Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

No Ordinary Family: "No Ordinary Vigilante"

Illustration for article titled No Ordinary Family: "No Ordinary Vigilante"

There has to be a certain amount of bad logic in a superhero story. No Ordinary Family acknowledged as much in its pilot, with Katie timing Stephanie and shouting basic science questions at her. Last week, a few of you commented on the illogic of the superpowers. In one episode, JJ is doing trigonometry without knowing how or why, which implies that his power is intuitive. In the next, he's writing reports for his sister and learning a language in a night, which implies that his power is more conscious. And this week, he's using it to play football, which goes back to the intuition idea on one hand, but he treats it like math, not language, on the other. I'd like to see more logic here, but I'm willing to let it slide on the ground that the writers are figuring out their storytelling at the same time that the characters are figuring out their powers.

The other kind of bad logic that several of you noted last week was the wedding ring. There's absolutely no reason why the robbers would still be carrying around the wedding ring and just the wedding ring after their failed heist. It's especially poor because it negates the entire point of the scene, which is that Jim isn't a cop and failed to arrest the criminals properly. I get the feeling that looking for the logical point of the scene isn't the point, though. The point is the emotional impact of the scene. Jim succeeded in capturing the robbers who emasculated him at the previous wedding, so by managing to catch them, he regains the symbol of his responsible manhood. However, Jim is still acting as a vigilante, so “the system” is rigged against him. The A.V. Club's Zack Handlen described this form of storytelling in Michael Bay movies like this:

…and the potential charges never make much logical sense, but the idea gets introduced, and in a (Michael Bay movie), that’s the key. Plots aren’t important. It’s the implication of plotting that matters, and a reliance on certain basic concepts to hold that implication together for the running time.

No Ordinary Family seems to work along the same lines. I'm not as offended by the silliness of it as some of you were, but I certainly wouldn't mind seeing the plots better developed.

This week's storyline proceeds along those same lines. It makes sense emotionally, but if you think about it too long, it falls apart. The characters behave in ways that only really work if you look at it from the point of view that they're being written to act that way to make the plot make sense. Jim, hunting a vigilante shooter in a park, is mistaken for the shooter. He has no gun. He has no reason to run away. Yet he does run away, and it leads to some tension when the requisite No Ordinary Family sitcom-style wackiness involves him drawing himself as the suspect! Prop glasses are also involved.

Likewise, Daphne's behavior seems to exist in order to get herself grounded. She and her friends want to crash a party, so she uses her powers to get in, and then tries to use them again to buy alcohol so she can be popular. Granted, we don't know much about her character, but the whole storyline seems forced so that it leads to the ending.

Once we get to the ending, the episode improves. The show does a good job of milking the dramatic irony of JJ and Daphne knowing about his powers while Jim and Stephanie don't. It even tries to get a little clever with a little montage juxtaposing JJ's football prowess with the cops successfully apprehending the vigilante shooter.


Just like last week, there's a good emotional core here. The Powell family's lies and abuses of their powers are treated in fairly interesting fashion. I liked how foolish Daphne's blackmail plan was – less a plan than a bluff. It was a good demonstration that the superpowers don't always help in the world that the characters want to live in. There's also a good parallel between Myles the vigilante and Jim the vigilante, which the episode draws with some subtlety.

But there are two major things holding the show back. Its reliance on one-dimensional villains like JJ's teacher and Stephanie's competing doctor, is a trend that's losing its charm. What's more annoying is its continued dependence on cliched and obvious plot twists. As soon as Jim mentioned that he was going camping with JJ, it was obvious that the trip was going to be threatened if not outright canceled. As soon as JJ got told that he could join the team but probably wasn't going to play, it was obvious that the starting quarterback was going to get injured. And lo and behold, my prediction that Stephanie's plant was going to be related to the Powell's superpowers has come true! What a surprise.


The most cliched point of all, though, was that when Jim spoke to the vigilante, Myers. Jim went in with a good idea of what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it, but he's disarmed almost immediately by Myers giving a speech about how he “lost” his kid by being a bad parent. The obvious lesson, which Jim saw, was that he should spend time with his kids before he loses them to, you know, drugs and meth and drugs. Another equally valid interpretation might be that you shouldn't have kids if you want to ever have something else interesting go on in your life. That's probably not the takeaway that No Ordinary Family wants to give its viewers, but that seems to be where it's going.

Stray Thoughts:

  • “If enough people say that they got busted by Mr. Clean….”
  • The corrupt and lazy cops in still-unnamed L.A. seem like they're straight out of Batman.
  • I liked the idea of learning football by math. I don't think it's entirely accurate, and some of it was overdone – especially JJ looking at his arm as it adjusted its angle – but it was one of the most interesting depictions of his powers yet.
  • On the other hand, I don't think even getting the math just right would allow a scrawny kid to throw the ball 30 or 40 yards right away.
  • “Our periods of time in which we like to work!”
  • I guess the social hierarchy from Glee is in full effect at whatever school the kids go to.
  • Chiklis doesn't do a half-bad fake sneeze.
  • I'm glad Jim and Stephanie thought that JJ might have powers as the first thing. Gives me some hope that they won't always be considered oblivious idiots.
  • At a certain point, I'll have to stop grading this show on a curve. Speculative fiction shows tend to be either great from the start (which this is not) or it takes them a while to get going – like a season and a half, in the cases of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Buffy, or Babylon 5. Here's hoping No Ordinary Family turns that corner sooner rather than later.