Speechless follows the DiMeo family who move to a new town to improve the life of their teenage son who has cerebral palsy.
Warning, there may be spoilers ahead.
Firstly, it needs to be said that Speechless is a very important show. It has a main character in a wheelchair actually played by an actor in a wheelchair. It sends a clear message that disabled actors can and should be playing these parts. It also gives us a look into what the lives of families with a disabled child are like. Representation is key. Disabled people across the world can now look and see someone like them on television. Their relatives can watch the stress and struggles they face everyday be played out for millions of viewers. It has the potential to not only educate but inspire. As I said this is very important show. And as such it has a huge responsibility to deliver the best possible stories and characters to its audience. Fortunately for Speechless, its pilot makes a strong start in what will no doubt be a ground breaking series.
The series centres around J.J., played by Micah Fowler, a teenage boy with cerebral palsy. Fowler is a particular standout in the pilot showcasing how talented he is. He conveys so much with his expressions and we learn a lot about his character as a result. J.J. is instantly loveable with his dark sense of humour and his fondness for giving people the finger. His scenes with Kenneth, played by Cedric Yarbrough, are particularly entertaining. This pairing really works, the two have fantastic chemistry and I’m excited to see that play out in future episodes.
Another highlight of the episode is Minnie Driver who plays brash matriarch Maya. At times Maya can feel a bit overbearing but at the same time we know that it is only in pursuit for what’s best for her family. And Driver plays her with such humour and sincerity that she feels very likeable. Driver seems to be really enjoying the role and it shows. Her passion really comes across, making her the perfect person to lead the pack.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by Mason Cook as middle child Ray, Kyla Kennedy as athletic daughter Dylan and John Ross Bowie as dutiful father Jimmy. I’ll admit it’s slightly strange to see Bowie in such a dramatically different role to Barry Kripke who he’s played on The Big Bang Theory for several years but he does great job in the part. These characters are given a good amount of screen time which is surprising for a pilot where certain characters are often neglected due to time constraints. But solid foundations have been made for each member of the DiMeo clan and it’ll be interesting to see them developed further.
Whilst the cast and characters the were the strongest points of the episode perhaps the pacing was the weakest. The pilot definitely felt slow at the start and it took a while to get the story moving. However, when it did get moving there were some great moments. Perhaps the best was when J.J.’s overeager teacher Mr Powers, trying to overcompensate, got everybody to give him a standing ovation. This was immediately followed by a look of horror, the line “He can’t stand! The ovation is insensitive!” and him imploring his students to sit down. It was such a fantastic comedic moment and I’m hoping they bring Mr. Powers back for upcoming episodes. The humour throughout was at a high level. It was a little darker than expected at time but it worked for this particular show. The writing was generally strong throughout save for a few cliché cheesy moments. Those moments didn’t ruin the overall quality of the episode though and I’m sure they’ll be reduced as the series goes on.
ABC are particularly good at doing family comedies and Speechless is no different. They’ve delivered a great first episode whilst under a huge amount of pressure. They are tackling big issues and everybody seems to realise and respect the significance of it. With such a good team behind it, Speechless looks to be a very successful show.
Pilot Rating: 3.5/5