Review of NO ORDINARY FAMILY – No Ordinary Friends (2011)

As the saying goes, keep your friends close but your enemies closer

Are superheroes even allowed to have friends? For Jim (Michael Chiklis) and Steph Powell (Julie Benz), perhaps not. Their co-workers George (Romany Malco) and Katie (Autumn Reeser) are allowed in the superhero club simply because they were there when the Powells discovered their abilities and they were dying to tell someone. It was just a bonus that both George and Katie are closet caped-crusaders wanting to bring justice to the world and who appreciate that their wildest dreams came true the day that the Powells discovered they had special abilities.

But the rest of the world must be kept at arm’s length. Normal, average people cannot take on the burden of such a weighty secret.

So while Jim and Steph chafe at the isolation imposed by their abilities, they have to realize that they already have true friends. George and Katie are the real deal. Both have been tried and true — and have altered their lives to help and protect the Powells.

It may be natural for Jim and Steph to want to make new friends, but fate played a cruel joke when it brought Troy (Ricky Schroder) and Michelle Cotton (Annie Wershing) into their lives. Troy may have been the innocent bystander, but Michelle was a world-class art thief. Unwilling to give up her wayward career path, the ultimate showdown was not with Jim or Steph, but with a jumpy art buyer too quick on the trigger finger.

Making friends and wanting a bit of normalcy is a wonderful ambition — just perhaps not an achievable one for the Powells now that their lives have changed irrevocably. It is time to appreciate the friends they do have. For, as we now know, Katie will have to ultimately choose between her friendship with Steph and her love of Joshua (Josh Stewart).

The one thing weighing in Steph’s favor is all the secrets Joshua hides. Katie unfortunately already discovered the he had Steph’s diary and previously posed under an assumed name in order to get close to her, so now she will wonder what other secrets he is hiding — and why. And, as Dr. King (Stephen Collins) reminded Joshua, his sins and crimes are grievous and perhaps unforgivable. Right now Katie only knows that he lied to her in order to steal Steph’s diary. Soon she will want to know why and at what cost she will have to sacrifice either her lover or her friend. The test will become: will love conquer loyalty and friendship?

What Worked

“I choose you.” With three little words, Joshua goes from just being the villain-for-hire to being the romantic hero of the story. Just like Katie, we want to believe that this story’s bad boy can be reformed and turned into a white knight. The fact that he has not revealed what he knows about the Powells to Dr. King shows a conflicted sense of what is right and wrong. Joshua did not simply watch and report everything he learned and saw to Dr. King.  He kept Steph’s diary for himself instead. In addition, he also did not take advantage of Katie just because he could in order to further his mission. In fact, he walked away when Katie told him that she had waited for the right guy. This was an unexpected layer of humanity.  He only returned once he had forsaken his tainted association with Dr. King and seemed to have made a vow to be a better man. It was only then that he could face Katie and embrace her as wholly as she deserved. Intimacy is not just a physical connection, but an emotional one. Joshua chose not just to be with Katie, but to be Katie’s. He gave her his heart. Willingly and unencumbered, he surrendered to his love for her. It was a beautiful and selfless act of giving himself to her — body and soul.

However, when Joshua told Dr. King, “These abilities are not worth the cost, I’ve turned into someone else,” Dr. King simply said, “That’s the whole point, isn’t it?” This exchange provided a glimpse of a man who was finally seeing what he had become and he no longer wanted to pay the price for it. So when Joshua angrily said, “I’m not talking about the powers — I’m talking about the things you’ve made me do to keep them,” and Dr. King insightfully responded, “But here’s the thing about power. Once you’ve had it, you wonder how you ever lived without it,” and we understood that it may not be so easy to walk away from the life Joshua had previously chosen, nor to shed the persona of Watcher. Defiantly Joshua retorted, “Well, maybe I found something else I can’t live without.” Yet even Dr. King knew that this defiance was only illusory and told Joshua, “She can never accept what you are or what you’ve done.” Thus foreshadowing that Joshua’s self-deluded pursuit of happiness may still elude him.

Later when Joshua showed up at Katie’s front door and said, “I had to make a very big choice — and I chose you. I chose you,” it was his desperate attempt to pursue a better life — a vow to be a person worthy of Katie’s love. But even Katie, not sure what he was referring to, seemed uncertain; and when she responded, “Not to dampen that potentially heart-warming moment, but when you say you choose me –” the unspoken words rang in our ears. A kiss may have initially distracted Katie’s curiosity, but viewers already know the dark secrets Joshua is hiding; and when Katie found Steph’s red diary in Joshua’s jacket, the path to redemption had already been cut-short for Joshua.  It was bittersweet.  A villain wanting to be the hero and thwarted by the bad choices he has made.

Next, turning to Daphne, it was nice to see that while Joshua had stolen some of her memories, he had not stolen her abilities. After watching how J.J. struggled to be the only non-empowered member of his family until his abilities surfaced, it would have been cruel to handicap Daphne in the same way. Lost memories are much easier to bear than a lost ability when one lives amongst a family of superheroes. Plus, as demonstrated, Daphne quickly put her new-found ability to good work by seeking to be a class president that will actually represent the students’ interest and not just further some over-ambitious teenager’s need to fill in a blank on her college application. However, with that 3 month gap in her memories, will Daphne now have to learn the same lessons all over again? Will she instinctively know to not to meddle in others’ lives and not use her powers for such frivolous things as trying to get a date? Let’s hope not.

Also cool was when Dave insightfully noted, “I didn’t ask the questions because I didn’t want to hear the answers,” and Jim cautiously reminded him, “Everybody has secrets.” To which Dave mournfully replied, “Not like this,” and Jim mysteriously replied, “That’s the thing about secrets. You don’t know what they are.”  That particular exchange will undoubtedly echo throughout the remainder of the season.  It is true that everyone has secrets and until you know what those secrets are, you do not know how bad they are.  The Powells are naïve in believing that they are the only people with such a big secret.  Their world is about to be shaken up as Dr. King circles closer and closer.  The building suspense is spine-tingling.

What Didn’t Work

It seemed a bit calloused that Steph and Jim so easily turned their backs on Katie and George, the only two people who have shouldered their burden and responsibilities willingly with them, in order to pursue other friendships.  After months of bonding over such a life-changing secret, a bit more loyalty would have felt more natural.  So when Steph noted, “Ever since we got these powers, we don’t hang out with other families. All we do is isolate ourselves. We spend our evenings having hushed conversations about super villains and trading comic-book references with George and Katie,” it was an astute but rather cruel observation. Steph and Jim really need to learn to appreciate that George and Katie are their friends, and not just their fans.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

“No Ordinary Friends” was written by Ali Adler and Marc Guggenheim, and directed by Terry McDonough. “No Ordinary Family” stars Michael Chiklis, Julie Benz, Kay Panabaker, Jimmy Bennett, Autumn Reeser, Romany Malco, Stephen Collins, Josh Stewart. “No Ordinary Family” airs Tuesdays at 8:00 pm ET on ABC.

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