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Speechless–Season 1, Episode 21 (P-R–Prom)

Both the DiMeo parents and the DiMeo kids had a fun night in this episode.

The A story revolves around JJ and Ray’s school prom, with Dylan also attending as the “bartender”. While usually JJ is the centre of attention, story wise, this episode Ray was front and centre, which was refreshing. Uniquely this episode peeled back another layer of the metaphorical onion, however this time it was a layer that didn’t directly affect JJ. Instead this layer focused on how a family member would deal with people’s ignorant perceptions of disability, which could possibly affect JJ at one time or another.

I personally enjoyed seeing Ray having to face a moral dilemma of this kind, especially as he is usually lecturing others on how to behave morally. It also shows that despite his intelligence that is usually beyond his years, at the end of the day, he is still a young and hormonal boy. The outcome of his situation with Riley was always obvious, his morality was always going to win over his desires, even if JJ gave his approval.

Meanwhile, JJ as usual is the unintentional centre of attention at his prom due to his disability, however I enjoyed how he managed to flip this on its head by having a fun, albeit brief non-prom with three miscasts. I stated brief as unfortunately the non-prom didn’t last long. I enjoyed the scenes between the four of them, especially due to the fact that they’re from different cliques and I would have liked to have seen more of them. I found that JJ ultimately going full circle, embracing the prom and drawing attention to himself, to relieve Caroline of her own self-consciousness, was true to his character and the right outcome.

Maya and Jimmy’s subplot of spending their night away from their kids as an opportunity to work on their marriage and air out old arguments, was hilarious. What made it even better was Kenneth acting as the judge/mediator on all of these arguments, eventually leading to him questioning how he fits into the family. I found Jimmy and Maya’s proposal to include Kenneth as part of the family slightly corny but also true to their character as their seemingly affectionate proposal, was really an excuse to get rid of some of their old stuff.

The writing was superb, especially in the cold open with Kenneth giving a “DiMeo sensitivity speech” to diners in a restaurant, which was a nice full circle moment in his relationship with them and a nice boomerang to how they met. The outcome of this moment was predictable but perfectly executed. I also found that the cold open was perfect foreshadowing of the A plot involving Ray and Riley.

On smaller notes I enjoyed Jimmy’s “party mode” on JJ’s wheelchair again displaying his talents for wheelchair costuming, and Dylan perfectly pulling off being a bartender, even going as far as studying “Tom Cruise in ‘Cocktail'”.

Overall this was a fun episode, focusing more on humour than drama, and with Maya, Jimmy and Kenneth, and the kids having their own plots, rather than mixing them up in pairs, which was a refreshing change.

 

Speechless–Season 1, Episode 20 (R-U-N–Runaway)

This episode was the second part of Speechless‘ first two-part story arc, an arc which was pulled off beautifully.

I’ve been talking about each aspect of JJ’s life as a special needs child being revealed to the viewer layer-by-layer, like a metaphorical onion being peeled. I believe the reason why a two-part story arc has only been explored now is due to the fact that each layer has explored JJ’s life in the past and present. This was the first time that JJ’s future was discussed in great detail, and what it would mean for each family member.

The A story of JJ running away both to Kenneth’s and later with Maya, was the most brilliant A story I’ve ever seen. I found the scenes between JJ and Kenneth in the cold open, and every family member yelling for JJ only to be yelling at themselves, provided necessary comedic moments for what turned out to be quite a heavy and profound episode. I thought Maya helping JJ run away by packing for him and taking him to the casino, entirely missing the point and finally getting it when JJ points it out to her, was heartbreaking and hard to watch. That being said the payoff was beautiful.

While we’ve seen JJ interact with other special needs kids before, this was the first time we see him interact with another person with CP, or as Maya affectionately dubs him, a “wheelchair badarse”. I found their interactions both sweet and funny, but I also enjoyed hearing Lee (Zach Anner) provide JJ with much needed advice on how to live independently without being preachy, which I predict he will take and put into action in future episodes.

I felt that the B and C stories were blips in comparison to the brilliant A story. While the reveal of Kenneth’s past as a basketballer was amusing and provided some nice character development, what I actually enjoyed about it was the fact that it lead to him and Dylan bonding and interacting, which is something else the viewers haven’t seen. I also felt that the minor C story of Ray and Dylan trying to get Jimmy to have a “heavy talk” and also get what they wanted out of it, didn’t really add to the episode and fell a little flat.

Overall this episode was incredible with lots of heart, hope, reality, and appropriately placed comedic and profound moments.

Speechless–Season 1, Episode 19 (C-H–Cheater!)

So this episode peeled back another layer of the metaphorical onion, this time, JJ’s independence–both in the present and in the future, but I’ll get to that.

The A story of JJ “cheating” on tests was interesting but not spectacular. I liked the reveal of JJ’s cheating consisting of Kenneth giving him the answers, as well as the reveal of the teachers letting everything slide with him, however I felt that the outcome was predictable. Yes JJ was acting up and would have doubts, but we all know that he’s intelligent and would therefore pass at the end.

