Season 1, Episode 1
This is a first look review of ABC’s Speechless starring Minnie Driver, John Ross Bowie, and Cedric Yarbrough.
ABC’s comedy shows have mostly been hits -- even if the network cancels them after half a season. Mixology has gotten mixed to positive reviews and Happy Endings is my favorite sitcom of the last decade. But what it all boils down to is their production and ability to let a show have its own voice even when it doesn’t have a specific look. If their first comedy of the 2016-2017 season is any indication, then ABC may just win the sitcom race. The offerings are now so big that they’ve expanded into Tuesday nights. Sorry, NBC. Speechless is charming, it’s heartfelt, it’s funny. The show does so much to show that a physically disabled character can easily be the most likable, most entertaining part of a show.
Speechless stars Minnie Driver as Maya DiMeo, a mother trying to make her cerebral palsy stricken son JJ (Micah Fowler) feel as welcome in the world as other kids his age. This results in Driver uprooting her family -- six schools in two years -- every so often. But the DiMeo clan (including John Ross Bowie as the patriarch, Kyla Kennedy as the sporty youngest, and Mason Cook as the de facto A-plot device) has found a new permanent home. While they each didn’t put a positive impact on the community on the first day, they ultimately decide to stay in order to give it a shot for JJ.
Creator Scott Silveri has been vocal about putting a disabled actor front and center. It works, too, as Fowler gets as many laughs as any other family member. He’s dirty and cynical, pairing nicely with his mother's forced optimism. Introducing Cedric Yarbrough as his interpreter by the end of the episode is a nice tough to also keep the comedy fresh.
The immediate acceptance the JJ’s class has for him is equally touching and overbearing, mirroring what would happen in real life. And the way the entire town knows about Maya’s pushy demeanor makes for very big laughs. The officers that refuse to chase after her speeding van because they heard that the DMV “just gave her” a vanity license plate as to not deal with her should provide satisfying quips every week.
Should you watch Speechless?
This show is very lovely. Every character is funny and the script allows for proper stand outs in every scene. ABC might have another hit on its hands.