their powers, and Stephanie gets more cause to embrace her research. Add in a surprising cliffhanger, and this is getting closer to a show I'll be happy to watch.
The episode's title, “No Ordinary Sidekick,” describes the overt focus on the conflict between Jim & George and Stephanie & Katie. George is accidentally mistaken for the hero cleaning up Jim's mess at a crime scene and goes mad with self-esteem, frustrating Jim, who thinks there's more to the crime. Meanwhile, Daphne and JJ determine that Will Vader is not who he says he is. This may be the first time that both of the kids have been competent and not annoying at the same time, which is major progress. They convince Stephanie, who promptly fails to convince Katie. The sidekicks “quit,” but within half an hour, they're back, and all is forgiven.
The hour-long episode structure is intact, but the serialization aspects of the show are what pushes this episode above all its predecessors (except, perhaps, the pilot). Dr. Chiles has started realizing that the compound he collected from CEO Palpatine is really weird stuff and manages to give some to Stephanie, who injects a rat that suddenly develops super-speed. He promises her more, but Palpatine finds out and gives Vader the order to off Chiles before Stephanie gets there, and somehow, this actually succeeds (where's your super-speed now, Powell? Mmm-ha).
After getting away with murder, Vader swings by the Powells' to try to patch things up with whomever he can find, and that person happens to be Daphne. He does so, and while leaving, shakes her hand, and she finally busts through to read his mind (look at that! Superpower continuity!) and sees the murder. What follows is actually a legitimately tense scene where he tosses furniture around and reveals his real motivations: getting the powers permanently, just like the Powells have done. Having revealed his hand, he uses his mind powers from last week to tear the memories of the last three months from Daphne's brain. On one hand, I think this is exciting because it ensures drama moving forward. On the other hand ... my first thought after seeing it was “Oh hell, now there'll be even more opportunity for exposition.”
In the midst of all this relative intensity, there's also a low-key JJ plot where he seeks supersmart friends. He discovers an attractive girl playing chess, and thinks to impress her with his brain ... which suddenly doesn't work. Yes, apparently performance anxiety affects the resident supergenius, and if you don't think that No Ordinary Family is going to go there with its jokes, you haven't been paying attention (another welcome return to the pilot's style—dumb scatological humor. Work that 9 p.m. time slot, No Ordinary Family, work it!). He goes to Jim for advice, and Jim tells him to think of baseball stats so he doesn't lose his concentration, and lo-and-behold, it works!
Okay, yes, this is dumb. Last week, Jim saved the cop who's been on his ass all season, and the cop finds out and is suddenly Jim's best friend. That's kind of dumb as well. But you know what? It's dumb in that comic-booky way. I can forgive dumb when the mustachioed cop grins madly and offers Jim cookies. JJ remembering baseball stats and getting kisses is dumb, but it kind of works too. Jim does a little dance after successfully bowling down a criminal? Great, dumb fun.
For all the good things that this episode did, it still didn't entirely work for me. No Ordinary Family has consistently used a trick of trying to weave its plots together by fast cuts from one storyline to the next. This mechanism can work, but not if it's overdone, and it's way, way, overdone in this episode. The most egregious example comes when the sidekicks start to fight with their bosses, and their fights are conveniently intersected with one another. This could work, but the same conversation-meshing trick has been used a couple times previously in the episode already. This may feel like nitpicking, but I feel like it's investing the show with an aura of artificial drama at a point when it's actually starting to build its own, real drama. Still, despite some directorial missteps, this is the best episode since (and perhaps including) the pilot, and it gives No Ordinary Family a surprising amount of momentum heading into the winter break.
- Katie wonders if she might be crossing a line by talking about her personal life, and then says she likes Will more than anyone since “ComicCon '06 where I fell for a metrosexual Wookie.” “Okay, that's the line.”
- “How do you explain that, Mr. ... Gepetto?” Daphne was a real character again tonight. Fingers crossed.
- “I don't know if it's your brain ... ?”
- Jim worries to George about an escalation from thieves stealing from a dry cleaner. “What, like knocking off a laundromat?”
- Katie forgave Joshua neé Will for lying about his online profile in a really big hurry, huh?
- “Turkey club???”
- THAT WAS NOT THE SICILIAN DEFENSE
- Speaking of the actors, the girl that JJ was trying to hook up with didn't look anywhere near his age. He described her as “14.” The actress is 21.