Christmas episodes. Everyone has to do them. But some series shouldn’t.
SPEECHLESS may be one of them, as it struck out with “C-h-o-Choir,” which like “D-a-t-e-Date?” from a few weeks ago, throws the DiMeos into uncharacteristic situations and loses touch with the series’ tone.
It’s not as if Speechless can’t do network-mandated holiday episodes. “H-a-l-Halloween” was one of the series’ more inspired episodes, and it felt natural because the DiMeos should like Halloween. “T-h-a-Thanksgiving,” meanwhile, turned the DiMeos around – against the holiday – and started strong, but fell apart when it had to tie up loose ends.
But “C-h-o-Choir,” which centers on a Christmas pageant, pours holiday cheer all over the DiMeos. Even an uplifting series of events to end the episode can’t save the fact that the DiMeos aren’t supposed to care this much about Christmas.
Yeah, bah humbug. That’s me alright.
Look, this is about consistency. Speechless is about a family hellbent on surviving and thriving against the odds – with those odds frequently being set by other humans. But “C-h-o-Choir” suddenly turns that on its head. Maya wants her kids to believe that people are good (remember when they wanted nothing to do with their neighbors?). Dylan is sad when Maya and Jimmy can’t make her track meet (complete with weepy piano music?) And how come Maya and Jimmy can’t remember where they parked their cars?
Positive messages are good. But not when they’re forced. And Dylan should be a kid – and thus exhibit some feelings compatible with the sadness of being forgotten – but her character is known to not easily show that. It was much more believable for Dylan to feel guilty about growing up and not being daddy’s little girl (especially when it’s aligned with a story about ripping off Black Friday shoppers), but this? With traditional sitcom cues?
Can I get another bah humbug?
Here’s the story of “C-h-o-Choir”: Maya promises the best Christmas ever for the DiMeos (already out of character). She rushes around buying expensive presents for the kids, but then can’t find the wheelchair van after a track meet parent meeting (where they apparently set the agenda for the school?). Thus it’s declared stolen.
So Maya tries to re-purchase all the gifts that were left in the van, but she can’t find her rental car in the mall parking lot. That makes her and Jimmy late to Dylan’s track meet, and when Maya finally fesses up to Dylan that the presents were in the van, we get a fluffy Full House-style wrap up. That’s made even cushier when the school chips in to buy the DiMeos a new wheelchair van.
But, of course, Maya just forgot to put the parking brake on in the van, so it rolled into a bunch of trees. The only plausible excuse is that she’s tired from rushing around buying Christmas presents, but it’s not very clear.
It’s much more plausible to see Ray attempting to master choir so he can pop it on his college transcript, so he immediately snags a solo spot in the holiday pageant. This plot introduces us to Julianne Hough’s Ms. Bloom, the hot new choir teacher all the guys want to ogle. That includes J.J., who stomps all over Ray’s choir dreams by being untouchable (and having Kenneth’s halfway decent baritone singing for him). Ray expresses his frustration having to once again fall behind J.J., the most realistic and pure sentiment expressed in “C-h-o-Choir,” which leads to J.J. calling Ray up to the pageant stage for a duet.
Again, far too forced, though give Mason Cook and Micah Fowler credit for their performances. In 22 minutes we’re supposed to feel strongly about Ray (who can’t sing that well anyway) and his choir dreams. The conclusion isn’t earned.
But that’s typical of Christmas episodes. Tone and character are brushed aside for the happy holiday narrative. The DiMeos get to believe that the world is good. Brothers get to fight and make up (“R-a-y-c-Ray-Caytion” did this so much better). Parents get to feel holiday stress, only to be lifted up by the spirit of the season.
Bah. Bah flipping humbug.
Season 1, Episode 10 (S01E10)
Speechless airs Wednesdays at 830PM on ABC
Timothy, who grew up on The Golden Girls and Seinfeld, writes regularly about entertainment, arts and lifestyles for a number of publications.
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Timothy Malcolm | Contributor