Poor Ray DiMeo.
The kid only wants to take a weeklong island vacation (a “Ray-cation,” if you will), but his unpunctual family can’t seem to get him to the boat on time. And yet the family can arrange an elaborate strategy designed to get J.J. his first kiss. And they can map out a plan to earn money off desperate holiday season shoppers.
It turns out that maybe Ray isn’t very important to his family, which is the focus of “R-a-y-c-Ray-cation,” quite possibly the best episode of SPEECHLESS to date.
Much like “H-a-l-Halloween,” “R-a-y-c-Ray-cation” has a strong grasp of the characters and doesn’t force the DiMeo family into situations it wouldn’t approach. And it’s probably no mistake, as “R-a-y-c-Ray-cation” was co-written by Seth Kurland, who also wrote the strong Halloween episode along with the very solid “I-n-s-Inspirations” (Carrie Rosen is also credited with “R-a-y-c-Ray-cation”).
Here, there’s strong banter and plotting from the onset. Ray talks the family into getting him to the boat that leaves for the Channel Islands, for a weeklong class trip, but not before being subject to plenty of barbs (Maya: “Go on about the map, darling, where’s the treasure?”). That Ray writes presentation notes on his hand – sussed out by Dylan – only hurts his approach. Still, the family agrees that they can do a few practice runs to the harbor, so they ensure that Ray can make his trip on time.
So we get three practice runs, framed as such with nifty title cards. The first is hilarious – with two minutes left Jimmy thinks he can take a bath, while Dylan forgets her sack of marbles (Ray: “Are you from the Depression?”) and Maya decides figuring out a cereal box maze is more important. They don’t come close to being on time. The jokes fly fast here, and the characters sound completely in their element.
The second practice run has Ray tossing Cheerios into everyone’s faces, and the family stalling once Jimmy spots a toy store that’s selling the item he’s hoarding to hike up its price and make some buck off “desperate schmucks who can’t tell their kids no” (Dylan’s words). That toy is Big Top Junie, a cuddly but sadistic clown that laughs for no reason, picked by Dylan because – typically – she knows exactly what toy will be hot that holiday season. But she doesn’t have the magic anymore and can’t reveal the truth to Jimmy for fear of not being special. She’s a kid, after all.
The third dry run is perfect … until Dylan stalls the family by mentioning going out to breakfast. Again, right in the DiMeo wheelhouse.
So Ray just goes to his plan B and saves up money to rent a town car service.
Meanwhile, in the more serious plot this week, J.J. is trying to show Claire – the gymnast confined to a wheelchair because of a leg injury – that he likes her. But J.J. doesn’t know how to woo a girl, and compounding that, can’t easily put moves on anyone. So he enlists the help of everyone, and of course Maya turns it into an elaborate scheme to make sure Claire falls for him. That doesn’t work, and in the end J.J. turns to Ray, which proves to obviously be the most normal approach – write her a note telling your feelings.
There’s still room for humor in this plot, though. As J.J. (through Kenneth) tells Maya and Jimmy he likes a girl, Jimmy wastes no beat and chimes back “Good for you, Kenneth. Go to her.” John Ross Bowie injects the right combination of sarcasm and dumbfoundedness in the line (he has plenty of great moments this week).
Later, as Maya and Jimmy are attempting to blueprint their approach, they have Ray stand in as Claire, complete with a wig. Ray doesn’t mind it (“it’s nice to feel wanted”), and doesn’t meet the demands of the job, arriving late to a cue (he had to go to the bathroom). Not only is it funny, but it’s a wicked inversion of Ray’s own plot. Later, in a moment of clarity, Ray wonders why his family can concoct a scheme to help J.J. but can’t get him to a place on time.
Poor Ray DiMeo.
“R-a-y-Ray-cation” has it all. Performances are spot on (really great stuff from Bowie, Mason Cook and Kyla Kenedy this week, plus Micah Fowler’s heartbreak truly is heartbreaking), there’s broad humor, character humor and a touching, unforced finish (after Claire rejects J.J., Ray decides to forgo his trip to comfort J.J. on the beach).
And if you need one more reason Speechless is fast becoming one of the best sitcoms on network, during the opening scene, as Ray is pleading his case for his “Ray-cation,” he does so in front of the list of things Jimmy can’t do anymore from the Halloween episode. The DiMeos haven’t repainted that wall. They won’t repaint that wall. They’re comfortable. We’re comfortable. And we’re all pretty happy.
Season 1, Episode 8 (S01E08)
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