ABC's No Ordinary Family (2010-11) wasn't particularly ground-breaking from start to finish, but it was still pretty fun while it lasted. Drawing heavy inspiration from comic book-themed shows and films like Heroes and The Incredibles, No Ordinary Family presented a simple premise with plenty of creative possibilities...yet even with a talented cast and creative team behind the scenes, it never managed to get off the ground. Along with the recent cancellation of NBC's The Cape (which premiered later in the season) and the glut of comic book-to-film adaptations that weren't directed by Christopher Nolan, perhaps the general public was simply growing tired of the genre. While I've never been a huge fan of superhero-themed entertainment in general, it can be effective in the right hands...and more often than not, No Ordinary Family was in pretty good hands.
Created by Greg Berlanti and Jon Harmon Feldman, NOF follows the Powell family through their day-to-day lives after acquiring super-powers during a plane crash in South America. Parents Jim and Stephanie (Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz, respectively) are the first to discover their new abilities, but their teenage kids J.J. (Jimmy Bennett) and Daphne (Kay Panabaker) quickly follow suit...and before long, they're faced with a family conflict that most don't have: how do they choose to live with these super-powers? NOF usually sticks with the Powells while keeping their outside relationships slightly grounded, when a lesser series might be tempted to spread itself too thin. Other shows and films involving secret identities play up the mystery, and this one's no different: some of the Powells' friends and enemies know about their powers, like Jim's college buddy George St. Cloud (Romany Malco). Others are kept in the dark...which means that the Powells must try to hide their abilities, even when tempted. But it's revealed early on that the Powell family isn't alone in their situation, and more people are aware of their powers than they think.
Despite ABC ordering a full season of episodes last year, the number was eventually cut back a bit...and before long, the plug was finally pulled in May after just 20 episodes. All of these episodes are presented here in broadcast order on four discs.
Complete Episode Listing
It's no secret that most new shows take a few episodes to heat up, but No Ordinary Family shows promise from the start and usually keeps the momentum going. Employing a mixture of classic and contemporary comic book formulas, NOF has a certain cynic-proof charm that feels much more genuine than most of what passes for "family entertainment" these days...and like The Incredibles, the adults actually feel like they're more of a focal point. Chiklis does a good job of distancing himself from The Shield, Benz offers a nice layer of support and even the kids eventually break through as likeable characters before long. NOF does water down many of its stories and conflicts, and that's perhaps the show's main drawback: it's fairly predictable and can't help but seem a bit cheesy at times. Still, there's no reason why it couldn't have expanded its universe for at least another season or two, since NOF played its cards better than many ABC shows that are still just treading water.
But like so many other shows cut short, No Ordinary Family: The Complete First Season is working with a handicap: what's presented here on this four-disc set can't be considered a complete story with a satisfying ending. Many loose ends are left untied---and whether the show's early exit was a tragic mistake or a blessing in disguise is still up for debate. In any case, Lionsgate has basically phoned in this lackluster DVD release: the technical presentation is a mixed bag, extras are minimal and the overall presentation is strictly by-the-numbers. It's not even called "The Complete Series", which hopefully won't mislead too many folks.
Quality Control Department
Cramming 200+ minutes of content onto a single DVD is usually a bad idea, so it's no surprise that No Ordinary Family suffers in the visual department. Compression artifacts and noise are all over the place, and these digital problems are evident from start to finish. Wide shots of suburban neighborhoods and cityscapes stick out like sore thumbs, though brightly lit close-ups seem to suffer the least. The show's slightly garish color palette tends to bleed at times, though black levels stay consistent for the most part. Unfortunately, there's no Blu-Ray release on the horizon, so the only possible upgrades are HD* downloads from online retailers like Amazon. As it stands, the original standard definition broadcast almost looked better than what we get here.
* - The show was apparently shot and broadcast in 720p, so it's not really true HD in any format. You know, just for the record.
Thankfully, the audio quality doesn't suffer nearly as much. Though many dialogue-driven scenes are anchored squarely in the front, we're also treated to flurries of surround activity and notable amounts of LFE once the action heats up. Music cues rarely fight for attention, creating a dynamic atmosphere that fans should enjoy. While Closed Captions are advertised on the package, no optional subtitles of any kind are included here...so if you've got an anamorphic display, tough luck.
There's no doubt that No Ordinary Family wasn't a bad attempt at decent family entertainment, so it's a shame that the series was killed off after just 20 episodes. Even at its worst (predictable, derivative and yes, more than a little cheesy), NOF was still a fun experiment that rarely took itself too seriously. Unfortunately, this DVD package from Lionsgate is a half-baked effort: the visuals are problematic, bonus features are slim and the overall presentation just feels phoned in. With so many strikes against it (and no Blu-Ray release on the horizon!), No Ordinary Family: The Complete
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.