Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pilot Review: Speechless

Speechless (ABC)
Premiered September 21 at 8:30pm

When I saw this show advertised, I definitely did not expect it to be airing as part of ABC’s Wednesday night comedy block. In some ways, it fits that bill, since Minnie Driver’s Maya is the definition of a loud, obnoxious mother who wants to be heard no matter how unnecessary or even just plain wrong her case may be. There’s an obvious twist on that format, which is that Maya actually does have a reason to speak up, which is to advocate for her wheelchair-bound son JJ, who also cannot speak because of his cerebral palsy. It turns out that what JJ wants to say isn’t all that nice, which makes him getting a high-pitched aide to be his voice all the more unfitting. There’s also personality to be found in JJ’s siblings, especially in JJ’s younger brother Ray who is tired of his brother always being put first. The introduction of Cedric Yarbrough’s Kenneth, who bonded with JJ as a far better representative voice and stood up to Maya when she tried to tell him that he was being insensitive and unaccommodating to someone with special needs, suggests that the DiMeo family is going to putting down roots in this new place and getting used to this new school. Driver was just on TV on NBC’s “About a Boy,” and I far preferred her dramatic role on FX’s “The Riches” nearly a decade ago. She manages to provide lots of entertainment here, but I think the show that surrounds her isn’t nearly as on point, misidentified as a half-hour comedy when it would probably be more effective in a different form.

How will it work as a series? Maya is sure to create more antics on a regular basis while JJ adjusts to his new setting and the other members of the family contribute to the plot occasionally too. There may be some humor and some drama along the way, but this is hardly a series that I feel I need to watch.
How long will it last? The pilot did well and the reviews were good, so ABC may want to invest in its most untraditional addition to its Wednesday night slate. I think it’s too early to call since the ratings may fall in subsequent weeks, but my current bet is that this one is going to be kept.

Pilot grade: C+

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