I was worried about this one.
This episode of SPEECHLESS is “O-s-Oscar P-a-Party,” which means the DiMeo family is hosting an Oscar party.
Why are they hosting an Oscar party, you ask?
Because ABC has the Oscars this year.
Has to be the reason. Speechless is the new kid on the block, so it’s probably making concessions. Ain’t no way the super-expensive Modern Family is dumbing down its scripts to fit the ABC agenda. Ain’t no way Blackish is doing it. Heck, a Goldbergs episode about the 1987 Oscars or whatever would’ve been kind of fun, right? But ain’t no way that’s happening.
Nope, Speechless gets the honors. And what honors.
“O-s-Oscar P-a-Party” is bad. It’s not a Speechless episode, but some episode of some poor sitcom that would make an episode about an Oscar party. The characters are rail thin. The stories are stretched thin. The plots aren’t worth much at all. It’s forgettable and regrettable. In other words, it’s the Razzie winner of the season.
Let’s break this down piece by piece. First, the concept. The DiMeos throw an Oscar party because Maya’s moms-of-disabled-children support group need something uplifting to make them feel like their lives aren’t total wrecks.
We addressed this earlier in the season, but it bears repeating: Why is Maya suddenly interested in other women? She likes minimal conversation with peers, not group meetings. And an Oscar party to make women feel like their lives aren’t wrecks? Quite the low bar, guys.
And what’s with these moms being dour and one-dimensional? If Speechless has taught us anything, it’s that families caring for people with disabilities aren’t hopeless, and yet these women are only that. They do whatever Maya says, wear dopey clothes and hunch over. It’s only when some too-good mom joins the group that they straighten up and look put together. Funny? Maybe a little. And at least Maya would be upset that another mom is “better than her.” But to get there we really suffer.
That leads to the second problem: characters. Not only are the moms one-dimensional, but geez, those dads! Look, we’ve been through the “husbands do nothing but listen to their wives” trope, but why are you stooping to this, Speechless?
Jimmy finds that the husbands will do anything he says because they’re also one-dimensional, hopeless duds. It’s only when one of the dads has something in common with him (of course Jimmy loves the band XTC, and the Dukes of Stratosphere is a nice reference that very few people [this writer is one of them]understand) that Jimmy realizes he should be bonding with them.
That makes the dads slightly two-dimensional. Then they have a dance party.
And finally, and this is a typical problem with Speechless: we have too many stories. This week there are four (four!) plots – Maya bumping heads with a mom who’s too good for her and her friends; Jimmy and the dopey dads; J.J. and Kenneth playing movie trivia with J.J’s disabled friends; and Ray taken on a joyride with a manic pixie dream girl. And because there are four plots, they’re pretty weak.
The Maya plot ends with all the moms singing “Kumbaya.” The J.J. and Kenneth plot is probably the best, with the disabled kids getting heated over trivia (the episode’s funniest jokes are here), leading to an all-out war with pool noodles and blindfolds. Fun. I’m with it. But it ain’t enough.
Then there’s the Ray plot. Oh man. Ray does everything to impress his manic pixie dream girl, leading to him breaking a glass window at his school. Again, Ray breaks a glass window at his school.
Look, Ray wants a girlfriend, and bad. But he commits a felony. No sir.
This is not Speechless.
Speechless is a family where witty jokes fly fast and plots are borne out from character traits. Speechless is cute. It may say something slightly profound about life with a disability. And it typically has a nice family first message.
But this was a 22-minute sitcom episode based on a concept likely handed to the writers. “You gotta write an Oscar episode.” “Okay, let’s have an Oscar party.” “Uh, J.J. plays trivia and Maya gets in a fight with another mom.” “Yeah, sounds right.”
Let’s not do this again.
Season 1, Episode 16 (S01E16)
Speechless airs Day 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