What the heck is going on with SPEECHLESS?
It’s as if we should’ve ended with 13 episodes, then recalibrated for a second season. Instead, one character has an entirely new job and personality, situations are cringeworthy at best, and my God, it’s an entire episode set in a grocery store.
Welcome to “D-i-Ding,” the weirdest, most dumbfounding episode yet of Speechless, a once-good comedy going south because ideas are hard to develop, apparently.
This is Speechless goes to the supermarket, which is something The Simpsons would’ve done in season 17. And the premise here is really, really dumb: Ray needs paella ingredients, and while parking the car, Maya may or may not have dinged another car with her door.
And away we go. Along the way Dylan and Jimmy just decide to trespass through the employee area of the supermarket, J.J. is left alone to be a human obstacle for a businessman, and Maya and Ray have the most pointless argument ever that leads to a poorly orchestrated set piece involving – get ready – a bunch of cans arranged as supermarket displays.
Oh, and did I mention that Kenneth works at the grocery store as a manager?
We had no clue that being J.J.’s aide was low pay for Kenneth, and yet here he is, moonlighting as a weekend senior staffer at a relatively large grocery store. Forget that Kenneth was by J.J.’s side a few weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon (“O-s-Oscar P-a-Party”) or that in last week’s episode (“S-u-r-Surprise”), Kenneth was hanging out with the family during Dylan’s surprise party, which … you know … who has a big birthday party during the week?
No, let’s not forget this. Really, this is bad writing, bad planning, bad television. It’s just a way to get Kenneth involved in the family hijinks, which did I mention are happening at a grocery store?
So Maya may have dinged a car. Ray leaves a note telling the neighboring driver of the alleged ding. The neighboring driver bugs Maya until she gives in, but oh, the neighboring driver is just like Maya, hating the fact that her child may actually disagree with her.
That leads to Maya plotting with the driver to scare Ray straight, but that doesn’t work because Ray has morals, but then Ray was wrong all along because Maya didn’t actually hit the driver.
The point of this is why the heck is this a plot? Ray and Maya don’t see eye to eye all the time. There’s no humor in this seesaw battle, and the big attempt at belly laughs (Ray causing a giant spill of supermarket displays that involves J.J.) is more catharsis than anything. Obvious catharsis. This big set piece happened, and we knew it was going to happen (because the whole episode was set in a grocery store), but boy did we need to see a family member crash into canned goods.
Meanwhile Jimmy and Dylan go hunting for Dylan’s favorite soda, which happens to be stashed in the back of the store by a bunch of supermarket goons – sorry … excuse me … teens. Once Jimmy and Dylan find the soda, they go on a wild goose chase to escape the store with the pop. Seriously, this all happens. There’s a lot of time devoted to a father and daughter trying to steal soda from a grocery store.
And then there’s J.J., who is nudged by a heelish businessman while ordering chorizo at the deli counter. In response, J.J. blocks the businessman from finishing his grocery shopping (because he has the guy’s entire list since it dropped to the floor).
Ugh. This is probably the best storyline of “D-i-Ding,” and at least has a fun shot of J.J. smiling while wheeling away with the store’s entire inventory of jam, but my God what a go-nowhere story. J.J. gets his comeuppance, and they just repeat it over and over and over.
And all of this concludes with Kenneth confabbing with the family because, again, Kenneth just happens to also be the weekend manager of this grocery store. At first he holds a sinister, back-room mastermind villain disdain for the family (a lot of “something is happening here, and I don’t like it’ stuff), but in the end he reveals his weekend job while doing this whole heartwarming thing that is supposed to make me forget the terrible previous 20 minutes of the episode.
No. As I said, we will not forget this. “D-i-Ding” is bad. It’s convoluted and shoehorned, devoid of soul and warmth. And I hope it doesn’t happen again, but then again, things have been going downhill for a little while now.
Season 1, Episode 18 (S01E18)
Speechless airs Wednesdays at 830 PM 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