Every family comes with its own set of quirks, but the Powell family is taking quirkiness to an extraordinary extreme.
The Powells are at the center of “No Ordinary Family,” the new ABC series co-created by Greg Berlanti and Jon Harmon Feldman. In “No Ordinary Family,” an out-of-sync suburban family is dramatically altered after a plane crash leaves them gifted with superpowers: patriarch and police sketch artist Jim (Michael Chiklis) receives super strength, his successful scientist wife Stephanie (Julie Benz) gains super speed, teenage daughter Daphne (Kay Panabaker) can read minds and her learning disabled brother JJ (Jimmy Bennett) develops a superior intellect. Following this amazing development, the Powells attempt to move on with their lives while figuring out how to integrate their tremendous abilities into their everyday existence.
After a successful debut last week, “No Ordinary Family” returns tonight (October 5) for its second episode, titled “No Ordinary Marriage.” To learn more, CBR News spoke with co-creator Jon Feldman in an exclusive interview about the show’s origins, casting Michael Chiklis, the benefits and drawbacks of superpowers and the ongoing mythology and future of the series at large.
CBR News: Jon, can you talk a bit about the development of “No Ordinary Family” – what’s the secret origin of the show, so to speak?
Jon Feldman: The origin story came out, honestly, when I was spending some time with my [family]. My kids and I were out, and like any father, you kind of look at your kids and hope you’re giving them the best chance in life to succeed. You may look at your family and compare yourself to other families and say, “I wonder how we could be like the family across the street or down the block that seems so perfect and doesn’t have any problems.” The idea of superpowers as a metaphor for sort of making yourself feel and making your kids feel the way you want them to about themselves and about their family, it sort of came out of a very real life moment. To me, superpowers are the ultimate wish fulfillment and the ultimate metaphor for kind of completing what you may perceive as deficiencies in yourself or in your family unit. So it started from there. It really started in that way.
From Michael Chiklis to Julie Benz, this show has quite a compelling cast. What has the collaboration been like with the actors in creating these characters and finding the Powell family?
I think it’s always a combination – I think that when I write, and when most writers write, you try to dimensionalize the characters as much as you can. But if you’re lucky, you have an actor inhabiting the role and they take that character to places that, as a writer, you can hope for but not always necessarily achieve, because you can’t dimensionalize the way they can.
Specifically, when you get a guy like Michael Chiklis, he just inhabits a guy like Jim Powell in a way that he becomes a real person. One of the things that Michael does effortlessly is switch between Jim as sort of the average ordinary guy and Jim as the extraordinary superhero. He really inhabits both parts of this character with such believability that I think it not only dimensionalizes the character, but creates a setting for him where you understand what these powers bring to his life and the deficiencies that they fill in for him. I think that’s just one of the gifts that Michael has as an actor, dimensionalizing a role like that.
It’s very interesting to see Chiklis go from a role like Vic Mackey on “The Shield” to Jim on “No Ordinary Family.” Was it a conscious decision on his part or your part to give him this role that’s so polar opposite from the character he’s become known for?
That’s a good question for him. I’d have to say that just in the discussions I’ve had with him, I think that part of the appeal of this character was probably [that] it’s such a different role from the one he inhabited for the last seven years. I also think, you know, as a father – I’m a father and Michael is a father – I think we can both relate to the journey that we feel as fathers in this role. A lot of the things that Michael brings to this role, I think, is that he takes [his role as a father] very seriously. It’s important to him, the character I mean, and it’s something that Michael does in his personal life as well. He’s a very devoted father and I think that stuff comes across. I think he’s a very genuine man and I think that comes across in how he inhabits Jim.
Even as this show is dealing with superpowers, you manage to keep it fairly grounded in reality. “Smallville” has the famous “no flights, no tights” rule, and I’m wondering if you have set any similar rules in place for “No Ordinary Family.” Are there places that you’re not willing to go? Are you not really sure where those boundaries are yet?
I think these are conversations you always have. Obviously in the beginning of a show, you have the ability to test these rules. You find yourself creating exceptions to every rule. Our goal in the beginning with this series is that it’s an origin series. Our feeling is that we’ve tried comparing this show with the great first act of a great superhero movie, the first act of the first “Spider-Man,” for instance. For us, the fun is the discovery and the testing. Jim and his family discovering the pitfalls of their powers and how they work and, even more importantly, how they don’t work, or how they can solve problems but create problems for them as well. Our goal is to really try to find the origin story in the journey of these characters. That’s the goal.
We don’t want our characters to get too good at what they do too quickly. We don’t want to create a family that fights crime together. These are things that, when the show ends, our feeling is that maybe we’ll build to them doing that. But that’s not what the show will be week-to-week. Week-to-week, it’s about the family discovering how these powers work or don’t work, each in their own worlds. The kids in high school, mom at work, dad as this budding crime fighter – it’s really about discovery for us as much as possible.
But as much as there is that standalone, week-to-week aspect, you did dangle a pretty interesting teaser at the end of the first episode – there are other super-powered people out there, like the Obama mask-wearing criminal, for instance. Is there an overarching mythology that you plan to chip away at as the series progresses?
Absolutely. Part of the mysteries of this world is, obviously, they’re not the only people with superpowers. Part of the mythological journey is discovering who else has them, where they come from, why our family got them as opposed to how other people got them. We feel that there’s a really interesting mythology to play out with that, a really great way to delve into the stakes and the mythology of the show.
At the same time, that’s just one part of the show. We really wanted to be able to tell all of the fun and dramatic stories that happen with an ordinary family going through this journey. I think what’s great about having the option to delve into the occasional supervillain is that the audience won’t know, just as our family won’t know, what’s coming next – it could be a regular person, it could be a supervillain. It creates an element of surprise and mythology that I think will really reward the loyal viewers who want to figure these things out week-to-week.
The first episode is behind us, and you’ve established who the Powells are as succinctly as one can in one episode. What’s in store for tonight’s episode? What can you tease about where the Powells are headed next?
I think tonight is a great example of some of the pitfalls of the powers, some of the challenges of the power, some of the fun of the powers, learning to harness the powers and kind of stumbling against some of the dangers of the powers. In many respects, the family on all fronts is discovering some of the limits, benefits and pitfalls that these powers are going to present going forward.
The latest episode of “No Ordinary Family,” titled “No Ordinary Marriage,” premieres tonight (Oct. 5) on ABC at 8/7 p.m. central.