Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Let's Talk About Speechless 1x03: B-O-N--BONFIRE

So, it's week 3, and I'm still pretty bummed by how Speechless is going.  The pilot episode was so promising and since then, I've been waiting for an episode that measures up.  This week, I did like Dad's comment to Ray about how when you hear that your kid's been diagnosed with something, nothing matters except that he is okay.

In this episode, JJ's classmates (the upperclassmen) are excited about the annual bonfire on the beach, a tradition after the big football game.

[Image is: Kids gathered around a fire at the beach at sunset]

JJ can't go to a bonfire on the beach, since, as anyone who uses a wheelchair knows, chairs and sand don't mix.  He makes a joke to the kids at lunch, to hide that not being able to go, actually is a big deal.  He goes home, let down, and nods at the flyer in his pocket, which his mom finds and reads.  She says "You can't go to this," and then takes it upon herself to talk to the principal, who cancels the bonfire on the beach.

Instead, they have an extremely subpar bonfire in the gym.  The kids decide that if they really respect JJ, they'd treat him like anyone else, and be angry that he caused them to miss out on the bonfire.  Kenneth says JJ's mom shouldn't interfere but JJ admits later he did want her help.  In the end, Mom helps him get his friends back by faking that the opposing football team tied him to a goal post.

My biggest issue is that JJ is seeming more and more like a prop as time goes on.  In this episode, he was blatantly used as a "snowplow" to move the family's garbage at their old house.  When Mom accidentally leaves off the word "bathroom" from his communication board in favor of words like "Kanye," it's played off as a joke.  (Only Mom knows the substitute phrase JJ will use when he needs to use the restroom.  This is a huge red flag and a dangerous situation, because Kenneth has made clear he absolutely will always help JJ in this way, but he can't if he doesn't know JJ needs to go.)  Kenneth is talking more as his own character, which is fine, in and of itself, but JJ is often left silent in the background.  Kenneth takes it upon himself to speak for JJ in situations, but not interpreting what he is saying.  More often now, Kenneth is just assuming what JJ might want to say.  Not to mention Mom's suggestion for getting JJ's friends back is super objectifying and more than a little worrisome.

I was hopeful that the bonfire could be moved to a location where everyone could attend.  Instead, no one got a bonfire and it was made out to be JJ's fault.

Come on, Speechless.  I want to keep liking you.  But you're making it really hard.

Did you see the episode this week?  What were your thoughts?


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  1. I definitely noticed that JJ is being pushed to the background in scenes with Kenneth whenever there is another person in the conversation. In general I'm not too impressed with Kenneth - the way he "interprets" what JJ is saying, and inserting himself in his friendships. It's so much more interesting when the people talking to JJ actually read off his board themselves because they are more likely to talk directly to him. It was also really insulting to both kids when Kenneth told Dylan she runs because JJ can't. I hope there are more JJ centric plots (not JJ and Kenneth centric) where he gets more of a voice for himself and Kenneth learns to listen and be an aide, not take the lead. I really do like this show though and hope it can get over these issues. The family is really great and funny (I love the dad) and really seem to love each other.

    1. I think Kenneth has shown in certain moments (last week) that he IS competent, if untrained. I do think it is absolutely important for him to interpret what JJ is saying. If JJ wants him to take a few liberties here and there, fine, but discuss those things prior to them happening, if possible.

      I thought it was really harmful to Dylan when Kenneth insinuated that she ran because JJ couldn't. :(

      All that said, I do like the show, as well, and I do hope they can get pas these issues, as you said. (I love the dad, too!) They do seem to love each other a lot, which IS great to see represented (an intact family, not torn apart by the child's disability, still making it work, still loving each other.)

  2. Finally found the episode online after some detailed searching. My review of episode 3. At least the younger brother points out the snowplow thing is wrong and some of the lines like “I wanted you” were still funny. I think this episode sends really bizzare messages about fitting in. This episode is almost saying inclusion is the same as fitting in which it is not. This episode could have had a really great message about forcing fake inclusion, which often makes things worse, and how able bodied sometimes feel the disabled get “special” treatment instead of just getting what they need to function. But about halfway through the episode it seems to switch back to a thing about a need to be popular. JJ’s friends accept him back way too fast and the subplot with the sister could have been an entire episode and a much more interesting one at that but her story kind of got hidden under the “popularity” junk( I would have wrote it as "she likes running for herself not because of JJ" by the end more clearly). Kenneth doesn't bother me that much but yeah he should be reading the board. As to the bathroom thing maybe the mom told him the code word off screen? This episodes writing was sloppy and if I wrote it I would have gone a different direction with it. I would have had the mom realize she had been wrong and say she should have considered the able bodied students more and then by the end of the episode had some kind of compromise worked out like how I work out compromises in real life to handle inclusion. That’s just my take on it initially.

    1. I agree! (And Kenneth did not know the code word because at the end of the episode JJ says it and he does not know what JJ means. Mom jumps in and says "That means he needs to use the bathroom!) That said, I do HOPE there is a conversation had because that is super important.

    2. Ah, thanks! I didn't catch that on the stream. ok I realize the bathroom thing was probably supposed to be funny but going that far with it is forced,poorly written, and a really bad immature joke. They do not need to resort to toilet jokes. This show seems to be trying TOO hard to be funny at that point. I saw hints of these problems in the trailer for episode 1 but wanted to approach with a more open mind as everybody deserves to tell their story i.e free speech but episode 3 is a step in the wrong direction with too much laser focus on fake 'so called' "disability activism" and the characters NOT being properly developed. The subplot gags just seem downright bad. I like seeing all of these episodes though because it helps me see what NOT to do in my writing of the disabled. If the episodes continue on episode 3's style this show will get boring fast. Too bad. I'm disappointed that I seem to have been right for episode 3

    3. Still hopeful they can turn it around. It is still very early in the season.

    4. I agree. The first seasons of shows usually have a few "dud" episodes so I'm definitely not giving up on this yet!