Through 14 episodes of its first season, SPEECHLESS has hit Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and, now, “V-a-l-Valentine’s D-a-Day.”
The plots write themselves, people.
But seriously, the DiMeo family shouldn’t get crazy about Valentine’s Day. And they don’t … until they do. Like Speechless’ Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes, the holiday turns the family a little crazy until they have to find their own meaning in it. At this point, we get it, even if it is relatively harmless and fun.
The fun part of “V-a-l-Valentine’s D-a-Day” comes straight from the season’s best performers, Mason Cook and Kyla Kenedy. Ray (Cook) is given a candy-gram from a secret admirer, only it’s a mistake nobody reveals to him. Dylan (Kenedy) knows the truth, but plays along by catfishing Ray over text messages.
This is right up their wheelhouses. Ray is gullible, falling for fake Fiona hard while extolling the new love he’s found in his heart. Dylan is merciless, snide as she types away, pushing Ray further into a ridiculous situation (dressing up in bloomers and a top-hat for the big Valentine’s Day dance).
But Dylan has a heart, too. Once Ray starts paying it forward by doing the dishes for her, Dylan gets real and confesses the truth. Ray’s mad about this, but Dylan gets an opportunity to pay it forward herself … by forcing a gal to dance with Ray.
All good. A little contrived, but all good, and definitely whimsical.
On the other side is J.J. and Kenneth. J.J.’s playing Cupid, giving out candy-grams to the kids at school, but there’s one problem: J.J. is addicted to candy.
This goes as figured: J.J.’s left alone with the candy-grams, seizing his opportunity by eating seemingly hundreds of chocolates. He comes clean to Kenneth, who makes him earn back all the eaten candy-grams with charm. It works until it doesn’t: Kenneth gets addicted to the candy at the last possible second.
A little more contrived.
Finally, we get some nice backstory on Maya and Jimmy. Apparently Jimmy stole Maya from his roommate Ethan, who was engaged to her. And there was a punch.
The kids not believing Jimmy is capable of punching anyone is a nice touch. Plus, Maya’s recollection of the moment (“Pow. Very hard. Violence is bad.”) is good for a chuckle. All this makes Maya and Jimmy realize their marriage lacks “heat.” So in order to get back that heat, they go to extremes and bring Valentine’s Day into the house.
Jimmy goes really far with it (because he’s thoughtful), leaving poetic notes everywhere, dropping confetti on the ceiling fan and creating an elaborate video showing all the memories they made (it sort of feels like the theme song of “Growing Pains,” which is more sappy than smart).
Maya, meanwhile, blunders it completely. She doesn’t know what to do and can’t even remember the details of the night they fell in love. In the end, though, Jimmy and Maya get to recreate the Valentine’s Day that sealed their romance (complete with a big set piece at the big Valentine’s Day dance involving Ethan’s wife, who looks just like Maya).
Slightly less contrived.
But it’s a problem. Three stories in a half-hour episode mean there’s little room to breathe. And Speechless is best when there’s patter among large groups (like the scene where the kids doubt Jimmy’s ability to fight), allowing the well-drawn characters to be themselves. When you break up the family into three stories, you risk the very thing that makes Speechless good. The characters become one-dimensional, and we get J.J. growing sick on candy.
Plus, this is what you get with a network sitcom in a family comedy block. All the ABC comedies have Valentine’s day on the brain, so Speechless has to fall in line. “V-a-l-Valentine’s D-a-Day” isn’t the worst episode of the series, but it certainly isn’t the best. It’s just another slightly cute, definitely contrived half-hour of television. Some fun performances. Some forced situations.
I suppose it’ll just be this way for every major holiday …
Oh, there’s an Oscars episode coming up …
Season 1, Episode 14 (S01E14)
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