Speechless S3E12 Review


Last week's plot with JJ and Ray gets an immediate follow-up when JJ screens his romantic short, Late August Rain, for his Film class; leading lady Izzy (Kayla Maisonet) is impressed with the finished product, but when she says she's free after class, Ray swoops in and suggests a coffee date. Later at home, JJ turns to Kenneth for advice about his "forbidden crush" but gets weirded out when the rest of his family overhears and gets involved; though Ray initially advises him to be a "mean Don Juan" and crush the "other, loser guy," he feels guilty upon learning that JJ shares his crush on Izzy. In a situation similar to one of my s.1 favorites, "S-L-- Sled H-O-- Hockey" (s1e9), JJ wants real competition rather than people letting him win or going easy on him out of pity, but like his dad worried for his physical safety, his brother fears his disabilities would put him at a disadvantage if they had to compete for a girl; fittingly (and amusingly), Ray takes Jimmy's advice to be himself and simply draw on his past unsuccessful attempts to talk to girls.

While Izzy and the boys stay after school to help decorate for the upcoming Valentine's Day dance, Izzy eventually gets fed up with Ray's weird and alienating antics but admits she tried to give him a chance because JJ had talked him up to her. The plot takes a rather poignant turn when a puzzled Ray confronts JJ, who admits that losing Izzy to another guy would be easier to take than having her reject him: While Ray may turn girls off with his "bad, weird choices" and behavior, JJ tends to get rejected for things he cannot help -- and worse, he just gets "dumb" excuses rather than the truth. The same thing happens with Izzy at first when, as she shows him how she redecorated the maze from the Halloween dance, he confesses his fear of rejection and then asks for a date (she tries to lie about an out-of-town boyfriend); fortunately, during their next class together, she gets a chance to admit she really does like JJ but is freaked out by his disabilities. She's refreshingly frank in a flurry of concerns and questions, and she agrees to his suggestion of taking it "one date at a time."

Meanwhile, this episode finally delivers two things I've been wanting from this show for a long time:

1) A Maya/Dylan plot that actually explores their unique dynamic.
I've long suspected they've had so few pairings because they're so similar personality-wise, it must be hard for the writers to come up with conflicts for them; the matter is addressed head-on in the cold open of this ep, as the duo attend Lafayette High's annual Mother-Daughter Tea: Maya marvels how they get along much better than the other moms and daughters (the punny title comes from Dylan's later mangling of her mother's claim that it would be "total Armageddon" if they ever really fought); and as Dylan prides herself on having her own "cool" identity, she begins to feel threatened when Maya notes how their easygoing relationship comes from Dylan taking after her so much. (Even Ray sees them as "two peas in an angry pod" and advises his sister against messing with that dynamic.) Desperate to reclaim her sense of self, she rebels by signing a petition to ban straws at school (which would have a direct negative affect on JJ), but this only drives Maya to further assert their bond by grounding her and then anticipating her every move and response; Dylan ends up flipping out, stealing Maya's car keys, trying to drive away and crashing into the garage door.

Interestingly, this plot calls back to and builds on both s1e9 and "S-U-R-- Surprise" (s1e17): Dylan despises her lack of privacy while having to share a room with two boys, yet she would feel wrong to complain in light of JJ's needs; and in her efforts to make Maya's job easier (by not questioning or opposing her as Ray and JJ have done, and not being overly needy like Ray), their harmony was achieved at the expense of her individuality, including being able to openly express her wants and her disagreements with her mom. (I thought the reveal of the replacement garage door -- which Maya somehow has installed in the kids' bedroom to give Dylan her own space -- was a cute surprise, though I couldn't help thinking, "So much for JJ's man-cave...")

2) A guys' night for Jimmy and Kenneth, or an explanation of why they haven't had one yet.
Kenneth suggests one to Jimmy since his new girlfriend, Maya's friend Melanie, will be busy; but later, during JJ's physical-therapy session, Kenneth calls to say that Melanie's schedule has freed up, and since they plan on going to Joyce's favorite bar, Jimmy will have to keep Joyce (Liz Cackowski) at the DiMeo home for a few extra hours so she doesn't go to the bar herself and find the lovebirds. Jimmy feigns a back injury, but to avoid Maya and Dylan's drama, he has Joyce take him on a "car massage" -- during which Kenneth calls Jimmy about Melanie running late and tells him to "keep stalling Joyce." After Joyce hears this, she opens up to Jimmy about feeling used by Kenneth -- being his "booty call" (previously mentioned in s3e5) long after he's stopped publicly dating her -- and observes he may be going through the same thing (as a dad who just wants to go out with an adult male friend but can't because Kenneth keeps canceling their plans). Even so, when they confront Kenneth at the bar, Joyce is surprisingly easy to please with a simple apology and a proper goodbye -- which bothers Jimmy, no longer able to hide his own hurt over having his heart played with / feelings toyed with. I find it a bit hard to believe that Kenneth still had only been seeing himself as the "guy who took care of your kid" and hadn't realized until now just how close he and Jimmy have become over the past couple years, though I suppose it's possible he could've been vaguely aware of their friendship and simply taking it for granted.

Next Week: Maya and Melanie attend an Abilities Expo, Ray joins JJ on a campus visit, and Dylan journeys within in "F-A-- FASHION 4 A-- ALL."

Grade: 9.5/10. The continuation of the JJ/Ray/Izzy story-line was lovely and sweet, but I especially enjoyed the rare yet emotionally satisfying Maya/Dylan plot, and the clever pairing of Jimmy and Joyce addressing their relationships with Kenneth.

Bonus: "The SPEECHLESS Podcast with Zach Anner" -- the consultant / writer (and occasional guest star) hosts this official weekly behind-the-scenes look at the series, including chats with cast and crew; the first episode, with guest John Ross Bowie (Jimmy), premiered Tuesday, January 22. (Available on iTunes and Stitcher)

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