Speechless S3E4 Review

"N-E-- NEW JJ"

What bothered me most about s2e13 "D-I-- DiMeo A-C-- Academy" was how carelessly it explained why JJ would be held back a grade: Even taking into account that maybe his parents were giving him more space and his teachers were trying to avoid the sort of condescending special treatment his Junior-year teachers had given him for most of the previous year, I couldn't quite buy that the school would've let him fall so far behind (due to surgery- and therapy-related absences) by the middle of the year without alerting his parents earlier, and that his own personal-care aide wouldn't have checked to make sure he was keeping up with all those assignments.

Still, I'm glad to see the show following through with this storyline (JJ gets a second crack at Senior year, and he and Kenneth are taking it more seriously this time), and this episode begins with a much-needed corrective -- a depiction of the Individualized Education Program. A couple previous eps may have mentioned it in passing, but here some of the process is actually shown: JJ and Kenneth help Maya compile a list of things her son will need to succeed for the school year; and the next day, she sits with administrative staff and others for an annual IEP meeting, prepared to fight for those needs.

Having just given himself a major boost of confidence by being able to zip up his jacket, JJ (with Kenneth) barges in on the meeting and takes it over with his own list of demands. Maya, both proud of and dejected by this display of independence, quickly finds another outlet for her special-needs-mom superpowers in a whinier-than-usual Ray (who is freaking out over the pressure of learning to drive); she confronts his English teacher over a C grade, tries to find him a girlfriend, and even keeps him home for a day so she can help him study for Driver's Ed. Ray relishes the attention at first, despite a warning from JJ about needing to maintain boundaries; but after a disturbing daydream in which their mother grooms him to look more like JJ, Ray decides he'd rather be at school taking his driving test. Of course, Maya follows him on the driving test (in an amusing Fast and Furious-style chase); and after Ray confronts her and challenges her to "find something else," she has a lovely scene with JJ in which she sadly admits to uncertainty about her future without him, and he sweetly offers to help her draw up an "Individualized Mom Plan" on their IEP preparation board.

Meanwhile, emboldened after mastering the zipper, JJ stumbles upon one of Kenneth's poker games with the Crossing Guard, the Lunch Man, and the Janitor; the next day, he tricks Kenneth to get him out of the picture so he (with help from his Film Class teacher, Mr. Powers) can join the game himself, only to end up betting his power-chair and losing it to the Janitor. Kenneth returns to save the day (revealed in the closing tag: JJ got his chair back right away, but he and Kenneth will have to do the Janitor's job for the next six months); and in a beautifully written scene, he teaches JJ that when it comes to pushing your limits to see what you can do, there's a difference between building upon your skills (which takes patience and happens over time) and acting on stupidity (unnecessarily putting yourself risky situations).

Like JJ, Dylan also discovers a secret of the grown-up world this week. After she finds out their dad goes to bed later than the rest of the family, Jimmy feels guilty for having been dishonest with Dylan about it and lets her stay up with him; but as much as they enjoy their late-night bonding (she admires his skills at mindless games that help him clear his head and unwind), he soon realizes it's not worth her falling asleep in class, and he helps her realize that the early bedtime he'd been imposing on her was his way of being a responsible parent (because he knows "a growing girl really does need her sleep"). I love this pair anyway, and I thought this was a typically fun and sweet plot for them.

Next Week: Maya, JJ and Ray find new occupations in "S-T-- STAGE MOM."

Grade: 8.5/10. Even amid the broad silliness of Maya's over-the-top antics, little moments of heart and truth are not hard to find; it should be interesting to see where both she and JJ go next as they discover more of who they are and what they can do outside of their particular bond.

Bonus: More info about IEPs here -- https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/iep.html

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