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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

PILOT REVIEW: Speechless


Starring: Minnie Driver, John Ross Bowie, Cedric Yarbrough, Mason Cook, Micah Fowler, Kyla Kenedy

Created by Scott Silveri
Written by Scott Silveri, Directed by Christine Gernon

Speechless is a new comedy that fits brilliantly into the ABC stable of funny yet poignant family comedies that give voice to some underrepresented people in American life and entertainment. And this one may be the most important yet, giving a glimpse into a population that is even more ignored when it comes to pop culture. The DiMeos are a family led by a dominant mother, Maya (Minnie Driver), who could be sisters with Beverly Goldberg and Jessica Huang. The main reason she's as "crazy" as she appears is because she is a fierce advocate for her son, JJ (Micah Fowler), who can't verbally speak due to his cerebral palsy. They move to yet another school in the pilot, upending the lives of Maya's husband, Jimmy (John Ross Bowie) and other kids Ray and Dylan (Mason Cook and Kyle Kenedy). Rounding out the main cast is a school employee who befriends the family after a rough start, Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough).

The cast is top notch here and Minnie Driver is so much better in this than she was in About a Boy, where I found her annoying at times. Here, her character is much more overbearing yet I found her to be much more enjoyable. She had great comedic timing. The rest of the cast is great including Micah Fowler who does so much without being able to speak. Mason Cook gives us another interesting young protagonist like other ABC sitcoms while Cedric Yarbrough had a couple very funny moments.

I loved the way this show opened and I love that there's not a narrator. Though I love many of the ABC sitcoms with a narrator, I feel as though it's getting to be overused. Plus, I feel like that would have taken away from the point of this sitcom which is literally and figuratively giving voice to the voiceless. The opening scene with the van seemed a little silly and stupid until they got to the restaurant and there was a great reveal of JJ in his wheelchair to put front and center that this show isn't afraid to go there and deal with things head on.

More than most shows I review, this show hit close to home to me because I work in the special education field. It was so educational without every having the feel of an after-school special or a "very special episode." It was glossed in humor from top to bottom but there were real issues explored: schools trying to be inclusive in superficial but not real ways, well meaning but completely clueless teachers and students (the scene in JJ's classroom was hilarious), and the way a child with special needs impacts the family and especially the siblings. There is no network that has a better sense of itself right now than the ABC comedy family. Every show is so unique yet they all fit nicely together. And many of them give so much strength to minority groups that could use the exposure in a natural, funny setting. They are not preachy or condescending by any means, they are real honest looks. And it may be my own personal connection to the subject matter, but I feel like Speechless maybe needs to succeed even more than the others. I hope it does.


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