Yesterday's episode of No Ordinary Family offered an earthquake-producing superwoman, pregnancy-revealing urine, a ruthless businessman's cold betrayal, and an innocent man's life getting destroyed...and the Powell family barely suffered anything more than hurt feelings. Yeah, this is a problem.
"No Ordinary Quake" was another tentative step in the right direction for this show. Each week, this show gets just a little more ambitious, a little more intelligent, a little funnier, and that's certainly encouraging. In all honesty, I still can't claim this is a good show, but I stand by the fact that it's getting better each week, albeit slowly. The real danger is whether this show has a ceiling, and at a certain point it can't get any better. I'm starting to glimpse a particularly troubling ceiling that this show could crash up against very soon. But I'll get back to that in a moment.
First, the episode itself. While out shopping, the family gets caught in an earthquake that George and Jim quickly realize was artificial. Their investigation reveals the earthquakes are being used as distraction for a string of pharmacy robberies, and a superpowered young woman is behind it all. The woman is headed towards Stephanie's lab for a confrontation with Evil Stephen Collins, who she blames for cursing her with these failing powers.
Meanwhile, Daphne suspects a fellow student is sleeping with a teacher, and she decides to use her telepathy to figure out the truth. J.J.'s has to go to some extraordinary lengths to hide his super-intelligence from his increasingly suspicious mother, particularly because he seems hellbent on showing off his powers at every available opportunity. For a kid with super-intelligence, he's still pretty much an idiot.
Honestly, I can't figure out whether the whole J.J. storyline is brilliant or stupid. J.J.'s logic is generally tortured, and there's no reason to solve the firewall other than to show off, which is particularly dumb because it's a sure way to reveal himself to Stephanie and Katie. Now, on the one hand, he's still a 14-year-old kid, and these are the sorts of dumb, self-sabotaging things that 14-year-olds do. On the other hand, it also kinda seems like a string of plot contrivances. The show generally just needs to handle J.J.'s story more skillfully - in particular, I'd like them to key in on the fact that, unlike everyone else's powers, J.J.'s enhanced mind has arguably changed who he is in a very fundamental way.
Also, I said this last week, but I've got to say it again - the football in this show is utterly ridiculous. The show committed some more crimes against football this week, with game action so preposterous that the only sensible explanation was that J.J.'s team was playing the worst football team in the country. I generally think it's churlish to criticize the sports action in a non-sports show, but seriously...this is pretty much the most ludicrously inaccurate depiction of football I've ever seen. And I've seen Tony Danza's magnum opus The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon.
As soon as J.J. got his hands on a counterfeit urine sample, I was pretty sure the show was going to do the hoary old pregnancy gag, and I wasn't disappointed. (Well, other than the fact that they did indeed go that tired old trope. That was disappointing.) I'll give the show some credit though - it was a clever mini-twist to reveal that the urine belonged to the lineman's girlfriend, and his realization that his life had instantly changed in a way that arguably dwarfs even J.J. getting powers.
Indeed, that's becoming a theme with this show - the really serious stuff never seems to happen to the Powells. Jim hasn't gone to any great lengths to hide his crime-fighting identity, and yet it's his cop friend who gets brutally murdered by the Watcher - a cop friend, incidentally, who threatened to arrest Jim if he kept playing vigilante, so her death solved that little non-dilemma. Evil Stephen Collins noticed the swapped blood sample that should be readily traceable to Stephanie, and yet he's done nothing to indicate he suspect her.
It's more basic than that, really. As Daphne's (ex-)friend Olivia points out, not everyone lives the perfect life of the Powells. And sure, maybe my standards for familial bliss are too low, but she's pretty much right. The Powells have the sorts of problems most families would kill to have, even before they got their superpowers. They fight, yes, but they're always resolved pretty damn easily, and they have no money problems to speak of. If anything, based on their ability to randomly go to Brazil and Jim's ability to produce wads of cash at the batting cages in the pilot suggest they're unrealistically wealthy.
None of this is necessarily a big deal - the money thing is mostly just an arguably necessary plot contrivance, and there are lots of families that are about as stable and happy as the Powells. They're doing well, and there's nothing wrong with that - except from a dramatic perspective. This show often seems hellbent on keeping the Powells out of any real trouble, even while the people around them deal with much more real problems like unexpected pregnancy, failed marriages and, um, being brutally murdered. This show's perspective is still way too safely suburban for my tastes.
Speaking of general disappointments...I pretty much knew the show wasn't going to act on Evil Stephen Collins's discovery two episodes back, but it's seriously weak to keep the show's villain out of the very next episode, then have him make no apparent mention of what he found. He's probably the show's most interesting character, as it's incredibly difficult to read his intentions as he talks with earthquake girl, and it was a masterstroke to cast someone as iconically benevolent as Stephen Collins in the role. So, to the show, well done. You've created an interesting character. Now do something with him.
I suspect this is going to get extra irritating the next time around, as surely the Watcher should realize there's something suspicious about Jim, what with him being found unconscious right next to the superpowered runaway. And yet, somehow, against all logic, this is probably going to get brushed aside, because next episode is about the Powells facing a (supposedly) much more serious threat: Stephanie's meddling parents.
I get that this show is trying to balance drama and comedy, but their current approach isn't so much a mixture as a bolted-together hybrid, in which one side is all dark and gritty drama and the other is all light and fluffy comedy. I think I'm liable to break my neck if they keep switching between the two like this.