Toward the end of the first act of “T-h-The C-l-Club,” Ray enters the dining room excited about his new life at a country club. Maya, Jimmy and Dylan are seated at the table. Kenneth soon walks into the room and, later, J.J. enters.
For a good minute and 20 seconds, and through the act break, the scene stays at the dining room table. Ray shows Maya he loves being a “fancy rich man” with British tendencies, while J.J. and Kenneth grow further apart because the latter is trying to have a life outside the DiMeo house. There’s wit, some snark (thanks to Jimmy and Dylan) and high-concept belly laughs (J.J.’s new automated voice board – to spite Kenneth – has sitcom sound effects).
This is when SPEECHLESS is great. Unlike last week’s “V-a-l-Valentine’s D-a-Day,” “T-h-The C-l-Club” breathes. It lets the characters be themselves. And it only has two stories. It’s a nice change of pace and a return to form for the relatively solid ABC sitcom.
The plots of “T-h-The C-l-Club” are simple if well-worn Speechless tropes. Ray wants to do something he wants for a change (it’s been done before, but this still works), so the family invades a country club, somehow getting away with being non-members.
Take it from me, a former country club member: It’s impossible to get away with being a non-member at a country club. Those places are like fortresses.
Once inside, Ray realizes it’s where he belongs (again, this has been done before). They cater to your every whim. They have afternoon tea. And there’s a mother-son tennis tournament! How convenient!
And it’s also a place Maya likes, more for the thrill of being both\snotty to rich folk. So there’s a bonding tale here. And it’s good. Ray goes overboard scheduling all the activities while Maya picks apart his wardrobe.
But Ray betrays Maya because he wants to be a part of the country club, unlike Maya, who merely wants to have a fun time with her son. Maya is hurt. Jimmy interjects (because he can’t have a sullen Maya, ever) in a funny if somewhat predictable scene. Ray finally shows Maya attention with their own afternoon tea, and all is forgiven.
Then there’s J.J., who wants to see a movie with his sled hockey team (more on that in a moment), but Kenneth says he can’t go because he has a date. J.J. grows selfish and turns his back on Kenneth, bringing in an automated voice board that can sound just like Kenneth. Or a Brit. Or a needy little girl.
Just like with Maya and Ray, it’s not hard to see where this goes. There’s a fight (which incorporates the class shy girl), and Dylan attempts to interject (because she realizes she loves the J.J. and Kenneth bromance). In the end J.J. and Kenneth make up because both realize they love each other.
Predictable, but the chemistry between Micah Fowler and Cedric Yarbrough is undeniable. They’re a great team. As are the other pairings this week – Minnie Driver and Mason Cook are highly convincing as a squabbling mother and son, and I could watch an entire episode where John Ross Bowie and Kyla Kenedy make snide remarks from the peanut gallery. After some forced situations and character leaps, it’s nice seeing Speechless get back in its wheelhouse this week.
Then there’s J.J.’s sled hockey team. We need more of these guys, especially Nicholas, who’s even dirtier than J.J. and makes porn jokes to Kenneth. Speechless has done well to integrate J.J.’s disability into the show in an unforced way, but heck, get his friends out there. Show us more, especially if it leads to Cedric Yarbrough trying to stay cool.
Hopefully there’s more of this and less shameless network kowtowing and awkward plotting. Next week is “O-s-Oscar P-a-Party,” which is the worst kind of network kowtowing. But let’s get past that. There’s a good show here when it wants to be.
Season 1, Episode 15 (S01E15)
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