In short: I prefer the original one.
One of the things I enjoy about No Ordinary Family is that it’s an amalgam of all these different genres (drama, comic book, action, sci-fi, even comedy) but it’s first and foremost a family drama. (EP and co creator) Greg Berlanti is a master at this. EVERWOOD was a nuanced, understated, beautifully written and acted, family show. He followed that up with the brilliant but cancelled, JACK AND BOBBY, which was dressed up as a show about a boy who becomes president but was really a family drama. He saved BROTHERS AND SISTERS after 4 unfocused episodes to a successful show now entering its 5th season. I think his touches are all over NOF. There are heightened situations but it feels grounded to me. The performances feel real and you can tell with everything going on this will be a family drama first. The initial ending focused on them in their new, kind of confused, but electrified state and vowing to strive to make their family work better than ever. A family football game is enhanced with their new powers. It’s funny, sweet and warm. You like these people, at least I did. There was no big cliffhanger and frankly I think it worked perfectly. Kind of left you feeling that you’d want to see these guys again and hope they’re adjusting okay to their new life.
The new ending adds a new mythological twist. Now I am well aware that between when a pilot is shot until it goes to series, there are a few months where producers have to adjust from just making a good pilot that will hopefully be picked up, to having to make, at the very least 13 (but hopefully 22) really compelling episodes that will have arcs and places to spring stories. So understandably characters get dropped and guest stars in the pilot, like Steven Collins in this case, get bumped up to series regular status. When I heard there was a new ending, I figured it had a mythological bent, to bring the audience back next week.
The problem for me is that the new ending involves (very minor spoilers) one character that had a minimal role thus far and another that we’ve never seen before and I think the pilot actually ends on the new character’s face. Now I know that character will be important in upcoming episodes, but to anyone who has watched the previous 43 minutes they have zero investment in this guy and don’t really know why they should care about him. He’s obviously important but…seeing his face doesn’t illicit any surprise. I understand why the producers wanted to add this twist at the end, in theory. Plus with a show in this world, one assumes there will be a “big bad” or some kind of overall sci-fi arc. The thing is, most of these kind of twists aren’t that shocking anymore as they were in the early 2000s when shows like ALIAS were doing them routinely. Secondly, I don’t think it works here at all and kind of undermines what I think was a perfect ending before. Ending on the family was actually a novel twist since one might assume there would be some cliffhanger. In this case it’s not that compelling and it usurps what I think makes this superhero show unique. Finally, it’s just not really all that shocking and feels tacked on because it’s the norm on this kind of show.
To just make this point clearer, I’ll contrast it with the twist ending of NIKITA. That was one ending that I didn’t see coming, yet it was seamlessly seeded throughout the entire pilot and it involved 2 major characters we’d spent much time invested in. The Twist actually makes you go “oh wow” and “that makes sense” and “I’m curious how that will work in the next episode”. This new ending of NOF makes you go “huh” or “what” or “okay..”. Ending on the family made me smile and reaffirmed what I enjoyed about the previous 43 minutes. The only way to improve on that would for Romany Malco to be in it.
Having seen the original pilot a couple of times, it was fun to watch it with an audience yesterday at the Paley Center in NY. They seemed mostly to dig it. The aforementioned Romany Malco received huge laughs every time he was on-screen. The audience seemed ready to applaud as the penultimate scene came on (the original ending). Then the new ending arrived and it kind of stopped them for a moment. It seemed as they were somewhat confused, as the ending wasn’t shocking and they didn’t know who that last person was. There was a moment and then applause kicked in to voice their appreciation for the entire pilot. I personally think the applause would have been stronger had that new ending not taken them out of it and instead just focused on the family.
The other thing I enjoyed about the original pilot not ending on a cliffhanger was that it seemed to say this show is gonna be fun, have some sci-fi elements, but won’t be that complex. In other words, you can tune in any week, follow and enjoy. The new ending totally changes all that.
The show is still incredibly enjoyable and though I don’t love the new ending, it shouldn’t prevent people from coming back. I guess I just believe in ending with the strongest scene and biggest statement you can make about your show to bring people back next week. In this case, I think the original ending accomplished that much better.