ABC's new familial drama No Ordinary Family was one of the stronger pilot scripts My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture read this season. It was full of rich, emotional character moments between husband and wife duo Jim and Stephanie Powell, as well as fun intrigue into their newfound special abilities. Following these everyday, somewhat in-over-their-head civilians as they navigated the new world opening in front of them was an exhilarating ride. And I couldn't wait to see it unfold on screen.
Admittedly, I had my doubts that the pilot that was filmed would live up to my expectations. I generally hate adaptations of books I have loved because something always gets cut that I feel was integral or a moment doesn't look as grand with the budgetary restraints as I had imagined in the vast landscape of my own mind. But perhaps surprisingly, the effects of the No Ordinary Family pilot, which will air tonight on ABC, were not what left something to be desired. Instead, it is the "bonus" at the end that greatly changes the sentiment of the script and seems to create a completely different show from what Greg Berlanti and Jon Feldman originally intended.
The script was very much centered on the Powell family. We were introduced to them as a close-knit group that were being pulled apart by the ever-challenging demands of work, school, and limited hours in a day. Piggybacking a vacation off of a business trip, they think they have hit some sort of jackpot, but things go awry when their plane hits a pocket of bad weather and they crash-land in some sort of murky lagoon. It isn't until they are home and experiencing new, unique abilities that scientist wife and mother (played by Julie Benz) remembers the water having a strange phosphorescence.
The rest of the script, then, focuses on each individual coming to terms with who-- or what-- they now are and agreeing to come together as a unit to utilize these skills for the good of their family. But the very end of the script featured a tag where the pilot of the crashed plane-- a guy who was presumed dead upon impact-- is seen floating under water. And his eyes open.
But when ABC picked up the drama, they cut that moment from the episode before screening it for critics and announced that the the character (played by Tate Donovan) would not recur. They wanted to focus on the familial elements, therefore, and felt it was much stronger to end the episode on a happy scene of the family enjoying some quality time together in their backyard. But more than that, during what seemed like just a simple game of touch football, we were actually seeing how the powers the Powell family now exhibits compliment each other and make them a stronger unit. For Jim, a man who felt like he had no power, he could now stop bullets and throw footballs clear across town. For Stephanie, a woman who struggled to juggle family time with the heavy demands of her job, she now was gifted with super speed to cut down on menial tasks and focus on what is most important. When Jim (played by Michael Chiklis) throws that football well out of their yard, therefore, she can take off after it and have it back in mere seconds. It was a bit on-the-nose, but it worked.
But the slightly "upgraded" pilot that is going to air as the series premiere tonight has re-inserted a tag, albeit it a different one than originally intended. The episode spends a good chunk of screen time introducing a shady criminal who Jim encounters in an alley and then accosts in a parking garage-- a guy who exhibits powers of his own far more advanced than the likes of the ones this group is just coming into understanding. Unfortunately this means that now, at the end, after the poignant moment with the family, we cut back to this guy and who is really behind what may very well turn out to be some sort of government conspiracy or experiment.
If you've seen the first installment of the Motion Comics ABC is marketing along with this show, you also learn a bit more of that conspiracy backstory. Apparently Stephanie was some sort of "target" for an experiment. She was always meant to obtain the powers; her family was collateral damage when they tagged along on her trip.
And that's a shame. Because if No Ordinary Family focuses on what it says it will in its title, it has a chance to be a very relatable, hopefully long-running program. But if it goes the road of Heroes and introduces a bunch of villains or the threat of some apocalypse style event, well, then it will go the way of Heroes and become more of a cartoon than the mythological tale of which the best comic books are made.