I’m not sure if any Australian media outlets have written reviews on Speechless, unfortunately I doubt it due to the fact that it airs on a subsidiary channel and two weeks ago was pushed back in the schedule. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to write reviews on this great show anyway.
The job of a pilot is to establish a show’s premise and characters, this pilot did it perfectly and with a great balance of subtle and obvious moments. The opening scenes of a seemingly typical family rushing to get a cheaper breakfast was hilarious and the reveal of JJ (Micah Fowler) as a character was pulled off perfectly.
I felt that the pilot evenly covered the common topics or areas in regards to what life could be like for a family who has a member with special needs–ignorance/intolerance, over-the-top compensation and political correctness to make up for ignorance/intolerance, and realities of life for the family. Ignorance/intolerance was covered perfectly with the cold open, and both intolerance and the over-the-top compensation and political correctness was balanced out perfectly with the school scenes (especially in JJ’s classroom).
The realism of the DiMeos and their lives what was stood out to me. I felt that the realism was honestly discussed and portrayed but also kept away from making the DiMeos out to be victims. You can’t blame Ray (Mason Cook) for feel stressed and neglected for having to move to a seventh school and a new joy in his life possibly being taken away from him. You definitely can’t blame Maya (Minnie Driver) for her reaction to the school’s “disabled access” and it perfectly lead to the reveal of Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough) as a character and will clearly be a solid foil to Maya. This may be an unpopular view, but I also felt for Dr Miller (Marin Hinkle) and JJ’s temporary aide, Jennifer (Dina Waters) as they try and inadvertently fail to appropriately navigate the situations that they are in.
I also enjoyed being educated in this episode on how a person with special needs, in this case cerebral palsy, communicates when they are non-verbal. On that note, it was an interesting (and the right) choice by the writers to not state outright that JJ has cerebral palsy, but rather have his limitations and abilities subtly and slowly revealed, which brings me to Micah Fowler.
I won’t deny that after I saw the pilot for the first time I Googled him to find out whether he has special needs in “real life” and was surprised to discover he does, which shows the little amount of disabled actors being given the chance to perform in sitcoms. When I discovered the extent of Fowler’s cerebral palsy, it made me appreciate his performance, especially his facial expressions and character’s personality even more. Again, rather than making JJ out to be the victim, the writers choice to make JJ a typical teenager who happens to have a disability was brilliant and I’m certainly looking forward to getting to know JJ as the series progresses.
I did unfortunately see Kenneth becoming JJ’s aide coming, nevertheless I’m looking forward to seeing it being played out. I also appreciated the running gag of Maya’s speeding as bookends for the episode.
Overall this pilot was the most brilliant and intelligent pilot I’ve ever seen and I can’t wait to watch and review the rest of this season and hope for a second.