I felt that the B story was solid and I loved that it eventually led to the peeling back of the metaphorical onion. I found Ray’s interest in going to a careers fair to find out what type of careers make the most money, and the way in which he goes about it, hilarious. I felt it was smart on the writers’ part to have Ray sucked into a pyramid scheme as it makes him learn that he’s not always as smart as he thinks he is, especially due to his age and lack of life experience. What I enjoyed the most about this plot was Jimmy stepping up as a father by rightfully scolding Ray for his apparent greed and for revealing to him why he has a job rather than a career. Jimmy’s story, especially emphasising that he needed something “solid now, not great later” is something that a lot of people, especially college graduates such as myself, could really relate to.

While I found Dylan’s inadvertent trend setting by wearing the luggage that Jimmy brings to the careers fair humorous, the joke of it in itself fell flat and didn’t really add anything to the episode.

What I loved the most about this episode was the end, not because I wanted it to end, rather that every element of the B story paid off beautifully in the last few minutes, and peeled back another layer of the metaphorical onion. I didn’t see the reveal of Ray wanting to make a lot of money to support JJ, and the fact that both he and Dylan worry about JJ’s future coming. I felt that the whole family discussing the possibilities of JJ’s future was both heartbreaking and realistic. What was equally heartbreaking was the fact that JJ’s joy at proving his independence at school was taken away from him by overhearing his family making assumptions of his future independence.

I loved the writers’ choice to have JJ runaway like a typical kid and the fact that the episode ended on this note unexpectedly turned it into a two-parter, which was a good twist.

Overall this episode was mostly flat but later turned into a great first part of a two-part episode.

Speechless–Season 1, Episode 18 (D-I–Ding)

This was a unique episode due to the fact it was in one location and since it was unique, this review will also be unique as I will be doing it character by character.

Maya, Ray and Heather–The episode kicks off with Maya trying to squeeze into a tough parking spot, although she successfully does so, she leaves little room for everyone to get out of the van. Maya squeezes out of the van when Ray notices a ding in the car next to them–Ray believes Maya dinged the car, Maya believes she didn’t, and Ray insists on leaving a note. However the conflict between them kicks off when Ray leaves a note behind her back. I enjoyed the fact that the writers lead the viewers to believe that Maya would be in big trouble, only for Maya to team up with the car’s owner, Heather, to teach Ray a lesson. What I enjoyed even more was the fact that it all lead to Ray making his own and much bigger ‘ding’ later on, and the reveal that Ray never gives Maya the benefit of the doubt.

Jimmy and Dylan–I loved the character development with Jimmy as Dylan reveals to him exactly how many promises he has broken to her and his efforts to make up for it. It’s not very often that we see Jimmy and Dylan team up and the way they did was well done, I especially enjoyed how sneaky Jimmy was with the switch of the Banjo Cola and the root beer. I thought that the ending of their subplot with Dylan not enjoying the taste of the Banjo Cola as much as she use to, was perfect and realistic.

JJ–JJ’s subplot was given less time, however it was significant in that it peeled back another layer of the metaphorical onion–how JJ deals with people who treat him like crap because he has a disability. I think it was typical of JJ’s character to get even with this man by giving him a taste of his own medicine and act as he stated “an object in his way”. It was enjoyable to watch as the man definitely got what he deserved.

Kenneth–My favourite part of the episode was the reveal of Kenneth moonlighting as the supermarket’s weekend manager and how he was watching the events between the other characters unfold rather than being a participant. I felt that the reveal of his second job so he can continue working for the DiMeos and make ends meet to be true to his character, and I loved his reactions and questioning of each character’s antics, as well as making the staff participate in them. I enjoyed the fact that Kenneth is the character with the most power in this episode, especially as he isn’t given much of it when he is working for Maya. I also enjoyed how significant his role in this episode was to the other characters’ subplots–he reveals that Maya did not in fact ding the other car, that Ray never gives Maya the benefit of the doubt, he puts his staff in place in regards to the Banjo Cola, and commends JJ on standing up for himself. I felt that his choice to let the DiMeos leave without paying because it’s more beneficial for everyone to be true to his character, and it perfectly concluded the episode as the family were going to leave the supermarket at some point.

 

Overall this was a solid and understated episode with the singular location, simple premise and character driven plots. I hope there are more episodes like this in the future.

Speechless–Season 1, Episode 17 (S-U-R–Surprise)

I think this was the best episode so far. I’ve come to this conclusion due to the extensive amount of character development in this episode.

I especially enjoyed the character development between Kenneth and Jimmy. While Kenneth’s role when he is not attending to JJ has been explored in previous episodes, this is the first time that the dynamic, or rather non-existent dynamic, between Kenneth and Jimmy has been explored. I felt that the initial awkward moments between them were realistic and their attempts to find common ground hilarious. I enjoyed the BBQ scenes between them and liked the twist at the end of the episode that their common ground was (lightheartedly) insulting each other. I hope their dynamic is explored in future episodes, especially as Kenneth’s dynamic with Maya is a more serious one, whereas with Jimmy he can relax.

