The premise for the series premiere of Speechless (ABC, Wednesdays, 8:30/7:30C) is simple: an alpha mom seeks a cool school and voice for her wheelchair bound son who suffers from cerebral palsy – to the frequent consternation of the rest of her family.
It is not a show about a kid with a disability; it not a show about the wheelchair. It is a show about a family that has a child with cerebral palsy and the way they all deal with each other – though sometimes the focus in on the voiceless boy in the chair because sometimes it would be in life.
The problem in the premiere is not that J.J. is disabled, but that the rest of the family feels ignored by Maya. For her, it’s a case of ‘You don’t need me as much, or in the way that J.J. does. That doesn’t mean I love you any less.’
That the premiere deals with finding the perfect school and the perfect voice for J.J. doesn’t keep it from looking at how Maya’s singleness of focus affects younger brother Ray (Mason Cook) – who at least gets to meet a girl; younger sister Dylan (Kyla Kenedy) – who has pretty much accepted that J.J. will get the most attention, and father Jimmy (John Ross Bowie) – who long since learned that getting in the way of Hurricane Maya is simply not a good idea.
The entire ensemble is so good that they make the DiMeos feel like a real family – their foibles and their triumphs are real world ones and they feel like they could live next door.
On the other hand, Maya is such a force of nature that a certain veteran cop refuses to chase them when they speed by because he’s learned that… well, you have to see it to believe it. It’s a possible running gag, so I hope it doesn’t get run into the ground.
A real standout is Cedric Yarbrough as Kenneth, the African American maintenance man at J.J.’s new school – the man with the voice that’s cool enough for J.J.. Yarbrough has a really nice connection with Fowler – they share a certain mischievousness that makes their scenes together shine.
Minnie Driver is terrific in the premiere, which could have been too treacly and too artificially ‘feel good.’ Instead it’s frequently hilarious and occasionally poignant. Speechless could turn out to be a show that both Says Something and entertains like mad.
The cast includes: Minnie Driver as Maya DiMeo, John Ross Bowie (“The Big Bang Theory”) as Jimmy DiMeo, Mason Cook as Ray DiMeo, Micah Fowler as JJ DiMeo, Kyla Kenedy as Dylan DiMeo and Cedric Yarbrough as Kenneth.
Final Grade: A+