When fans last saw Michael Chiklis on FX's police drama "The Shield," his character, rogue detective Vic Mackey, had confessed his nefarious ways in the LAPD in exchange for immunity and a desk job, but he was still heading out, armed, into the night.
When fans last saw Julie Benz on Showtime's crime drama "Dexter," her character, new bride Rita, had suffered a horrendous death at the hands of the Trinity Killer (ironic, since her husband, crime-scene tech Dexter, played by Michael C. Hall, is also a serial killer of serial killers and other evildoers).
What a difference a TV season makes.
Inside a thankfully air-conditioned soundstage on a triple-digit day at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., Chiklis and Benz are hard at work on a scene from their new ABC drama, "No Ordinary Family," premiering Tuesday, Sept. 28.
They play, respectively, police sketch artist Jim and scientist Stephanie Powell, who, together with their teenage children -- 14-year-old JJ (Jimmy Bennett) and 16-year-old Daphne (Kay Panabaker) -- have acquired superpowers after being exposed to a strange substance during a plane crash into water in the Amazon.
Jim, a failed fine artist who wistfully watches his police co-workers solve crimes, has acquired super strength; harried Stephanie now has super speed; Daphne can hear others' thoughts; and suddenly, learning-disabled JJ is having no trouble in school.
Co-starring are Romany Malco ("Weeds") as George, Jim's best friend and confidant, and Autumn Reeser ("The O.C.") as Katie, Stephanie's lab tech and confidante. Both become privy to the secret about the abilities and help their respective pals figure out what has happened and how the powers can be used.
In the scene being shot, the repercussions of the superpowers have caused a conflict between the Powell parents and JJ. Specifically, Stephanie is reading JJ the riot act about an issue at school, JJ is defending himself, and Jim is trying to get a word in edgewise.
The scene ends with a bit of tension but no violence or gunplay.
"It couldn't be a more different head space, performancewise," says Chiklis (who, in life, truth be told, is much closer to Jim than to Vic).
"Coming off 'Dexter,' " Benz says, "I was specifically looking for a show that was more mainstream, a little lighter in tone, and a character that was the strongest female character I could find."
The co-creators of "No Ordinary Family" are Greg Berlanti ("Brothers & Sisters," "Eli Stone," "Everwood") and Jon Harmon Feldman ("Dirty Sexy Money," "Tru Calling," "Dawson's Creek"). Both are executive producers, along with David Semel ("Heroes") and Morgan Wandell.
So the show launches with behind-the-scenes talent boasting experience both in family drama and science-fiction/fantasy. Blending these two is not easy. "The Incredibles" did it, but that was animated and a one-shot movie, not a live-action TV series.
"We've got to be wary of being too shtick-y," Chiklis says. "We've got to be aware of being too melodramatic. Too anything is no good, and yet, if you don't go too far in any direction, do you just become sort of nothing?
"One of the hardest things to do is to make a broadly appealing show that appeals literally to anybody, 18 to 80. That's because you have to rely on skillful storytelling, wit, charm and charisma, and you have to be consistent and innately likable as a show."
"What the show is at its core," Benz says, "is a family drama. We have developed super abilities, and the super abilities feed into the family drama, because it's all the things we're feeling we're lacking in our lives, that we get.
"There is a bit of mythology, but at the same time, it's more of this heartfelt family-drama show."
It's very likely that, coming off "The Shield," Chiklis had his pick of hard-hitting, gritty drama scripts, but he had something else in mind.
"I want to entertain people," he says. "Let me entertain you. We don't have the constitution for (gritty drama) anymore, because we're already too busted up from the world. You're just like, if you see one more news item that shatters your nervous system, one more kidnapping, one more war
we're on the precipice of the Great Depression.
"So let us entertain you."
And in case anyone was wondering, there are no "The Incredibles"-type matching stretchy suits on the horizon.
"Oh, my God," Chiklis says, "heavens, no. You do not want to see me in Lycra. No, no."
He tells of a sketch he received, done by the artist who creates Jim Powell's police sketches for the show, depicting Chiklis surrounded by the show's producers, who are holding up a pair of superhero-style tights.
"The legend is, 'Never gonna happen,' " Chiklis says. "I'm standing there, like, 'Never gonna happen!' It's already framed in my office on my wall. It's hilarious."
Michael Chiklis extraordinary in 'No Ordinary Family'
Michael Chiklis stars in "No Ordinary Family," premiering Tuesday on ABC.
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