I also enjoyed another layer of the metaphorical onion that I’ve been speaking about in my previous reviews, being revealed with the exploration of JJ’s independence for the first time. I felt that JJ’s resentment about being treated as if he was the younger son was realistic and well done. I also enjoyed JJ’s adventure being shown in glimpses throughout the episode, especially the moments where he is seen quickly overcoming obstacles. These moments show how independent and intelligent JJ really is and I hope this is also explored in future episodes.

I loved the character development between Dylan and Maya in this episode, as their relationship really hasn’t been given the spotlight it deserves. I felt that Dylan’s feelings towards a surprise party for her thirteenth birthday were a mystery that had to be solved, and I loved the writers’ choice to have the obvious answer be a red herring. I loved the reveal that Dylan wants Maya all to herself, rather than Maya not being around, as well as the reveal that Dylan tries to be the “easy child” for Maya’s sake. I felt the ending of this subplot was incredibly sweet.

On smaller notes, I found Maya’s seduction techniques to try and have another child were hilarious and I loved JJ’s unique way of standing up for Ray. Although I found the fact that Ray and JJ forgot Dylan’s birthday to be unrealistic.

Overall this was the best episode I’ve seen so far and I think I can safely label it as a favourite.

Speechless–Season 1, Episode 16 (O-S–Oscar P-A–Party)

This is the first episode in quite some time to peel back another layer of the metaphorical onion that I’ve written about in my previous reviews.

This is the first episode to explore how the DiMeos interact with other special needs families and as a viewer, we are given a glimpse into the lives of special needs families and their social lives. We are given glimpses on almost all fronts through Maya (the mums), Jimmy (the dads), and JJ and Kenneth (the kids).

While I enjoyed seeing Maya interact with the special needs mums, I found her plot of other mums competing with each other and Maya feeling inferior to be cliche. I did enjoy Dylan taking charge and calling the meeting that led to them resolving their differences, as well as Maya and Becca’s accurately described “unsatisfying food fight.” I did enjoy Becca’s speech on motherhood, a speech that I hope every mother watching paid attention to.

I felt the opposite about Jimmy’s interaction with the special needs dads. Speechless mostly focuses on Maya and JJ’s relationship and Maya as a mother, so it was a welcome change to see the focus on Jimmy and where he fits in, in the special needs social circle. As Jimmy is the more passive one between him and Maya, it was nice to see him have some power for once. However, the power didn’t last long as Jimmy is a good guy as are the other dads, which I appreciated—they’re not pushovers or doormats, just loving husbands and fathers doing their best, ultimately just like their wives are doing their best as well, with the difference being the execution in each parent’s methods.

I thoroughly enjoyed JJ and Kenneth’s interactions with both each other and the special needs kids. I personally found Kenneth to be quite sweet in this episode as he genuinely wanted to level the playing field, even if he did have ulterior motives. I loved the diversity of the kids and their disabilities as it was realistic, and my favourite scene of the episode was definitely the “equal opportunity death match” words that I never thought I would hear in the same sentence.

On smaller notes, it was a shame that Dylan and Ray weren’t used more in the episode, that being said it didn’t greatly suffer either, especially as the Ray and Zelda subplot was weak and didn’t add to the episode. I also enjoyed seeing Ray put his talent of finding Maya’s keys to use in his unique way, which begs the question of how he discovered and developed it over the years.

Overall this episode had a lot of heart and the perfect amount of humour, however it wasn’t the best episode I’ve ever seen. It was good but not great.

 

Speechless–Season 1, Episode 15 (T-H–The C-L–Club)

This episode had an equal amount of humour and heart.

It’s typical Maya to sneak into a country club so JJ can do his physiotherapy in their pool, however I loved how it lead to Ray discovering and enjoying the benefits of the club and wanting to stay. I did enjoy Ray and Maya finding something in common to bond over, however I thought Ray’s betrayal was a bit cliche. I did appreciate seeing Jimmy being a firm father and chide Ray for his actions, and Ray’s subsequent efforts to make amends.

I actually found the B story of JJ and Kenneth’s rift more interesting than the A story. The concept of Kenneth feeling that he is taken for granted and needing a life outside of work, was bound to be explored eventually and I feel that the writers’ choice to explore this through a computerised board was genius. The viewers would have probably asked themselves why JJ doesn’t use a computerised board to speak and this story answered those questions. I appreciated that the innocuous question from one of JJ’s friends who does use a computerised board, as to why JJ doesn’t use one, lead to the rift. As interesting as I found the B story, I also found it predictable. Of course Kenneth and JJ’s rift was going to be resolved, and I found Kenneth revealing his true feelings, thinking he is talking to JJ, cliche.

On smaller notes, I found JJ’s use of the computerised board hilarious and true to his smartarse character. I also enjoyed Nicholas’ attempts to convince JJ to use a computerised board, and Dylan’s attempts to act like Kenneth when it came to the customised handshakes. Speaking of Dylan, she was barely involved in this episode, it didn’t bother me as the A and B stories were solid and Jimmy didn’t have much involvement in the episode either, however it was definitely noticeable.

Overall this episode had equal amounts of humour and heart, but like the previous episode, it wasn’t particularly strong.