No Ordinary Family: The Latest TV Superheroes

ABC logoBy Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

In our previous blog on Joseph Campbell, we noted how the stories we construct about heroes tend to reflect both our deepest fears and our dreams of conquering them.  Heroes demonstrate for us how the best attributes of humanity can overcome the most daunting challenges that life throws at us.  As Campbell observes, nearly all hero stories follow a general structure that involves the hero's call to adventure, a set of hurdles for the hero to overcome, and a transformation of both the hero and the society in which he or she lives.

The new ABC television series, No Ordinary Family, borrows the key elements from all the classic tales of heroism throughout ages.  In the show, the Powell family is portrayed as an average American family, slightly dysfunctional but also likeable.  Their "average-ness" is crucial; it enables us to relate to them and to whimsically entertain the notion that what happens to them could also happen to us.  As with many superhero tales, the Powell's adventure begins with a traumatic event.  For them it is a plane crash in a remote South American lake that exposes them to an unusual, magical substance in the water.

The show's fun lies in how each member of the family gradually discovers his or her individual superpower.  Jim Powell, the father, finds that he now has the reflexes to catch a bullet fired from a gun.  Humorous scenes feature him discovering other super-skills such as the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  No Ordinary FamilyHis wife Stephanie, while rushing to make an appointment, discovers she can run at the ludicrous speed of over 700 miles per hour.  Why do we resonate to heroes with super powers?  According to Joseph Campbell, a central part of the hero archetype is the idea that our heroes have supernatural aids.  Superheroes, by definition, can do magical things that ordinary people cannot.

In contrast to the two adult Powells, who have acquired physical superpowers, the two Powell children discover that they have developed superior mental acuities.  Daphne, the teenage daughter, realizes that she can read people's minds, and the son, J.J., is transformed from a below-average student into a super genius.  In keeping with stereotypical superhero tradition (e.g., Iron Man), Jim Powell's sidekick is an African-American, a friend named George.

In almost all superhero stories, the hero's superpowers are necessary to fight extraordinarily powerful criminals.  No Ordinary Family is no exception.  Jim Powell encounters a series of villains who also possesses extraordinary physical powers, making the fight between good and evil a suspenseful undertaking with (at first) no clear victor.  All superheroes also possess a vulnerability.  It turns out that the Powell family members are fallible humans in most ways.  Moreover, having only recently acquired their superpowers, the Powells are unaware of the limits their super-skills and how to best use them.

The proliferation of superhero stories, in comic books, movies, and television shows, is staggering.  What is the allure of the superhero?  At the end of the first episode of No Ordinary Family, Jim Powell tells us that "the problems we face may not be ordinary. But then again, neither are we."  With this line, Powell has precisely captured the universal appeal of superheroes.  An inescapable reality of life is that we often must face fearful circumstances beyond our control, circumstances that require remarkable courage and strength for us to prevail.  Extraordinary problems require extraordinary solutions.  Superheroes are exactly the tonic we dream of when life punches us in the gut.

Below is the trailer for the pilot episode of No Ordinary Family.

11 Responses to “No Ordinary Family: The Latest TV Superheroes”


  • It would be helpful to have the opportunity to send a single blog on a particular hero directly to someone else. For example, I discovered that a friend of mine is a cousin to Edith Bolling whom you mention in one of your blogs. I really enjoy your focus on heros from so many viewpoints as well as the interesting context in which you place the hero (or villian). You write in a very readable style and raise some valuable philosophical questions as you do so. I’m delighted that I have discovered your blog.

  • I thought I was writing a general comment about your blog site and not about No Ordinary Family in particular. Is there a place for a general comment?

  • This is the first time I’ve seen this preview. It looks interesting. I don’t know how many seasons it will be on, but I’m sure it will keep the attention of a few viewers.

  • Nice write-up cause in my language, I can’t discover a lot good source like this. I’m a giant believer in commenting on WP blogs to assist the WP blog writers know that they've added one thing worthwhile to the world wide net!

  • My niece has watched this show and likes it. I’ve been meaning to try it out, but I’ve had a few distractions lately and it doesn’t seem to be on On Demand. I intend to get to it, though. On a side note, the guy who plays the father also played Ben Grimm in the Fantastic Four movies.

    Marcia, I don’t think there’s any place to leave a general comment, but you can send a specific blog entry to your friend. If you’ve clicked on the blog title, you’ll see that the URL in the address bar is specific to the entry (it contains the title). Just copy and past that URL into an email to your friend.

  • The thing I like about the show “No Ordinary Family” is that despite its title, the characters are truly average people. They may be given superhuman powers, but they have lives, and problems, that we can all relate to. For example, Jim Powell isn’t a superhero with an exceptionally strong sense of justice. He is an average guy struggling to keep his marriage and his family afloat.
    By making the characters more human, the show’s creaters are also making them more relatable. By making them more relatable, they are showing regular people that they too can be heroic.

  • This television series not only showcases the stereotypical roles of a "superhero," it does so by reaching out to viewers on a very personal level. It takes an average, All-American family with their fair share of issues and transforms them into literal superheroes. Obviously, viewers are not necessarily going to be put under the false impression that acquiring superpowers is as easy as going to South America and rolling around in some unknown substance. However, it does provide viewers with the roundabout notion that anybody, in some way or another, is capable of becoming a hero. It may not be superhuman reflexes and superhuman speed, but by personalizing the concept of heroism to viewers, the show portrays the notion that even the most average of "Joes" could make a difference.

  • I feel like this show is doomed. During the prime of comic books, people were not over-exposed to certain hero types as they are today. There were new, diverse characters with different abilities and different backgrounds. The HEROES show on NBC eventually failed because of the need for oneupmanship. People are always interested to see the introduction of a new hero because they want to see them realize their power and see how it works. That is an awesomely dramatic moment and it holds peoples attention for one brief moment, and then it diminishes quickly. People stopped watching Heroes because they kept having to introduce new characters to keep the audience interested, and this influx of too many characters overcomplicated the plot. I think No Ordinary Family is destined for a similar fate. And they started out with fairly unoriginal superpowers so they are already at a disadvantage in terms of novelty. I give it maybe one more season while ABC shops for new pilots.

  • I love the show. It’s a good family show you don’t have to worry about the kids having to turn their heads because of certain scenes. And it makes us adults fantasize about doing superhuman things ourselves.

  • No Ordinary Family is a good superhero TV series because it’s entertaining to see ordinary people do incredible things. Also the series is kind of silly because it shows extraordinary people living ordinary lives but having trouble dealing with ordinary problems. However, later on in the show, the mother and father both use their powers to do good and fight villains/crime which is what a hero should do.

  • Omg, this was an amazing show! I found it and watched it on Netflix. It’s too bad they cancelled it, and I believe it was in the midst of a season as well. The show ended with no real type of conclusion in the final season.

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