‘No Ordinary Family’ vs. ‘The Cape’: Which is the better superhero show? (TV commentary)

 

Which is the superior superhero show — “The Cape” (8 p.m. Central Mondays on NBC) or “No Ordinary Family” (7 p.m. Central Tuesdays on ABC)? It’s a close call; I like both shows and have problems with both shows in roughly equal measure. So let’s break it down by category.

MYTHOLOGY

On “NOF,” the Powells crash into a Brazilian lake and come back from their truncated vacation with superpowers. Then they — and we — meet other superpowered people, including Katie’s beau Josh, a shifty shapeshifter and a guy who turns into a puff of smoke. Stephanie and Katie’s boss at the lab, Dr. King, is definitely behind all the supervillainy, but we don’t really know why.

On “The Cape,” Vince is framed for being supervillain Chess by the actual Chess, Peter Fleming. Fleming runs ARK, a corporation which has taken over Palm City’s police force and is aiming for more. Vince doesn’t have to fight Fleming alone, though: He meets Orwell, who exposes Fleming’s misdeeds via her blog, and a troupe of circus performers who teach Vince how to use a magic cape, how to walk a tightrope and how to hypnotize people.

Advantage: “The Cape”

HEROES

Other than having superpowers and secretly fighting crime, the Powells are an ordinary family. But for all their suburban Americana typicality and earnest moralizing, they are easy to like. This is due to the actors: Michael Chiklis, Julie Benz, Kay Panabaker and the kid who plays J.J. And there’s Autumn Reeser’s Katie — the pretty, comic-book fan lab assistant — and her boyfriend, who used to work for the supervillain but has now gone to the good side. At first, I found Josh Stewart’s sleepy-eyed performance to be the height of clichéd villainy, but now that he’s a good guy, it works for me.

On “The Cape,” there’s always the danger that Vince can get too broody and clichéd, but David Lyons has mostly avoided this. Summer Glau has been underused as Orwell. Keith David is a scenery chewer, in a good way, as the circus leader; we don’t know much about the rest of his troupe yet. The scenes with Vince’s wife and son are always momentum-stoppers.

Advantage: “No Ordinary Family”

VILLAINS

As noted, “NOF” has Dr. King, who is a vague, forgettable bad guy. Other supervillains have popped up, along with run-of-the-mill thieves, but none of them has left an impression.

“The Cape,” perhaps learning from the mistake of “Heroes” (which had a roughly 10-to-1 ratio of heroes to villains), introduces a new baddie every week; in fact, the title of each episode is the name of the villain. As played by the charismatic James Frain, Peter Fleming/Chess is a worthy supervillain. I also like Mena Suvari’s Dice, who is the Catwoman to The Cape’s Batman in the sense that she is neither an enemy nor an ally. “The Cape” is assembling a respectable rogues gallery.

Advantage: “The Cape”

PRODUCTION VALUE

“NOF” is crisp and colorful, and it always strikes the right tone: Slightly funny, even when it’s being serious, like in a scene where Jim is criticizing J.J. for abusing his super-intelligence powers, or when Daphne reads someone’s mind and learns something pseudo-shocking. With Greg Berlanti (“Dawson’s Creek,” “Everwood”) and John Harmon Feldman (“Dawson’s Creek,” “American Dreams”) at the helm, there’s an air of experienced professionalism behind this show.

The tone of “The Cape” was all over the place in early episodes. Is it supposed to be broody or funny? Dark or light? Obviously, it’s allowed to be both, but the balance was initially awkward. Some CGI shots, like The Cape fighting atop a train, aren’t entirely crisp, and the cinematography strikes me a grainy rather than coolly dark. Novice showrunner Tom Wheeler is learning as he goes.

Advantage: “No Ordinary Family”

FUTURE POTENTIAL

“NOF” has gone to the “Jim comes upon a theft and goes vigilante while trying not to be found out” well several times. The “kids taking advantage of their superpowers” plot is another favorite. The familiar nature of these plots makes for light, entertaining viewing. But in the last episode, Daphne developed the power to influence people’s minds, rather than merely reading them, so perhaps “NOF” is turning a corner into more challenging territory.

I find myself analyzing episodes of “The Cape” a bit more. The characters are a bit more mysterious; we know little about Orwell or the Vince’s circus allies, and every time a villain is introduced, it enriches this fictional world. Individual episodes of “NOF” may be stronger, but I feel like “The Cape” has a grander overall plan. It could go down in flames, of course, but it could also be kind of great.

Advantage: “The Cape”

VERDICT

“The Cape” gets a slight 3-2 edge under this categorical analysis. “No Ordinary Family” is the more polished show with more huggable characters, and it ranks higher in the IMDB ratings (7.5 to 6.2), something I have no problem with. Indeed, I would say it’s the superior show at this point. However, “The Cape” has developed a richer world; it seems like a more substantial show than “NOF,” even though it’s also more flawed. I have a good sense of what Palm City is like; I can’t even recall what city “NOF” is set in. While “The Cape” certainly trails in character development, it has also aired fewer episodes, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt on that score.

Perhaps the best way to rate a show is to say “How much would I miss it if it was canceled?” Right now, I would miss “NOF” more, because I love the characters. But I would bemoan the lost potential of what “The Cape” could’ve been.

I also can’t ignore the ratings-driven reality that “The Cape” will probably not last beyond 10 episodes, whereas “NOF” seems like it will get at least one full season. So “The Cape” has taken on the role of the underdog, and I can’t help rooting for it.

Any fans of “No Ordinary Family” or “The Cape” out there? Which do you prefer? Share your thoughts below.



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