Saturday, September 10, 2016

Let's Talk About Speechless 1x01 "P-I-PILOT"

I have been holding my breath and have been cautiously optimistic about the new ABC comedy series, Speechless.  (Tune in on Wednesday, September 21st at 7:30 CST to see the premiere!)  It happens that the first episode is also currently free on Amazon and Hulu, so if you have either of those, and have no self-control, like me, feel free to check it out sooner!

If you do not want to be spoiled about the content of the premiere, stop reading now.

In the opening scene, we meet Maya DiMeo (played by the fabulous Minnie Driver.)  Mom is a big fan of 50% off breakfast coupons and MUST make a 10-minute-drive in 3 minutes.  She drives an impressively large and beat up van.  Jimmy DiMeo cautions his wife to evade construction zones and hilariously hands her a cup of hazelnut coffee.  He has one of his own and they both sip as she drives.  We see tween to young teenage children in the back seat.  The boy, Ray, is not excited by Mom's adventurous driving skills but daughter, Dylan, is just as feisty as her mom is and yells at people on the way.

They make it on time and pull into an accessible parking spot, only to be yelled at by a lady about their apparent lack of a "handicapped placard."  (Think this never happens in real life?  Check out Let's Talk About Accommodation-Policing.)  Maya unfolds a ramp from the back of the van and out wheels the fabulous Micah Fowler, who plays oldest son, JJ.  (Micah, like his character, also has CP!  Hooray, authentic representation!)  Mom gives Yelling Lady the what-for and then calls two kids out for gawking and laughing.  "These," she says, waving her arms, "need a bit of a tune-up.  But he's all there upstairs and he has a thing about staring.

JJ then gives them "the finger."  (Actually, he gives them "four fingers" but you try isolating fine motor movements with CP and see how easy it is.)  Mom says it's a "work in progress."  The family is all surrounding him, all have their arms crossed, ready to take on the world.  All of them have his back.  It is a beautiful thing.

Next, we see JJ and Ray in a...rather rundown looking house.  (Calling it a fixer-upper would be generous.  JJ and Ray talk about how bad it sucks and Ray gets blamed for JJ's comment.  JJ denies having said it - his face a picture of innocence - and Ray calls him a bully.  It is a nice, human moment, where the kid with CP can be (and is) a jerk sometimes, and picks on his brother, and not only the angel people THINK he is.

We find out that Mom has decided to move the family because she has found the perfect school situation for JJ.  But this is the kids' sixth school in two years.  And the house is a dump.  Dad is pretty proud of his house hunting AND money saving skills.  (Not mad about the legit depiction, if a bit exaggerated, of just how hard it is to make everything work financially when disability is added to the mix.)  In fact, we see all three kids sharing a bedroom (which I remember doing at one point!)

Sidenote: I love all of the natural inclusion of adaptive equipment here: JJ has a giant letterboard on his bedroom wall which he can use his light to point to and talk to his siblings.  We see that he seems to enjoy picking on Ray, and Ray doesn't like it.

{Image is: a dark background with several adjectives on it, some in yellow, some in white, all in ALL CAPS.}

Dad is dialed into something being up with Ray and they have bonding time watching the cars careen out of the steep driveways.   Ray says "That's glorious" and tells his dad he doesn't want to move.  Dad hears him out and Ray insists, about their plan, "I get to be right and you get to be lazy!  Our two favorite things!"  Hahahaha!  I love their dynamic and I love that Dad is paying attention to the fact that not all is right with Ray.

The next day, Mom and JJ go to some center for disabilities and he gets paired up with his new voice.  JJ is not a fan of Mom's jokes about how "He is 16 now, it's time his voice changed."  When he shakes his head and voices his disapproval, Mom says it means he is laughing, but JJ makes it clear that he is not amused.  JJ asks if his new voice is cool, and then meets the most over-the-top, trying-to-be-cool cookie-cutter woman there is.  She has caught up on all the lingo and read the Urban Dictionary.  She wants to call JJ J-Tizzy.  JJ looks horrified, and Mom cautions, "Oh, don't do that..."

