Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fall Season Round-Up (Part 2): No Ordinary Family

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on December 8, 2010. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Today, we continue with my mid-year review of the new fall television season. Back in early September, I listed several new shows from
this current fall TV season that I planned to watch. Yesterday I wrote about Outsourced, a new comedy series that surprised me by exceeding almost every expectation I had, and next time I’ll write about Terriers, a recently-cancelled series which more than met every high expectation I might have had for it. Today however I’m writing about No Ordinary Family, a sci-fi/comedy/drama which despite its imaginative premise and talented cast has disappointingly fallen well below my expectations.

ABC's No Ordinary Family
In No Ordinary Family (ABC, CTV), we meet an average and mildly dysfunctional American family that survives a plane crash in the Amazon rainforest and emerges with superpowers. Prior to the crash, the Powells were drifting apart: the parents were communicating less and less with one another and with their two high-school age kids. All of this however begins to change after the plane crash. In fact, what becomes quickly apparent is that these new powers seem designed to fill in the gaps in their personalities, bolstering them in precisely the ways that would fix their individual weaknesses. And so Stephanie, a wife and mother (Julie Benz) who works long hours and can’t find time to spend with her family, is given the gift of super-speed; Jim, a husband and father (Michael Chiklis) whose career choices have left him feeling emasculated, develops super-strength and near physical invulnerability; Daphne (Kay Panabaker), a typically self-involved teenage girl who rarely looks up from her cell phone, finds herself able to read minds; J.J., a teen boy (Jimmy Bennett) who struggles in school because of an undiagnosed learning disability, is given vast intuitive intelligence, and so on. While on paper this may seem to promise a nice poetic balance for the series, it is this initial decision that leads the series to fall flat from a dramatic standpoint.  We are introduced, albeit for about 5 minutes, to a family with real issues that most viewers can identify with, but then just as quickly the show cheats both the characters and the viewers of any genuine engagement with any real, human struggles, inadvertently undercutting much of the potential emotional realism of its stories and characterizations.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fall Season Round-Up (Part 1): Outsourced

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on December 7, 2010. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

NBC's Outsourced
At the beginning of September, I looked ahead at this current fall TV season, singling out a handful of new shows that had grabbed my attention. As the halfway point of the 2010-2011 television season approaches, it seems only appropriate that I let you know how those expectations worked out for me.  Since I’ve already written at length about AMC’s The Walking Dead and my fellow critic David Churchill has weighed in on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, over the my next few posts,  I’ll be returning to three of those shows: Terriers (FX), which rose admirably to meet my expectations; No Ordinary Family (ABC), which has fallen consistently short of them; and Outsourced (NBC), which far exceeded any limited expectations I might have had. While to my profound disappointment, FX announced yesterday that due to low ratings it was not going to renew Terriers, both No Ordinary Family and Outsourced have already been picked up for second seasons. First up: NBC’s Outsourced.

Outsourced (NBC)

Ben Rappaport as Todd
While the 2009 season introduced three of my favourite current sitcoms—Community (NBC), Modern Family (ABC), and the unfortunately-titled but somehow wonderful Couger Town (ABC)—the 2010 season has been an utter disappointment comedy-wise. With one exception, I haven’t added any new sitcoms to my ‘watch’ list this year. And that one exception is Outsourced.  Based on John Jeffcoat’s well-received 2006 indie romantic comedy of the same name and set in Mumbai (but filmed on a lot in L.A.), Outsourced is NBC’s fish-out-of-water/workplace comedy, airing on Global in Canada. Ben Rappaport plays Todd, a 25-year-old Kansas City native sent to India to run a call centre for an American novelties company. I confess that I initially tuned into Outsourced with a kind of morbid curiosity. The advance press and promos for the show make it look like a train-wreck: clumsy, unfunny, and probably culturally offensive to boot. Coming to the show with these expectations, I was surprised to find a consistently funny, well-written show, with likeable actors and often touchingly human situations.