Extraordinary (Disney+) is Disney’s Encanto for grownups. Or Derry Girls with superpowers. There’s a bit of The Boys’ cynicism in there, too, and a dash of Sex Education’s youthful exuberance. Twenty-five-year-old Jen (Máiréad Tyers) is powerless – literally – in a world in which everyone acquires a superheroic skill when they turn 18. Sure, some are more impressive than others – you might get the gift of flight, invisibility or superspeed, but then again you might get the ability to turn “absolutely anything” into a PDF, or a bum that is also a 3D printer – but everyone has one ability. Except for our hero. Not only that but she is grieving, has a rubbish job (and a costume hire shop run by an ancient crone who hasn’t yet aged past 12) and a disastrous love life. And in this world, when a casual hookup wants to leave, they can just fly out of the window while you’re in the loo.
Jen does have one good, if drippy, friend – her flatmate Carrie (Sofia Oxenham). Although this does mean that her other flatmate is Carrie’s useless, sponging boyfriend Kash (Bilal Hasna) – a drain on both their resources, except for the odd occasion when his power to turn back time comes in handy. Carrie herself can channel the dead. In this version of reality, however, in which the background to every walk down the street is pleasingly filled by the sight of spontaneous fires, telekinesis at work and so on, her gift fits her for nothing better than a job at a local solicitors’ firm helping to settle inheritance claims via posthumous testimony in between making the bosses’ tea and coffee. “I’m basically an appliance.” It’s quarter-life crises all round.
Extraordinary is a fun, effortless watch – and although there are some hackneyed scenes, like a regrettable call to the non-boyfriend while on pre-dentist Valium, there are some good set pieces. One of the highlights of the first episode is Jen’s negotiations with another hookup, this time one with the power to make anyone come with a single touch and who discovered this when shaking his father’s hand on his 18th birthday. He kisses her through clingfilm and dons rubber gloves before they go to bed, determined to manage things the old-fashioned way. Thirteen diligent minutes later she has to fake it, because heroic efforts are no match for superheroic powers.
Added to the mix are Siobhán McSweeney as Jen’s chaotic mother (she can supposedly control technology but as she doesn’t understand how it works the results are mixed), her smug half-sister (who gets her power right on schedule at her 18th birthday party and is soon juggling sofas to entertain her guests), and the arrival of Jizzlord (Luke Rollason), a homeless cat who turns out to be only one of these things. More supporting performers are added after Kash is mugged and decides to put together a team of vigilantes (including a 3D-printing-bum man and one who can pass through walls but tends to get stuck halfway). Most of Jen’s adventures and misadventures cohere round the need to get together the thousands of pounds necessary for the Discovery Clinic, which promises to unearth the powers of late-starters. “Maybe the real power is being yourself?” says Carrie, a suggestion that Jen takes robust exception to and allows us all to let go of the fear that Disney has exacted its customary pound of schmaltz from its creator.
Extraordinary is fun but does begin to feel, once the initial playfulness of the premise has worn off, underbaked. It seems happy to deliver a reasonable rate of gags and to let the whole thing stand as a metaphor for the uncertainty of your 20s and the common experience of feeling like everyone around you is pulling ahead and has been given the key to some secret cache of life skills and/or maturity that you have not been handed, but without really digging in and finding traction. The series is largely driven by Jen’s fury and Tyers’ energy and when she is off screen a flatness (aggravated by a couple of weak performances) creeps in.
But it’s got just enough heart and good, unexpected one-liners (under the spell of a job interviewer who can make people tell the truth, Jen admits “I’m sitting funny ’cause my tampon’s falling out”) to keep you coming back for more and to mark 28-year-old debut writer Emma Moran as one to watch, and wait for her to deliver something that really is extraordinary.