There are many wonderful aspects about “Speechless,” but its warm, generous heart at the core of every episode may take the cake. A show about people with disabilities in 2017 demands sensitivities that a show 20 or even 10 years ago could not have delivered. Light-on-their-feet, quick-witted actors bring life to the screen, and there’s never a wasted line. Indeed, most sitcoms know that to condense a story down into about 22 minutes, time is of the essence. What makes “Speechless” amazing is that they can take their time with the scenes that matter, let pauses occur and expressions set into the actors’ faces, to deliver home some almost heartbreakingly pure messages about family, acceptance, and unconditional love.
Watching Maya transform a group of lazy, comfortable special education aides into “people who really care” is inspiring, and seeing Ray grapple with his sister’s new co-bully and boyfriend (?) gives us some authentic giggles. They each “fall in like” when they simultaneously comment about how much Ray hates bird poop, and begin the petty torture of him together from there.
Tonight’s heart of the story, though, lies with JJ and Jimmy’s trip to the wilderness. After Jimmy notices how much Ray and his new girlfriend are getting close, he awkwardly decides to give him the “talk” (and it’s one of the funniest, most cringy moments of the show). Maya, ever a fighter for justice, calls out Jimmy for not having talked to JJ about sex earlier, despite the fact that JJ is older. Jimmy realizes he has to treat his kids equally, despite their differences. So, he takes JJ out, wheelchair and all, into the forest for some man-to-man bonding.
It’s there that JJ and Jimmy fall into some hijinks that allow Jimmy to see just how mature and resourceful JJ can be. Regarding the question JJ had asked about his ability to be a dad and take care of a family, Jimmy goes from a “patronizing ‘Yeah, definitely!’ to a very sincere maybe.” To showcase such a genuine and necessary moment between father and son isn’t only sweet, it’s revolutionary.
Season 2, Episode 4 (S02E04)
Speechless airs Wednesday 830 PM on ABC
Emily Nuncio Schick | Contributor