Speechless S3E5 Review


After last week's episode, in which Maya went overboard with mothering Ray (to fill the hole in her life left by an increasingly independent JJ) and realized she needed to "find something else" to occupy her time, this week's ep represents another necessary baby-step toward figuring out who she is and what she can do outside of her familial role.

Upset after receiving from the kids a bunch of birthday gifts (including golf balls and mop-slippers) with the word "MOM" on them, Maya wants to prove to them that she can be more -- by taking up community theater at the suggestion of Joyce (Liz Cackowski), JJ's long-suffering physical therapist. (Maya mentions that she "did tons of plays in college," which is more education / career background than this series' first two seasons combined revealed about her.) When she finds herself having to take charge of Joyce's troupe -- which also includes Mr. Powers (Jonathan Slavin), who has taught JJ's Film class, as well as History classes for both JJ and Dylan -- in ways frustratingly similar to how she manages her own household, Maya assembles her family and the actors to address them about what she has learned: Regardless of how everyone else sees her, she must learn to see herself differently from the nurturing role she has let define her for so long, to back off from acting on those maternal instincts so often, and to start trusting others to figure out how to take care of themselves. She then puts her new resolve to the test, and the actors soon surprise her by being well-prepared and getting along in time for their show's dress rehearsal.

Meanwhile, Jimmy, Ray and Dylan are left to manage a crisis of their own. It all starts when Jimmy finds Dylan's phone and Ray cracks the emoji "code" in a text message -- some Lafayette students are planning a secret party, and his sister has been invited. Jimmy passes this information along to his pal Dane (Paul F. Tompkins, who previously appeared in s1e22 "M-A-- May-Jay"), the "Seafood King of Newport" whose daughter had also planned to attend the party; and Dane, after having the party shut down, ropes Ray into more spying and ratting on his schoolmates. This flatters the boy's ego at first, but when he gets invited to a party himself and declines to do any more of Dane's bidding ("I'm in too deep!"), Dane threatens to have Ray exposed as the "mole" to the whole school.

However, Jimmy -- whom Dane has been plying with fish in payment for Ray's services -- apologizes to his son for using him and, with Dylan's help, ultimately turns the tables on Dane and some other concerned parents who have been using Ray's intel to quash their kids' naughty behavior. This plot ends up cleverly tying into Maya's: On the opening night of her troupe's show (Mr. Powers' autobiographical coming-of-age musical, Richard Powers: A Life), she has to play all the roles herself while the other actors are stricken with food poisoning -- from the spoiled fish left over from Dane's supply, as he's been giving Jimmy all his freshest stuff. (So besides teaching Dane and his fellow parents a lesson in the importance of actually communicating with their children, Jimmy can threaten to expose Dane as the purveyor of bad fish that sickened his wife's cast-mates.)

As for JJ/Kenneth, employment discrimination against the disabled is finally addressed somewhat when Kenneth announces that the supermarket where he's been working part-time to make ends meet (introduced in s1e18 "D-I-- Ding") has just hired JJ for an unspecified position, explaining that JJ felt "ready" for the responsibility but also applied at and was rejected by 20 other places before being given this job. JJ's parents raise a concern that he might be just a pity hire; and as silly as his rivalry with "Quincy" (a smiling cardboard cutout with a voice chip) may be, JJ is justifiably angry about having been given a pointless task (directing customers from the broken self-checkouts to the regular checkout lines, which the inanimate Quincy had been doing). Still, I'm glad he eventually got a chance to show what he can really do -- even if simply by virtue of having read the store manual that all the other employees (including Kenneth) tend to ignore, thus being the only one who knows the self-checkout error codes and how to deal with them.

Musical Moments: Before the troupe's original director shuts down his latest show (142nd Street) "due to lack of talent," Joyce, Mr. Powers, Maya and others sing a parody of "42nd Street" for their auditions; and in a nod to Goodfellas (to which "M-A-- May-Jay" also paid homage), Harry Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire" scores a montage of Ray playing informant for Dane and the other parents while Jimmy reaps some tasty benefits.

Fun Fact: Several years ago, real-life friends Tompkins and John Ross Bowie (Jimmy) played Puppet Doug & John in a series of online ads for the 2012 Ford Focus.

Next Week: Thanksgiving finds the DiMeos in the hospital (and a few familiar faces returning) in "C-E-- CELEBRITY S-U-- SUITE."

Grade: 9/10. Maya and Jimmy's plots were so fun, while furthering the characters' development in small yet important ways; but I kind of wish the JJ/Kenneth one, which touched on a serious issue, had been allowed a little more room to breathe.

Bonus: Info and resources for National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) (which was in October)

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