Michael Chiklis wants you to know something about his new series: Yes, there will be superpowers, but no, it won’t be like any other comic book-style project you’ve seen before. "This isn’t Heroes. It isn’t The Incredibles," he promises. "This is ‘No Ordinary Family.’"
The series, which debuts Sept. 28 on ABC, does come with a superheroic cachet: The Powell family–Chiklis ("The Shield") and Julie Benz ("Dexter") play the parents, Kay Panabaker (Fame) and Jimmy Bennett (Star Trek) are their kids–gain mysterious powers after a plane crash. But the focus is more about family dynamics more than costume-clad conflicts, with executive producers Jon Harmon Feldman ("Dirty Sexy Money") and Greg Berlanti ("Brothers & Sisters," the upcoming Green Lantern film) zeroing in on how the clan copes with their extranormal abilities.
"In the writers’ room, it’s always "what do we want to say with these characters this week?’" Berlanti says. "And that’s the same rule that it’s sort of been in any of the character shows I’ve ever worked on. If we’re fortunate enough to go many, many years, the end of the show would be the comic book. The end of the show would be how the family finally all got together and did whatever they did in the sci-fi world. But to me, there’s a billion stories to tell before that moment."
But there will be plenty of action in between the character-driven dramas, Berlanti says. "In some ways, it’s a fun throwback to some of the action-adventure series that I used to love and watch as a kid – blended with, hopefully, a great family show. As audiences get more and more sophisticated, you look for ways to sort of blend genres, so with this,we tried to sort of blend all the fun of a big action show with a real fun, intimate family show and see what happens."
"We’re doing something that really is quite ambitious here," says Chiklis, a comic book fan from his youth who, along with his intense Emmy-winning stint as "The Shield’s" corrupt antihero Vic Mackey, famously took on a more straightforward superheroic role as The Thing in two "Fantastic Four" films. "I think the scope of the show is rather large, and even though it’s intimate and it is a family show. The superpower thing wrapped around it just makes it all the more fun and entertaining and exciting. I’m a fan of that genre, and I think if we could actually pull this off, it will be something really, really special for people to sit and watch every week."
"With ‘No Ordinary Family’ I’m able to do something that has such a broad appeal and I can sit with my family, my wife, a 16-year old, and an 11-year-old and we’ll enjoy it," Chiklis tells SuperHeroHype. "That’s all too rare in television now. It’s usually all so broken up into niches, and it’s important that somebody be making something that you can sit and watch as a family and have everybody enjoy it. If you’re sitting with your youngest you’re sometimes going, ‘Oh my God,’ because it’s things that are geared towards to 11-year-olds–sort of pandered to 11-year-olds–instead of something more entertaining and witty and smart and crisp and fun that I can watch and she can watch."
Berlanti’s also planning to make the family’s powers play as effectively on the small screen as some big-screen adventures. "In the last four or five years the visual effects on television have gotten to a place in post where you can achieve things that may be much closer [to film] than before," he says. "And that starts to inform storytellers and writers and producers in terms of what the — what you’re trying to do. And families may come because they hear about, "Oh, wow. They’re doing all this quote-unquote "superhero stuff," but when they get there, they stay for the characters."
Benz says she loves the symmetry between her character’s super-speedy new abilities and the demands on a modern-day working mom. "She’s failing at being a wife and mother, and she’s very Type A personality," says Benz, "and the biggest thing for her is her ability allows her to all of a sudden be everything that she can’t be without them. Part of her struggle being a scientist, is she wants to find out what’s happening, why is this happening, and how to protect her family. But these powers really, really help her out big-time in being there for the kids and being there for her husband. That’s her struggle."
Panabaker’s enjoying the conflict on her own 16-year-old character, who unlike the rest of the Powells, is mortified about her new telepathic power. "I mean, everybody else in the world would love to have a super power and she doesn’t want it!" says Panabaker. "She’s going through high school, she’s got a boyfriend, she’s got great friends, and she just really wants to focus on being normal. And she really struggles with the family in that they’re all gung ho, and they don’t really understand where she’s coming from."
"When I saw that I could finally have a superpower – I mean, that’s what I’ve always wanted to have since I was eight years old!" says Jimmy Bennett, whose character finds his intelligence growing by leaps and bounds. "And I think every single kid in the world can agree with me. I jumped at it, and I wanted to do it so badly, because, I mean, when you think of super powers and superheroes, it’s just, like – you look up to them!"
"The notion of having different super powers really connects with audiences and people in general," agrees Chiklis, whose Mr. Mom-style househusband suddenly finds himself super-strong, nearly invulnerable and literally leaping tall buildings. "Because the modern world is very frustrated, and you can’t help but think ‘Oh, if I could only this, or if I could only that…’ It’s fantasy, it’s wish fulfillment, it’s escapist."
"You want to entertain people, and to be involved in something that–8, 18, or 80–you can sit down and really, really enjoy," Chiklis adds, affirming "No Ordinary Family’s" intended cross-generational appeal. "My children have watched the pilot and absolutely loved it. "And if you want to see some violence, watch my previous show."