Speechless S3E3 Review


"I-N-- INTO THE W-O-- WOODS"

First of all, I must admit I wasn't a big fan of last year's Halloween episode (s2e5 "N-I-- Nightmares on D-I-- DiMeo S-- Street"). While I knew it was supposed to be a non-canonical homage to The Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror" specials (which I've enjoyed over the years, for the most part), and I found it fitfully amusing and clever (particularly Kenneth's Michael Jackson aging-in-reverse costumes and Dylan's Freaky Friday nightmare), I also felt it mostly lacked the series' usual heart.

Second, s1s5 "H-A-L-- Halloween" remains one of my very favorite episodes of this show (top 5, at least) -- from the introductions of Jimmy's artsy side (designing / creating movie-themed family costumes centered around JJ's wheelchair) and the "Dead to Maya" list on the wall (a comedic gift that keeps on giving), to how it took the exact same character pairings from the previous ep ("I-N-S-- Inspirations") and dealt with them in fresh ways.

Fortunately, this third Halloween outing bears more plot similarities to the s.1 one -- JJ is invited to a party, one of the parents struggles with the kids growing up, Dylan and Ray team up, a pair of main characters work together on a haunted mansion / house, and the climax is a great cross-cut montage -- while also going somewhat deeper to show how the DiMeos and Kenneth have grown and their lives have changed since then:

1) Most notably, the ep addresses JJ's attempts to make some space for himself as Maya (who has built most of her adult life around being a special-needs mom) constantly tries to keep tabs on him. Fittingly, this marks the long-overdue return of the character who first gave JJ that advice: Lee (Zach Anner), the "future JJ / wheelchair badass" he met in s1e20 "R-U-N-- Runaway." After Maya takes things a step too far by putting a tracking device in JJ's power-chair so she can follow him on her phone, an encounter with Lee's mother (who still "helicopters" her 32-year-old son) ultimately helps her realize she must back off from JJ and trust him to either find his own way or otherwise know when he needs to call on her for help.

2) Ray's involvement in Dylan's latest scheme -- stealing back the king-size candy bars that the student council bought for the school Halloween Dance but the administrative staff had confiscated and replaced with celery -- is motivated by the fact that JJ is growing up, pursuing his own interests (in this case, he bails on the dance to attend a rave in the woods with Lee) and possibly leaving home after this school year. Ray knows his sister will need a new partner-in-crime, and his goody-two-shoes reputation proves useful for charming his way into the office to get the info she needs to carry out the heist; later, when he and Dylan are caught, he earns her appreciation and respect by first taking the heat for her, and then revealing how he switched the celery with the candy (which they end up taking home with them and, in the sweet closing tag, passing out to neighborhood kids).

3) Jimmy, who has always prided himself on caring more about his family and being a good provider than about appearances (and has never been much of a handyman anyway), is now grappling with being a homeowner for the first time in his life; the house's "state of disrepair" embarrasses Maya (in the hilarious cold-open, some kids mistake the place for being abandoned and/or haunted), but Jimmy plots to take advantage of the situation by putting together the ultimate haunted house for the neighborhood. His and Kenneth's friendship (first established in s1e17 "S-U-R-- Surprise" and developed throughout s.2 -- at times competitive and teasing, yet mutually respectful and even helpful) also comes into play: Kenneth admires Jimmy's plan but feels his work could be scarier (he has an ulterior motive to frighten an annoying neighbor, but starts to have second thoughts and dial things down upon learning of the neighbor's good intentions and serious heart problem, only to get lost in his own horrific creations when the power goes out); later, after Kenneth reassures Jimmy that it's okay to care about stuff beyond just what matters most, they solve the house's near-constant power-outage problem by fixing the wiring in the fuse box.

Fun Facts: Anner started on the series as a consultant in s.1, and joined the writing staff in s.2 (he co-wrote s2e16 "One A-N--Angry M-- Maya" with Carrie Rosen); Lee's mom is played by Julie White, who won a Tony Award in 2007 for Best Leading Actress in a Play (The Little Dog Laughed).

In Two Weeks: Maya copes with JJ's growing independence by turning her attention to Ray in "N-E-- NEW JJ" (airing Nov. 2).

Grade: 9.5/10. A silly, fun holiday outing that also manages to push the characters a bit forward in meaningful ways.

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