By: Aleks Chan
As I emerged from the glut of mediocre courtroom drama pilots, disappointing comedies (ahem, RUNNING WILDE), and snoozy serialized whodunits (oh, THE EVENT) working on this year’s Fall TV Preview, I looked to my exhausted DVR and found a nice handful of episodes of two shows I remembered to have a mild interest in seeing again: NO ORDINARY FAMILY, in which Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz run a super-powered family, and NIKITA, the French assassin thriller rebooted for THE VAMPIRE DIARIES audience, starring the distracting beauty Maggie Q. They both involve humans with superhuman abilities (some more comical than others), and they’re constructed as butt-kicking-high-drama hybrids.
These shows are still more middling than they are must-sees, but I hold out for them nonetheless. NO ORDINARY FAMILY holds the most promise of the two. After a plane crash lands them in chemically-altered water that imbues them with special abilities, the Powell family is forced to cope with the unexpected implications of their new powers. Like super powers often do, the Powells’ are manifestations of qualities they lack or need: Chiklis’ Jim, a sketch-artist for the police, wants to help catch criminals who get away — so he gains super strength. His wife Stephanie (Julie Benz) is the busy breadwinner who can’t find time to spread between her work and her family; now she can run at lighting speed.
The kids are the type of precocious TV children that thin interest very quickly: Daphne (Kay Panabaker) can read other’s thoughts, lamely rendered, TRUE BLOOD-style, in complete, coherent sentences that no one thinks in. JJ (Jimmy Bennett) can learn at a rapid, instantaneous rate, leading his teacher to question his sudden academic skyrocketing.
They click like a good TV family should, and Chiklis and Benz have an inherent chemistry to them. Some liken the pilot to The Incredibles when it was announced last spring, but I don’t see it — their familial strife is unevenly loaded and they’re don’t seem to be any immediate stakes. While they do have to worry about being exposed, the show doesn’t place much urgency in the matter. A plot from last week’s episode (in which Steph has to sneak into her work’s lab to steal a blood sample that would make light of her chemical anomalies) did hinge on this, but it never felt like they were in any actual danger of being outed. 7TH HEAVEN’s Stephen Collins plays Steph’s boss of likely insidious intentions who’s harboring criminals with super powers of their own. The storyline is moving dreadfully slow, and it rings too much of HEROES to not make anyone weary of where it might lead, but a death scene involving (ugh) a telekinetic fiend was convincingly frightening, so there’s hope, if minor.
Balancing the super and the ordinary is what the show struggles with, but I see potential bridges in the winning supporting roles: Romany Malco (WEEDS) plays Jim’s best friend-cum-sidekick George, an attorney who gives Jim leads on crimes and builds Jim a “lair” to house his vigilante mission. Autumn Reeser, channeling her Taylor Townsend of THE O.C., is Steph’s plucky, over-interested lab assistant Katie. These relationships blend the home, work, and super lives together in a way the show should work more towards: not too seriously, with a sense of humor, and together. Not enough screen time is devoted to this family as a family — if they really weren’t an ordinary family, they’d break the TV mold and spend time together.
NIKITA doesn’t have super powers, but it does have Maggie Q: She reportedly does most of her own stunts, impressive given her wafer-thin figure and the amount of ass she kicks every week. Indeed, Nikita, an assassin working to take down the rogue secret government agency (called Division) that trained her and murdered her lover, gets herself into enough fisticuffs in an episode that you could call the show MAGGIE Q FIGHTS and its ratings wouldn’t change.
The plurality of fight scenes are very-well done: slick, fast, and timed with the right crunch and thwack that you could imagine them in pop art sweeping the screen. Q does it all with an entrapping grace and a flip of her — she is Nikita, she’s rendered so closely in the image of a male fantasy of what a super heroine would look like. Besides the young male viewers who watch NIKITA, I suspect another reason why Nikita herself slings more fists than words is because that’s the only time Q is a convincing performer.
Her Mischa Barton School of Acting style does meld well with the plot though, which is like a romance-spy novel written in a series of mass-market paperbacks (the fat, short ones) — spinning in circles and lacking momentum. Nikita is targeting Division assets to weaken them and has her protégé Alex (Lindsay Fonseca) working as a mole while training as a new Division recruit. Division is hunting Nikita, headed by a positively skeletal-looking crew, including Michael (Shane West), Nikita’s former trainer.
The CW recently announced that the show is being retooled to attract more female viewers, the network’s primary demographic. This could prove problematic. I cannot foresee this happening without having to rely on Q as dramatic actress over her high-flying kicks. She has time to find her inner Syndey Bristow, or at least watch a few Angelina Jolie movies (I liked Salt), but if the plot ever uncoils, the whole thing could fall apart. Grade: No Ordinary Family: B-; Nikita: C
NO ORDINARY FAMILY airs Tuesdays at 8PM on ABC (CTV in Canada) while NIKITA airs Thursdays at 9PM on The CW (“A” Channel in Canada)
Aleks Chan is a contributing writer to The TV Addict. He has seen every episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER four times, has once referred to his DVR as his “best friend,” and has only seen the pilot episode of THE SOPRANOS — and has no intention to apologize for it. He lives in Austin, Texas. His name is pronounced like Alex. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter (@alekstvaddict), or his own blog, Screen Reader.