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Intersection of Life and Faith

It’s Birds, It’s Planes, It’s No Ordinary Family

  • Gary D. Robinson TheFish.com Contributing writer
  • 2010 13 Oct
It’s Birds, It’s Planes, It’s <i>No Ordinary Family</i>


The term "dysfunctional family" has become clichéd, even passé. (Of course, the fact that all families are dysfunctional in that they all have people in them could be a contributing factor.)  Nevertheless, the new ABC series, No Ordinary Family, not only embraces the concept, but takes it a step further by giving Dad, Mom, and the kids super-powers. 

In a bid to keep his cracking, splitting family together, Dad takes them on a South American vacation.  A plane crash dumps the family in the Amazon River and thence into very deep waters indeed.  Though they survive the crash (the pilot conveniently dies, saving the show from becoming No Ordinary Family and No Ordinary Charter Pilot), upon their return to the states, they find they've become…more than ordinary. 

Jim Powell (Michael Chiklis) is a browbeaten police artist living in the shadow of his successful wife, Stephanie (Julie Benz), a scientist with a large research firm.  Stephanie neglects her husband and children, Daphne and JJ.  Jim struggles to contain his resentment.  The kids have no qualms verbalizing theirs.  When Mom, Dad, Daughter, and Son discover their super-speed, super-strength, telepathy, and hyper-intelligence, respectively, the resultant crisis forces them to examine their relationship. Anxiety and confusion draws the family closer.  

And here I thought it was the family that prayed together that stayed together!

The idea of ordinary people being infused with super-powers isn't new.  Remember The Greatest  American Hero?  Nor is the concept of a super-powered family, an idea going back much further than The Incredibles.  Way back in 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby shook the funnybook tree with the Fantastic Four.   At least, they were pretty close to a family.  Sue and Reed were engaged, Johnny was Sue's brother, and Ben, while not blood relation, was a good friend of Reed's.  It's fitting, then, that Mike Chiklis, who played the super-strong Thing in the FF movies, should play super-dad in this heir to that comics series. 

Speaking of comics, the first two episodes of NOF are a feast for fans, sprinkled liberally with references to Superman, Batman, the Flash, et al.  In fact, the series plays the Geek card often, throwing in everything from "a single bound" to mention of Michael Keaton's Batman (that takes me back!).  Stephanie and Jim find sidekicks in a female lab assistant/comics fan and a boyishly excited assistant DA. Obviously, the producers are hoping to tap a large audience in tune with Iron Man II and The Big Bang Theory.   This, of course, explains why most of the pilot was by-the-numbers super-hero origin stuff, including How They Got Their Powers and What They First Did With Them--nothing new, but very well done. 

In the second episode, Jim divides his free time between experimenting with his abilities and popping up at crime scenes, incurring first the suspicion, then the ire of a female detective.  Meanwhile, Stephanie uses her incredible speed to create more time for making meals at home and muffins for the school fair.  When she trips over a bike, however, skidding half an abrasive mile, she learns that even super-moms have their limits.  Over at the high school, Daphne searches for a way to tune out "random thoughts from hormonal, insecure teen-agers" while JJ's sudden genius lands him in trouble with a teacher who thinks he's cheating.  Stephanie and Jim argue over the dangers of their activities.  They agree to quit acting super. 

Of course, you know that won't work because every super-hero has his rogue's gallery of super-villains.  Thus, before the credits roll we learn that other, less benign, people are running around with frightening abilities.   Plus, there's a Mastermind (played by former TV minister Stephen Collins) who also happens to be Stephanie's boss.          

On the plus-side, NOF has fun with the conventions of the super-hero genre.  Jim, for example, doesn't quite have Superman's knack for stopping a speeding car.  (Those scenes remind me of an essay in All In Color For A Dime suggesting that, had Superman sufficient internal mass to stop a moving vehicle, he would've kicked holes in the sidewalk with every one of his leaps!)  A female speedster certainly hasn't been overdone.  The flapping curtain on the upstairs window of the Powell home, meant to suggest a cape fluttering in the breeze, is a nice touch.

The problems the Powells have, both human and super-human, seem realistic and logical enough. Plainly, we're meant to pull for these people.  That's a good thing in a time when the viability of the "traditional" family has been questioned by experts and savaged by divorce.  Some might write off the family scenes as schmaltzy, but I consider them a breath of fresh air.    

On the negative side, though the producers seem to want a lighter, more optimistic tone, the violence they've shown militates against it.  Of course, drama has always included conflict, which often includes violence.  Still, for this genre, I wonder what's to be gained by showing a woman being choked, then shot in the face (albeit the latter off camera)? 

As you'd expect, the idea of being granted such power "for a reason" pops up, but, so far, this is the closest our post-Christian family gets to verbalizing spiritual concerns.  Nevertheless, I believe the series will strike a responsive chord with many anxious to discover their purpose.  The three great questions of life--Who am I?  What am I to do?  Where am I going?—are a powerful sub-text of the super-hero genre.  While the scriptures answer these in broad terms, many of us are anxious to discover how special I am, what God has for me to do.  Perhaps the answer lies in God's question to Moses:  "What is that in your hand?"  For Israel's hero, it was a staff with which he did mighty things.  For Jim Powell, it's a bullet he miraculously caught. 

What's in my hand, yours?  What we've been given is what we are to do.        

Gary D. Robinson is a super-preacher married to a super-wife who gave him two super-kids.  He blogs at his super-site, www.garydrobinson.com