‘Extraordinary’ review: Hulu is getting another comedy about superpowers

Barely seeing a superhero, this series written by Emma Moran finds something far more interesting in a new form of everyday life.

“” could have been an anthology. The show’s first season (on Hulu or Disney+, depending on where you’re reading this) spans eight episodes, and each one has an opportunity to make them stand alone. It’s a new comedy set in a world where almost everyone has superpowers. There are people who can scale walls, walk through walls, fly over walls, lift walls, or do other awesome things that don’t involve walls.

After more than a handful of years of humans gaining power, Jen (Máiréad Tyers) is still waiting for hers. Romantically frustrated, she’s treading water at her retail gig and staring at her mid-20s with nothing to show for them. When she’s not stressed out about being the only “normal” adult she knows, she spends most of her time with her roommate Carrie (Sofia Oxenham), who can make the dead talk to her. Carrie’s rewind boyfriend Kash (Bilal Hasna) is also a constant presence when he’s not trying to bring together a misfit band of vigilante law enforcement.

It takes a lot to build a show around a character who feels stuck without everything around him stagnating. But with Tyers’ boundless energy and endless changes with the people around her, Jen can be stubborn, selfish, and carefree, and the “extraordinary” can still thrive. Carrie will be a useful counterweight, and not just because her power counts for almost double. (The sequences where Oxenham has to switch between Carrie and the persona Carrie is mediating are among the season’s highlights.)

Series writer and creator Emma Moran puts together a series of daily challenges for Jen and Carrie, only a few of which are built around some power-related issue. These two aren’t trying to bring about social change, or expose corruption, or fight against aliens that appear through a sky portal. The “extraordinary” is part of that fertile corner of science fiction where there is a fundamental difference from our own world, and the rest of the changes trickle out from there.

Extraordinary/1.  Mairead Tyers as Jen in Extraordinary.  BC Natalie Seery/Disney+ © 2021.

Máiréad Tyers in “Extraordinary”.

Natalie Seery/Disney+

One of the tricks of the show is realizing that most of these powers are actually just exaggerations of things humans were already capable of. Jen’s stepfather is a super empath, able to tell exactly the emotions that a sensitive person feels. One of Kash’s new buddies can walk through solid objects, which is only a small step up from being an expert in a heist story. Even the fact that Jen’s occasionally hot pal can fly seems secondary to her ridiculously high self-esteem.

For those whose powers are beyond, like Kash or a Dr. Dolittle-like vet or Jen’s overachieving stepsister, “Extraordinary” shows that those blessings can also be curses. Every time Jen feels down about standing up for the wrong reason, she gets a reminder that maybe power is a responsibility she doesn’t have room for in her life anyway. So “Extraordinary” can keep the extraordinary in the background when it wants to and focus on Jen figuring things out more broadly.

The Jen-Carrie dynamic is the show’s biggest strength, not just in showing how Carrie struggles with the demands and opportunities to eat dead dictators for breakfast or dead moguls in estate disputes. This anxiety extends to their friendship, codependency, and a strange sense of obligation that can linger after their school days together. Moran spices up their everyday adventures with lively silliness that can be sweet or sour on a dime. Jen may be in a rut, but there’s a ghost running through their colorful apartment, a bouncy soundtrack (which has two worthy entries in the canon of Sleigh Bells pindrops), and people walking horizontally and vertically through the city streets.

Mairead Tyers and Sofia Oxenham "Extraordinary"

Máiréad Tyers and Sofia Oxenham in “Extraordinary”.

It makes sense that this world takes a disjointed, ragtag approach to would-be superheroes, and it’s smart for Moran not to overlook that. But “Extraordinary” does so much better than Jen and Carrie’s stories that Kash’s misadventures sometimes feel like a drag. Hasna is a fun addition to the roommate crew, but when she’s separated from the others, she shows how that magic dissipates when everyone is separated.

“Extraordinary” has another incredible performance, but if you happen to be reading this, I won’t be indecisive and you haven’t watched the trailer or read the cast list. Just know you’ll know it when it pops up. What starts out as something that could easily be a gimmick (or the hook for an entire show) becomes a deft display of physicality with a surprising amount of emotion. If “Extraordinary” didn’t already have Jen and Carrie, that would be reason enough to watch the show on its own. (Again, you’ll know when it happens.)

Perhaps the sharpest thing Moran does in “Extraordinary” is to avoid making power a simple metaphor. This is not a stand for love, sex, or self-acceptance. In a world filled with a wide cross-section of humanity, these forces mean very different things to different people. Oddly enough, the more “extraordinary” you make these powers secondary, or find ways to pierce the aura surrounding them, the more freedom you have to follow Jen and Carrie’s direction. Overall, this first season leaves room for exploration and development. For starters, though, it’s more than enough to prove that “Extraordinary” has some special skills for a sequel, whether or not the main character has it.

grade: B

“Extraordinary” is available now on Hulu in the US and can be streamed internationally on Disney+.

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