Tuesday, December 07, 2010

No Ordinary Family: "No Ordinary Anniversary" and "No Ordinary Sidekick"

First off, some new articles, I've published out and around:
Which Hollywoodized Verison of Washington suits you best
Morality of the Characters on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
World's Most Dangerous Sports

No Ordinary Family is a show that's been plagued by TGIF-style sappiness when portraying family stories. The dad, awkwardly played by Michael Chiklis, does a lot of preachy moralizing about the importance of family and doing good. There's a slight disconnect between the PG-rated level of talk and the PG-13-rated level of action. Some kids' shows or light-hearted action shows (USA's Monk and NBC's Chuck are two examples off the top of my head) don't really show a lot of murder on screen (Monk does so in the opening credits but no further murder usually takes place. Monk solves the case and the villain surrenders his weapon to an oncoming barrage of cops seconds before anyone's at risk of dying). No Ordinary Family mixes very sappy family melodrama with serious serial drama and the tone is something that needs a little tweaking. I'm starting to think with the last couple episodes, "No Ordinary Anniversary" and this week's episode, the episode is finding its groove a little better.

It's quite possible that the creators of this show now are aware of the sheer corniness of their show, but the episodes were already in the pipeline before the feedback rolled in that would otherwise have made them aware of the problem. Whether that's the case, I knew it was too much to expect that the tone would change significantly over the last couple weeks. The corniness is here to stay and I have to take the good with the bad (I had the same experience with Studio 60). The best I can hope for is minor tweaks and the existing tone fits into better situations.

If the family is melodramatic, it helps if there's a palpable sense of danger. I'd say the looming threat of Katie's new boyfriend (aka The Watcher) certainly raises the drama and the plot escalated in a way that was well-handled. Daphne first suspects something because she can't break into the guy's thoughts. This development simmers for a while before the next inevitable step. Daphne and JJ come to the realization that he took over JJ's dating profile. Before we know it, Daphne finds herself in a very compromising position.

The pacing is really starting to improve on all fronts. Mini-parables of the week are starting to segway to stories with larger themes and the unresolved endings make for a tone that's slightly darker. Previously, Daphne and JJ's stories were as important as the plots involving their parents. Now it seems like, the show knows that the kids' stories are best served as B-plots meant to break up the action. The serial stuff that made shows like Lost and Heroes so popular and with Dr. King and the Watcher, we have two good villains to drive things along. The Watcher is far from the antisocial Skylar-type villain we've seen on these kinds of shows and his charisma works directly on us.

On the subject of action, there's not any improvement in the action scenes. Interactions between people with different powers (i.e. X-Men, Fantastic Four, Heroes) can lend themselves to all sorts of creative chess-type pairings where one person's power cancels out someone else's power but makes him vulnerable to a different type of superhuman. The battles (the fire-shooting villain in the last episode, for example) appear to be checkpoints en route to advancing the plot. I get the sense that the show isn't even interested in the notion that action scenes can be fun and exciting in their own rights.

Lastly, RIP Francis. Sorry to see the poor guy go, considering he was one of the few side characters who wasn't painted with such a broad stroke of cartoonish smugness. Francis practically was marked for death considering he kept involving himself in the middle of things against very powerful people with whom he had no superpowers to defend himself against.

Would love to write on Glee (this week: Sappy and a very blatant excuse to sell a Christmas Album) or Running Wilde (last week: the limitations of the Andy-Emmy-Steve love triangle really started to show and the plot felt entirely gratuitous as a result, this week: considerably more creative with a plot it has told three times already in the last 8 episodes), but must go to bed.

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