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New Shows For Fall: ABC

September 14, 2010

The Paley Center for Media gave sneak peeks at several of the programs that will debut this season. (Keep in mind, the networks themselves selected the programs they wanted to showcase).

ABC presented three of their debuts: the comedy/drama hour format “No Ordinary Family,” a sitcom “Better With You,” and a drama, “My Generation.”

“No Ordinary Family” will likely seem very familiar. A regular family suddenly gets amazing powers. If Disney was considering a live-action version of their hit animated feature “The Incredibles,” they certainly got it, with Michael Chiklis as the Father, Julie Benz as the mom, and Jimmy Bennett and Kay Panabaker as their teenaged kids. This program also echoes the NBC series “Heroes,” though at least here we have an attempt to be plausible with an explanation of why our brood is suddenly capable of remarkable abilities: they crash landed in a mysterious lake on a plane excursion in Brazil. The problem is that even with the power to leap tall buildings in a single bound, or outrun the traffic on the 405 freeway, the ability this family seems to be lacking is the one it needs most: communication, and that’s where the viewing audience will relate to the group, their situations and their feelings.

The great thing about this pilot is they really got the reactions right. Dad wants to start fighting crime once he realizes what he can do, and literally jumps at the chance to do it. Mom wants to spend more time helping her kids, and less time in her lab, as she’s a scientist and she uses her bullet speed to help her do that (though she may become her next best experiment). The teen daughter is awkward about developing telepathy and her confusion and angst is all too real, while the son is really unclear on everything, as it seems that the rest of his family is excelling while he remains remedial, dealing with a learning disability in his schoolwork and with no apparent sign of anything special happening to him.

Stephen Collins appears as the boss and possible flirtation for Benz, as her marriage seems a bit rocky, but maybe there’s more to him than just romance. And Mom and Dad have confidants that are helping them explore just what they’re able to do, and that’s where you’ll find the bulk of the comedy, through trial and super error.

If they can balance the human and down-to-earth stories about our little family (especially if they don’t get preachy or schlocky with it) and mix in the fantastic tales of derring-do equally, this could be the one show that everyone in the family may want to view.

“Better With You” is the story of three very different couples, and the elements that tie them all together. Maddie and Ben (Jennifer Finnigan and Josh Cook) have been living together for almost a decade and seem fairly content with that arrangement. But Maddie’s kid sister Mia and her new guy Joel (Joanna Garcia and Jake Lacy) drop a couple of major bombshells: she’s pregnant and they’re getting married! This fact is celebrated by the women’s parents Casey and Vicky (Kurt Fuller and Debra Jo Rupp), just as Maddie thought they would be the first to freak! Apparently the bad economic times have softened the edges of those two, and this makes Maddie and Ben need to reassess everything they thought they knew about them, and themselves, and perhaps even life itself!

The charm of the show is in the knowing about what makes relationships work, what people do and say and how that can have a major bearing on what people might do, say or even think about when trying to hold everything in place. There are elements of the best qualities of the series “Friends,” (as Joel makes a new and very amusing Joey from that series) and there are plenty of laughs based on the very organic qualities that love can create, and oddities that families dictate. If truth is the root of good comedy, this show is truelarious!

Finally, we have “My Generation,” which is an US version of a Swedish program called “Blomstertid” where a television crew follows a few students around doing a documentary about their lives, and then follows up with where they wound up, years later. Here, we have the same concept, with a distinct ten year gap between the graduation of this group of students from a Texas High School and where they are now.

What’s interesting about the concept is that the decade from 2000 to 2010 is filled with a lot of material to explore, to examine, to relate to what the people in this story have chosen to do with their lives and how history could potentially take a hand in what you had planned and toss it all away with no warning. We are given the obligatory interviews with the fresh faced 18 year olds, filled with the dreams of what their lives were going to be, intercut with their activities while in school and their labels: the wallflower, the geek, the overachiever, etc. then cut to their 2010 selves, talking again on camera about where they are today and how it lines up with what they thought, then.

What’s really not good at all are two basic things. First, keep in mind that MTV’s “The Real World” debuted in 1992, or eight years before this class was having its graduation! This is important because now, nobody is concerned about cameras filming their every move or that some program you agreed to appear on is going to show something of your life. Yet, there’s always some moment where one of the people we’re viewing will want the cameras to shut down, or are suddenly annoyed by the fact that they’re there here in the present time, and it really comes off as remarkably untrue, especially since they had been through filming in 2000 and should be completely used to it. But more importantly: a lot of moments between the characters we are viewing are disjointed, disconnected or feel stilted or false and that seriously disrupts the flow of the action. I found myself not buying most of the interactions of this group. If the characters are not connecting with each other in a believable way, nothing here works and unfortunately, that’s how the bulk of this flows.

Ultimately, the device of a documentary bringing these classmates together again isn’t needed and gets in the way much more than it helps. If this actually were a documentary, not a scripted program pretending to be one, that might be a different tale. As it stands, despite a cast of strong actors like Daniella Alonzo, Mehcad Brooks, Kelli Garner, Jaime King and Julian Morris, this series comes up short.

Grades for the pilots that ABC showed:

“No Ordinary Family” B (with potential for higher marks quickly if they develop the elements well)

“Better With You” B (some very relatable and great observational comedy from a good source)

“My Generation” C- (the premise seemed workable; the execution was most definitely not)

Up Next: The CW

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2010 11:18 pm

    I’m on the fence about “No Ordinary Family”, because it’s hard to imagine the roguish cop from The Shield as a family guy. Still, I’m intrigued based on what you’ve written here. Michael Chiklis is so great and I bet if ABC gives the show a chance to find its audience it will.

  2. September 15, 2010 12:00 am

    @Snarky’s Machine keep in mind that Chiklis was also “The Thing” from “Fantastic 4,” so maybe that’s a better place to start with the imagery. The question of how well this series will play is definitely going to be in the balance of stuff that’s good for kids and stuff the adults will be able to relate to, which may make this one of the tougher shows to write this season. It could be a lot of fun!

  3. September 15, 2010 10:34 am

    I’m intrigued by “No Ordinary Family” but that’s probably largely in part due to my love of most things superhero related. And I like Julie Benz and Kay Panabaker.

  4. September 15, 2010 11:40 am

    @eieioj people have also compared “No Ordinary Family” to the Disney film “Sky High” primarily on the fact that Kay Panabaker’s sister Danielle was one of the stars of that film. Both of those sisters are quite talented!

  5. renniejoy permalink
    September 15, 2010 12:59 pm

    Isn’t Kurt Fuller the dad?

  6. September 15, 2010 1:38 pm

    @renniejoy thanks for the catch. IMDb misidentified the actors too!

  7. renniejoy permalink
    September 15, 2010 2:13 pm

    He’s been on Psych a few times, so I recognized him. 🙂

    BAD IMDb; no cookies!

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