This is one I just wasn’t feeling. Wasn’t very much into it. SPEECHLESS has the ability to pull me in, whether it’s a funny scene where the DiMeo family shoots barbs at each other, or it’s a heartwarming turn that reminds me how well the characters are written.
Okay, to be honest, the very last scene of “S-U-R-SURPRISE” is good. The DiMeos are together, Jimmy and Kenneth trade potshots, and Kenneth nearly offends Maya. But it’s the last scene of the episode. A little too late.
Otherwise this is a jumble. We have a fun pair-off in Jimmy and Kenneth, which mostly works, but – as per usual when Speechless suffers – it’s one of three separate stories and got little time. The B-story has Ray searching the city for a lost J.J. (not very fun, actually). Meanwhile the A-story is about Dylan, which could’ve and should’ve been better, but it just isn’t.
Dylan’s birthday is ahead, and though Maya traditionally surprises her creatively, this time around Dylan doesn’t want a surprise.
By the way, this isn’t consistent with Maya’s character. As we recall from “V-a-l-Valentine’s D-a-Day,” she’s not good at all at planning big celebrations. I suppose she’s better at making her children happy, though, so let’s play that angle.
With that, Maya surprises Dylan anyway, throwing her a big party with all the kids from school. Dylan doesn’t like it, but then she does because Maya makes it all about how much Dylan wants to win at everything. So she’s playing beanbag toss. She’s finishing jigsaw puzzles. At one point Dylan and the kids are crazy about a pinata, which feels young for 13, but maybe I don’t know 13-year-olds?
At another point, the boys enter the party and do some weird dance that Dylan seems to love. It all feels weird. Just too weird.
Which is a shame, because Kyla Kenedy plays the “Dylan wins things” montage with gusto. Trying to impress Maya with all of her victories, she finds mom’s too busy trying to make a cool girl feel better because of a dopey boy. And that does it for Dylan. She just wanted a day with Maya, all by herself, so she could feel special.
That makes sense. So Maya and Dylan head off to the Build-a-Bear Factory to rekindle their relationship.
Basically, it’s a whole lot for an obvious conclusion. Why do we need the big surprise party at the house? Why are the boys there (we could do the whole “cool girl is sad” thread without the boys showing up)? It all feels like a lot of work, and it’s engaging maybe half the time.
Sadly, the B-story doesn’t quite reach that level of engagement.
Maya lets Ray watch over J.J. as she parties with Dylan. It ends up the way it’s supposed to: Ray loses J.J., there’s a lot of chasing, and more than a little situation stretching to reach a valid conclusion. (Like a giant barking dog being in a shopping mall for an hour or so? Or a dude showing up out of thin air to buy three boxes of the very shoes Ray wants to buy for Dylan?) Speechless offers us reasons for these things, but come on.
The point of the story is Ray needs J.J. as much as J.J. needs Ray. Which we know by now. Their partnership can be sweet (“R-a-y-c-Ray-cation”), but here it’s much too forced.
Saving us are Jimmy and Kenneth. Speechless addresses them in the best way possible (they have nothing in common), and so they spend the episode finding something to do (barbecue) then something to fight about (Jimmy likes gas grills, Kenneth prefers charcoal).
Forget that Kenneth is obviously in the right – John Ross Bowie and Cedric Yarbrough are veteran actors with solid chemistry. They sell the short story and allow for the nice tag.
When Speechless hits the mark, it’s plainly obvious. This time around, I’m just searching for the better stuff. But again, a little too late.
Season 1, Episode 17 (S01E17)
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