Channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am

Family holidays are like DIY perms: they seem like a good idea at the time. Surly teenaged kids would rather be seen dead than spend time with their parents, who, in turn, end up bringing all of their domestic issues away with them.

The Powells are a textbook example of the disgruntled, disconnected Californian family - until their plane nosedives into a lake in Brazil.

Having survived the crash, Jim (Michael Chiklis; The Shield) and Stephanie Powell (Julie Benz; Dexter), and their children Daphne and JJ, begin to realise they are No Ordinary Family (TVB Pearl, Thursdays at 10.35pm), in this brand new American sci-fi dramedy.

Jim is a mild-mannered police sketch artist married to a successful research scientist. Their generation Y children deal with typical high-school woes - JJ struggles with bad grades; Daphne with boy problems. Before their near-death experience, Jim's biggest issue was the growing distance between him, his wife and their children.

After the ordeal, he's presented with a new conundrum - and world of possibility - when superhuman reflexes kick in during a shooting at the police station where he works. One by one, the rest of the Powells discover powers that throw a wrench into everything they thought they knew about themselves and each other.

It's always fun playing realistic family dynamics against the fantasy of extraordinary abilities and No Ordinary Family takes care to lay down convincing relationships between its characters even as their awesome superpowers kick in. We would have been content to stay focused on the Powells as they work through stuff: Jim flirts with the idea of using his super-strength for vigilantism; Stephanie tries to use her super-speed to make up for lost time with her children; Daphne just wants to shut out the painful truth about her telepathy; and JJ finds an unexpected downside to his new- found super-brain.

All too soon, however, the plot thickens and the Powells realise they are not alone in their abilities. Let's just hope the series doesn't end up bloating its universe with too many supers, like that sinking mess Heroes, and stays bubbly a la The Incredibles.

Moving on to a more sombre topic, American filmmaker N.C. Heikin takes issue with a starved and broken system that has been 60 years in the making in North Korea. Kimjongilia (above; History Channel, tonight at 10pm), a 2009 Sundance Film Festival feature-length documentary, weaves testimonies almost exclusively from North Korean defectors; its criticism of the country's systematic disregard for human rights comes through loud and clear despite the absence of a narrator.

Most of the interviewees are former inmates of North Korean forced-labour camps and the details of lost family members, starvation and public execution are horrifically recounted. Stories of escape, while heartening, are not without tragedy and sacrifice - like that of a young man, Kang, who was born within the confines of Yodok camp and dared to plan his escape when he was 24, after seeing his mother and older brother executed for misconduct. Kang made it, but his friend did not.

As footage of life within North Korea is hard to come by, Heikin made use of graphics to outline the reign of Kim Il-sung and his son and current dictator, Kim Jong-il. She also spliced scenes from propaganda films made in the 1990s - a period of decline and famine in the country - that provide an eerie contrast between the aspired-to ideal of the 'Worker's Paradise' promised by the Kim dynasty and the stark reality of the daily struggles and deprivations faced by most North Koreans.

Due to the lack of pro-North Korean government testimonials - whether by Heikin's choice or because she simply couldn't find any - some may find the story-telling one-sided. But with so little information coming out of the isolated country, Kimjongilia presents at least one view of the suffering which can come out of totalitarian rule.

Closer to home, new regional lifestyle channel Life Inspired, or LiTV (available on Now TV channel 516) brings us A Quest for Stars (tonight at 9pm). This two-part series, hosted by food critic Reggie Ho, asks some burning questions about the Michelin Guide's Hong Kong and Macau editions: how did Hong Kong end up with the world's cheapest one-star establishment? Will the Michelin reviewers' bias towards Western restaurants change over time? And do the stars really matter to the 69 restaurants they have been awarded to?

Through interviews with chefs, fellow critics, bloggers and star recipients, the series aims to pro- vide a balanced look at the guide's effect on local restaurants and vice versa.

'Michelin reviewers would do well to tune in and take note,' Ho says. 'I haven't seen any other programme that takes into account a broad sweep of opinions. I see it as a necessary platform for fostering debate. Dining out is such a deep part of our culture and the scene changes so fast that I think we would benefit from a continued series like this.'