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Friday, February 3, 2023

Extraordinary Is an Instant Classic Among Superhero Comedies

Remember the name Emma Moran, for she has achieved what once seemed impossible: She’s created a superhero comedy that’s actually funny. The premise of her debut series, Extraordinary, is not revolutionary. Like Disney’s Encanto and, to a lesser extent, the recently canceled Peacock teen drama Vampire Academy, it’s set in an alternate reality where every young person, upon reaching a certain age, develops a superpower—except for the unfortunate protagonist. The failure-to-launch metaphor is so obvious, it even resonates with toddlers. What makes Moran’s show, well, extraordinary is the irreverent panache with which it’s executed.

Extraordinary, whose eight-episode season is now streaming in full on Hulu, follows the hapless Jen (Máiréad Tyers), a 25-year-old Irish girl living among Londoners who almost all received a supernatural enhancement sometime around their 18th birthdays. As she works an ironically depressing job at a party store and hooks up with people who don’t really care about her, Jen’s perceived deficiency constantly gnaws at her. Even a date with a guy who has the power to give anyone an orgasm simply by grazing their skin with his hand somehow winds up unsatisfying. (One thing that sets Extraordinary apart from Encanto is its enthusiastic raunchiness.)
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Jen’s greatest source of comfort is her lifelong best friend and housemate, Carrie (Sofia Oxenham), a fledgling lawyer who can summon the dead. Spirits can even speak through her mouth, which comes in handy for clarifying contested wills. Carrie’s live-in boyfriend Kash (Bilal Hasna) is a slacker who can rewind time; his real life is essentially a VHS tape. He dreams of parlaying that ability into some ill-defined sort of vigilante group—but isn’t a team of do-gooder superheroes kind of redundant in a world where just about everybody is a superhero of sorts?

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Natalie Seery—Disney+From left: Mairead Tyers, Sofia Oxenham, and Siobhan McSweeney in Extraordinary

Moran uses the superpower conceit brilliantly. While the urban skies are dotted with people who can fly, and muggers capitalize on invisibility, humans remain as neurotic as ever. In the series’ opening scene, Jen answers a polite job-interview question—”How was your journey?”—with a deluge of TMI regarding tampons, masturbation, antidepressants, and her explosively anxious stomach. She has, unfortunately, encountered an HR rep who is the human embodiment of truth serum. Meanwhile, some people end up with gross or inane powers; “I can summon sea creatures,” one guy announces, as a wet, writhing fish smashes through a window into his outstretched hand. A character who can kinda, sorta walk through walls, but only when he’s naked, gets stuck in a brick facade with his bare butt hanging out for much of an episode.

Ribald, kinetic, and rooted in the misadventures of flailing young-adult friends, Extraordinary feels closer to zany millennial-underachiever farces like Broad City and Search Party than it does to any superhero show I’ve ever seen. The sight gags are on point, but the dialogue is even sharper. “I’m playing the world’s smallest violin,” Jen scoffs, scrunching her hands into a miniscule air violin, when her perfect younger sister Andy (Safia Oakley-Green), a smug musical prodigy, throws a tantrum upon failing to discover her power the moment she turns 18. Andy: “I’ve actually played the world’s smallest violin, and it’s much bigger than that.” (In a glorious casting choice, the girls’ mom is played by Derry Girls’ deadpan nun, Siobhán McSweeney.) The soundtrack is all witty misfits: Devo, Wet Leg, Mitski, The Clash.

But it’s the superhero stuff that saves this Gen Z comedy from merely rehashing the angsty-young-woman humor of its recent predecessors. By situating Jen, Carrie, and Kash (yes, they’re a couple named Kash and Carrie) in such a complicated and absurd reality—one of Jen’s love interests literally spent the last several years of his life as a cat—Moran gently sends up the low-stakes narcissism of the pre-Trump, pre-pandemic, pre-climate-panic Girls era. True to its title, Extraordinary combines and tweaks familiar tropes into something genuinely unique. That it also makes Deadpool look about as audacious as The Incredibles is just a bonus.

from TIME
via Time.com

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