Now, they are all ready for school.  They meet the principal - all about inclusivity fairs and sea slugs - and then Mom inquires about the wheelchair ramp.  The kids are seen using the ramp at the back of the school, which is obviously meant for trash pickup.  The principal insists it's appropriate access, and not just a garbage ramp.  Mom says it's a "garbage and my son ramp."  And then she gives a crash course on basic human dignity.  Mom tests the principal on how well she can identify the difference between trash and people.  Meanwhile, Kenneth, who seems to be a groundskeeper, unassumingly drops the C word and Mom would like it deemed hate speech.  (Kenneth says as the sole black person, the irony of being called intolerant is not lost on him, but being a member of one minority group does not preclude you from having harmful attitudes about someone in another minority group.)

My favorite scene is JJ getting a legitimate standing ovation for coming into class.  (Think this is over the top?  I once had a teacher who said, "Make way for the princess!" whenever I entered her class.)  JJ's teacher instantly freaks out when he realizes that (oh my gosh!) JJ can't stand up!  "THE STANDING OVATION IS INSENSITIVE!" he screams and all the kids sit down.  (Do I have an example for this?  You bet.  High school Humanities, our zany teacher has all of us stand up to pretend to be archaic statues.  Her eyes fall on me, still in my desk, and she says with a look of discomfort and mild alarm says, "Tonia, you don't have to.")  They have the student with the Deaf cousin present JJ with a JJ for President banner.  JJ asks why he would want him to be president as no one here even knows him.  "You're an inspiration!" the kid says and JJ is in the middle of cursing him out when Disney Princess Voice Lady bails on interpreting and instead says, "He's honored and he'll think about it!" and JJ is NOT happy.

Next time we see JJ, the family is eating dinner.  Disney Princess would like to leave but Dad is adamant that they have her until 6 PM.  She shares that JJ has decided she sounds like a fairy godmother and has asked that she turn several students into pumpkins.  JJ then picks on Ray some more and Fairy Godmother interprets and then asks JJ if his comments are necessary.  Then, she refuses to say "Bibbity Bobbity Boo" while Mom and Ray are fighting because "it won't add anything to the conversation!"  But Dad is there and solid in his insistence that it will, and in saying so, is insisting that Fairy Godmother do her job and not pick and choose what she will interpret for JJ and what she won't, and I love that.

Dad drives JJ and Dylan to the school fair, and he says he needs one of them to stay with the van, and asks what might be a good division of labor.  JJ gives him the finger.  (SO would not have flown in my house.  CP or not we did NOT give Dad the finger.)  Kenneth finds JJ waiting with the van and recognizes him from Mom's ramp rant.  He addresses JJ and JJ immediately notes that he sounds cool and asks if he wants a job.  Kenneth calls him Blindside Jr. and asks if he is hiring.  JJ asks if he wants to try it out and tests Kenneth on interpreting.  Kenneth not only does the job but responds to his statements.  Then he asks about taking some liberties with "Stop leaning on my wheelchair!" and JJ is all about it.

JJ and Kenneth find Ray trapped on a ride at the fair by some bullies.  JJ says that Ray needs help and tells Kenneth they should fight the bullies.  Kenneth asks how many JJ plans to take.  But JJ has an idea.  He calls everybody to the stage and tells them he is running for student body president.  JJ's teacher who was all freaked out about the standing ovation being insensitive yells that "THIS IS SUCH AN OPEN-MINDED COMMUNITY!"  JJ and Kenneth exchange a look and Kenneth says, "You should see them on Black History Month."

Sea Slug Principal is so glad they are staying and Mom immediately tells her none of rides at the fair are accessible.  (Go, Mom!)  Then, everybody takes a turn on the ride Ray was on.  Mom and Dylan rant together.  Dad would like to stay on the ride for a week to get some quiet.  Mom rides again with Ray, surprised that her kid who is scared of heights would go again.  JJ and Kenneth ride together and Kenneth interprets when JJ screams in fright.

Overall, I really liked the show.  I burst out laughing several times.  What resonated most for me were the scenes with JJ.  Him assimilating to school and coping with new (and awkward) aides.  I hope to see more consistent focus on him, rather than just a scene here and there.  I'd like to see him navigate school, friends, teachers and relationships.  The focus is on Ray a lot for this and I would love to see JJ as more than comic relief.

I loved all the times we saw JJ out of his chair, and doing actual real human things like picking on his brother, and helping him out when he was in trouble.

Can't wait to see this when it airs for real!

Have you seen the pilot episode of Speechless?  What did you think?


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  1. I enjoyed "Speechless" and want them to stay on this path in their writing. I want to see more of JJ doing "regular stuff" to keep him realistic and relatable to the able bodied audience members.