Wednesday, September 21, 2016

‘Speechless’ Provides Another Winning Family Comedy for ABC

Review of the TV show "Speechless"
The cast of Speechless. (ABC)
TV SHOW REVIEW
Years ago, ABC proved that there still was a place on TV for the family sitcom while other networks have pretty much given up. The key, (with the exception of Last Man Standing) was to make the shows more relatable to the audience and to ditch the laugh track. Tonight, the network unveils Speechless, about a family with a family member who has cerebral palsy. If you’ve seen the commercials for the show, you know that the creators could have gone with sappy show but went for snarky instead. Unfortunately, the previews paint the show to be more mean-spirited than it really is. The show itself is actually more balanced and doesn’t just center on Minnie Driver’s outrageous outbursts.
 

Like your own family, the DiMeos are imperfect. Maya (Minnie Driver) is an extremely passionate person who fights for rights of her eldest son J.J. who has cerebral palsy even when she doesn’t need to. Her passion has led to the family’s moving six times in the last two years in order to create the perfect environment and schooling for J.J. (Micha Fowler). Fowler by the way really does struggle with cerebral palsy in real life but not to the same degree at J.J.). Maya is married to Jimmy (John Ross Bowie) who admits that he goes along with Maya’s craziness because he loves her. Then there is Ray, the younger son who is more mature than either of his parents. He is most frustrated with this latest move and tells off his mom that she is being unfair putting his brother’s needs above everyone else in the family. In one scene she tells Ray that she puts so much into J.J. “because he needs me and you clearly don’t.” She reminds him that he told her that she couldn’t get a dog. “They’re a big responsibility,” he counters. Who is parenting who? Finally, there is daughter Dylan (Kyla Kenedy) who is a sports jock and has anger issues like her mother.

It’s nice to see a show like Speechless that features flawed characters. While Maya has no patience for intolerance, she clearly doesn’t see when she is being intolerant herself especially when it comes to African American Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough), a maintenance worker at the kids’ news school. He calls her Mrs. Blindside. The family isn’t rich either able to make demands of others. Instead, they are just getting by and know that their surroundings won’t change for J.J. if they aren’t a bit scrappy. 

Speechless is created by Scott Silveri whose previous credits include Mad About You, Friends and FOX's The Grinder who got good reviews from critics but not enough viewers tuned in to keep the show afloat. Silveri seems to know that the show can be advocate for those who are handicapped without being preachy.

For the most part, everyone in the cast is likeable, but a few things rubbed me the wrong way. The children don’t respect adults and are almost praised by their parents when they use bad language instead of being scolded. Little Dylan is the worst and needs to be taught some manners, but that is really the only negative I could find about the show. This is also a fantastic role for Driver as her character is actually very funny. It fits her better than her role as the new agey mom in NBC’s short-lived sitcom, About a Boy.
 

Speechless premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.

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