Perhaps No Ordinary Family tried too hard to appeal to the masses at its beginning and didn't actually manage to appeal to anyone. That's a pretty accurate analysis of its first half-season, and it's one which Michael Chiklis shares. If the last few episodes are any indication (and given that it's sweeps month, they probably are) No Ordinary Family has finally picked more of an identity:Iit wants nerds to watch.
In addition to Katie's constant nerdy references, it also has Darla and the White Room Girl from Angel as regulars, plus Fred as a guest star. The superhero setting also means that many of the villains and heroes are reminiscent of others; there are only so many superpowers in the universe. However, tonight's episode alone introduced so many new actors and characters that could be connected to something else (and something more popular) that I'm pretty sure it's just pandering at this point.
- Two Cylons. Tricia Helfer, (Caprica) Six, and Lucy Lawless, D'Anna Biers/Number Three (in addition to Xena, a villain on The X-Files, and lord knows what else).
- Another new villain, played by Eric Balfour who was Jesse, a supposedly major character from the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who was killed off in the second part because, why else?, Joss Whedon thought it would be funny.
- Balfour's new superpowers are claws. Ladies and gentlemen, we have Wolverine.
Which is not to say that this is bad (Jewel Staite is waiting for your call, No Ordinary Family producers), but just that the nerd references are dramatically accelerating. I guess this episode was called “No Ordinary Love,” but, with Helfer and Lawless promoted so heavily, why not just call it “No Ordinary Cylon”? And what's Tamhoh Penikett doing these days?
This all gives this particular episode of No Ordinary Family a very “meta” feel. I'm not sure how I should be interpreting it. Yes, it remains a television show with its own plots and resolutions, but using the actress most famous for playing Head Six as a manipulative sexbomb seems redundant to the point of uselessness. It's also not a discussion that does No Ordinary Family any favors: I rather pointedly assaulted the show for its depiction of females as manipulative shrews getting ahead on sexuality just a few weeks ago. This is a higher-quality episode than the last one, yes, but it still relies on the ghastly old “women get what they want with sexuality” trope.
Helfer stars as Sophie, a supervillain who has the power to make men do whatever they want. I won't deny that this role suits Helfer, whose aggressive beauty masks her acting ability. She first recruits George, then Jim, to do what she wants, which is basically to make a bomb to blow up CEO Palpatine for Lucy Lawless, who apparently is a rival or superior to the possibly rogue Dr. King. It's a bit of an expansion to the show's mythology, but there's not enough there to really say that it's interesting just yet.
Six is trying to get a bomb together that'll blow up Palpatine's laboratory, using random men to steal cough syrup and MREs, which I hear taste really fucking bad. When she finds out Jim has superpowers, she takes him as her favorite, prompting him to leave his family. It's a pretty goofy plot, not helped by the ABC wacky comedy music, but at first, Chiklis sells the hell out of it, obviously having fun playing a brainwashed sex toy. It's also hindered by the characters' stupidity; when suddenly intelligent people start behaving in moronic fashion and you know that supervillains with mind control abilities are around, why would that be the last thing you think of as an explanation? I recognize that, when your husband is leaving you for a different blonde hussy who used her sexuality to gain power on a different cult SF hit, your logic may be flawed. But Stephanie uses that logic in the end of the episode to regain Jim's affection and trust.
And, I've gotta say, that bit was total bullshit. All right, I'm possibly the world's biggest cynic when it comes to “true/romantic love,” but it being used as a plot point in this episode just pissed me off. Stephanie, when confronted with Jim being Six's sex slave, doesn't fight it. She doesn't steal the bomb, WHICH SHE CAN DO WITH HER SUPERSPEED. She doesn't beat the shit out of Six. She instead tries to convince Jim that she's his true love 4eva with memories and kisses. She even says “There's one thing stronger than chemical love. And that's true love,” to Six. The sad thing is that it works. She brings Jim back to her side with a kiss, rather than by taking a fucking crowbar to the head of the woman who was trying to steal him, as I was yelling at my TV for her to do. Super-speed trumps super-pheromones, Steph. Darla would know that, but Stephanie doesn't. Although I will say this: As annoyed as I was with the generic “love conquers all” resolution, Jim and Stephanie reconnecting under the explosion/fireworks was actually kind of cute.
Not much else happens in the episode. Katie is recovering from her breakup with excessive nerdiness in the cold open but doesn't appear in the rest of the episode. JJ helps George with a bit of investigation but doesn't have his own plot. Daphne has a minor side plot in which she tries to get her boyfriend to stop asking about her family's superpowers using the power of her brain, but it doesn't stick because the suspicions that cause his questions remain. I actually kind of liked this plot, because it shows the limits of Daphne's superficial mental projection powers, while giving a slight chance for repetition-based comedy. It also provided some moral ambiguity: Daphne is trying to use her powers to make her life easier, which is usually storytelling shorthand for impending villainy; however, she manages to pull back by the end.
Less effective at staying pure is Stephanie, who, in trying to stay in CEO Palpatine's good graces, helps him in experimenting on a dying criminal. He shows her the criminal's record, which says he's just a check-bouncer, so she's happier to inject him with the super-serum. Of course, he's actually a multiple murderer, and the serum turns him into some kind of claw-based superpowered guy. This side story actually reminded me pleasantly of Angel's final and best season, with its theme of the impossibility of trying to fight the system from within the system.
Which makes it all-too-typical of No Ordinary Family. The sexist nature of the women-be-manipulatin' plot is typical for the worst aspects of the show, but the increasingly interesting serialization, combined with the strength of the show's actors, makes this episode kind of a wash. I know I've said “one step forward, two steps backward” about this show before, but this episode makes that even more unclear: something like “some steps forward, some steps backward.” I will say this, however: I kind of want this show to be renewed, because there's enough there under the crap that it could turn out worthwhile. I'm surprised to say this after the problems I had just a few episodes ago.
- The episode starts with Jim talking about a random white guy who hit up a store, whose suburban background makes him not Jim's kind of criminal. Grrr.
- “Speaking of friends with boundary issues…” “Hello, George!”
- Sophie's glitter attack is pretty silly. Sophie's glitter attack with supposedly creepy woodwind music is utterly ridiculous.
- There's a new evil teacher at the high school!
- George says that Six is “maybe the coolest girl ever.” Okay, George, you've dated Amy Acker. Caprica Six is cool and all, but WINIFRED MOTHERFUCKING BURKLE!!!
- Jim has a sketch of a robber that looks like George: “He kind of looks a little bit like…” “Kobe Bryant?”
- Not sure why Jim raided the army base for MREs. Was there not a local army surplus store?
- Jim breaks up with Stephanie and cheerfully tells her “One day, maybe we can be friends.”
- “It would explain why he's acting like Charlie Sheen,” says George, inadvertently making a plug for 20/20's EXCLUSIVE interview with the crazy person of the month.