Tonight's No Ordinary Family gave us the most ridiculous football story ever told, a mild meditation on what it means to be a vigilante, and a harsh lesson in the dark side of mind-reading. But mostly ridiculous, ridiculous football.
"No Ordinary Vigilante" was, once again, a decently entertaining but flawed hour of television. I'm still hoping No Ordinary Family can take that next step that I think it's capable of, but I'll admit the progress has been slower than I would have liked.
This episode found Jim and George on the trail of a murderous new vigilante. The pursuit brings Jim dangerously close to being identified himself, and he's forced to struggle with whether he really is any better than the gun-wielding sociopath who's killing the local thugs. Meanwhile, Daphne tries - and largely fails - to use her mind-reading powers to ingratiate herself with the cool kids, and J.J. stretches his mental abilities to their logical limit (and beyond) when he tries out for the football team.
Let's start with the football team story, which pretty much demonstrated everything wrong with how the show is handling J.J. If nothing else, the conceit is ridiculous. Whatever J.J. might think, football is most definitely not a purely mathematical endeavor. Even if you have the perfect understanding of where to throw the ball for the best chance at a touchdown, that doesn't mean you're magically then able to throw a perfect spiral thirty yards, which J.J. apparently does. You still need quite a bit of purely physical talent to do that, and I don't care how well a super-brain can control the rest of the body - it can't magically build muscles that aren't there.
Of course, compared to J.J.'s increasingly ludicrous decision-making, the football thing made perfect sense. I get why J.J. would want to hide his powers from his parents, I guess, and I even can sort of understand why he actually gets indignant when his parents accuse him of the truth, because, well, lots of teenagers are little shits anyway. (Not all of them. But plenty.)
I'm just struggling to figure out what I should take away from this plotline. I can't root for J.J. when he's being so nakedly hypocritical, and what lesson are his parents learning when it's all based on the sham that he's just working hard? I know Jim and Stephanie love their son, and want to believe the very best in him, but it really strains credulity that they can believe his insane spike in performance is just because he "applied himself" when the ridiculously obvious answer is he got powers.
I don't know - I'm sure people in real life really can be this hypocritical or self-deluding, but it's not fun to watch, and the show isn't well-written enough to pull off such a fundamentally unappealing storyline. And I definitely don't understand what is gained by telling this particular story through the prism of superpowers.
The Daphne story was better, if only because it approached the material slightly more realistically. I enjoyed how quickly her little scheme to buy booze fell apart, as it felt very much like the sort of half-assed plan a teenager would come up with. I'm not all that interested in watching teenagers try to fit in with some mythical popular clique: if I didn't give a crap about that when I went to high school, why should I care about it now? (Yes, yes - a scifi blogger wasn't popular in high school. Shocking, I know.) But, it was fine for what it was, if cliched. Although the notion that everyone thinks in complete sentences - including using their friend's full names for no discernible reason! - is starting to bug me.
Part of what makes the Daphne stories palatable is that Kay Panabaker is so good in the role. It's nice to see someone on a TV show who actually looks like a real teenager (I hope that doesn't seem insulting, considering she's 20), and she does an absurdly good job of making a whiny brat teenager likable. On paper, I would probably hate the way Daphne is written, but Panabaker manages to find a way to say the lines that's oddly disarming.
The Jim story was solid as usual, and Romany Malco had the understated line of the episode with his suggestion he could just hop on Jim's back to travel crosstown. Jim wrestling with the nature of his vigilantism was pretty much unavoidable, though I wish the show had come up with something a bit more original to say about it all. I enjoyed Michael Chiklis's clumsy attempts to hide his identity, and I'm glad they spared us most of the requisite cliched angst about his crime-fighting but still...it's a rich storyline, and I think there was plenty more to say.
The storyline did show off some more of No Ordinary Family's incredibly unsubtle handling of themes. The final scene with Jim and the vigilante, in which the other man reveals he blames himself for his son's death and demands to know why Jim isn't with his kids right now, was horrendously on-the-nose writing. Maybe I just have to accept that crimes against subtlety are part of this show's style.
Sadly, Evil Stephen Collins was Absent Stephen Collins in this episode, so the larger mythology was mostly on the back-burner this week. We did learn Stephanie's plant is somehow linked to all this, and the original discoverer of the plant's properties was apparently killed by someone out to hide...something. It was all a bit vague and nebulous, partially by design and partially because some of the plot points weren't really explained very clearly. At least Autumn Reeser still got a couple fun scenes in as Katie.
I'll close with a word about the episode's closing montage. I'm a sucker for a cleverly intercut montage that ties up lots of plot loose ends - probably because I saw The Godfather movies elevate that into a high art. As such, I was hopeful the episode could reveal something about itself that I had previously missed with the montage, and maybe even elevate its general quality.
Unfortunately, the montage was just two random, unconnected scenes, which pretty much defeats the point of tying scenes together like this. So we see J.J. score a touchdown while the vigilante gets shot by waiting cops...who cares? The two don't comment on each other in any intelligent way, and we don't even get a clear shot showing the vigilante really was the prime suspect or not. (I mean, I think it was, but a clear shot could have been nice.)
What should have been a cool, intelligent way to end a decent episode turned out to be a lazy way to quickly end two disconnected points. It was mildly disappointing and more than a little silly - which is pretty much where I'm at with No Ordinary Family in general. Oh well. Here's to next week, I guess.