Speechless S3E13 Review


This week's episode recalls two of my past faves, s1e13 "S-I-- Sick D-A-- Day" and (to a lesser extent) s2e12 "The H-U-S-- Hustle," as earnest discussion of familial roles comes into play.

As Maya and Melanie (Sarah Chalke) prepare to promote their adaptive designer-clothing line, Fashion 4 All, at an upcoming Abilities Expo, Jimmy warns Kenneth (Melanie's new boyfriend) to be fully supportive and not question them, offer too much input or interfere when they're in charge -- partly because he himself feels he doesn't "matter" much, but also he has learned to pick his battles with Maya over the years and knows what works in their relationship. When the two couples arrive at the Expo, special-needs mama-bears Maya and Melanie recognize some unfriendly faces from their pasts and fear that their scorched-earth tactics may have burned too many bridges; determined not to let some "15-year-old grudge" sink their fledgling company, Melanie has Maya apologize to influential SoCal Abilities Journal writer Nina (Rondi Reed), a former parenting blogger with whom Maya claims to have had "the very first Internet flame war" in 2004 (hilariously, Jimmy repeatedly must refrain from correcting his wife when she tells the story to Melanie and Kenneth).

The ladies do their thing -- Nina offers to do a write-up of their business but still won't forgive Maya, so Melanie chickens out on telling her what they're selling -- while the fellas man the Fashion 4 All booth, which becomes such a huge hit that they're later invited to discuss "their" product at a panel with Nina. Of course, Jimmy and Kenneth are unable to answer questions about how the clothes are made or priced, and Nina quickly realizes their significant others (who have been in the audience, helping the guys and defending the company) are the real founders. However, when things look especially hopeless for Maya and Melanie, Jimmy steps up and refuses to let them leave the Expo: They're the fighters for their families, while his role is knowing how to pick people up when they're down. Sure enough, his pep-talk inspires his wife and her friend to return to the panel, better-equipped to win over the many people they had picked fights with and "wronged" by emphasizing how their fighting has always been in the name of advocating for their disabled sons to make sure they have the best quality of life possible -- something pretty much everyone at Abilities Expo, from home-medical-equipment vendors to therapists and caregivers, could surely understand. (They even finally get their needlessly complicated slogan right!)

The same weekend as the Expo, JJ relishes a rare opportunity to go on an overnight college visit without Maya, and he invites Ray, hoping for some bro-time. Alas, Ray soon takes the "mother" role upon himself; even after letting JJ go off on his own with Alan (Shalaby Omar), the disabled student who's showing him around, he can't help but follow them as they make their way though an outdoor Hawaiian-themed campus party. Eventually, the DiMeo boys express their mutual frustration to each other -- JJ simply wants a brother he can have fun with, not another Mom, while Ray insists he just wants to "have [his] back" and is getting tired of JJ's constant resistance. To prove he can loosen up, Ray (who found he couldn't stand beer when Jimmy let him try one at the end of s3e9 "J-A-- Javier's P-A-- Pants") pigs out on "dessert"... which turns out to be Jell-O shots. As JJ carries Ray in his lap back to Alan's accessible dorm, Alan says, "There's nothing worse than a guy who needs your help but won't take it" -- in reference to Ray grumbling about JJ's "driving," but JJ takes it to heart: When putting the drunken Ray to bed, JJ admits it's not easy for him to accept help from his little brother, but he acknowledges that they should look out for each other and appreciates Ray's efforts.

Meanwhile at their high school, their younger sister has a long meeting with teacher Mr. Powers (Jonathan Slavin), who wants to know why there's such a gap between Dylan's recent outstanding standardized-test score and her usual less-than-stellar classwork and grades. She explains that when she is being taught or has to read, she feels like she's getting lectured by a "know-it-all that won't shut up," which reminds her of Ray (her actually visualizing Mr. Powers as Ray and confronting him as such is a hoot); Mr. Powers wants to help her see academics as more than simply "Ray's domain" so she can do better in school, and Dylan opens up about her feeling that "there's just room for one smart kid in my family," which has been holding her back. After a call to a thoroughly wasted Ray, who attributes her clever schemes and pranks to her sharp intelligence, Dylan realizes she doesn't have to be so constrained by her own role if "the smart one" can do dumb things once in a while -- though it seems she'll continue to see grades as the sort of "external validation" (hey, Ray words!) she doesn't feel she needs, presumably as someone who's still not inclined to care what others think.

Thus, in the space of one afternoon / evening, Jimmy and Maya reaffirm their roles (and hold them up as examples for Kenneth and Melanie), JJ learns to accept Ray's responsibility to him, and -- in a plot that ties in perfectly with JJ/Ray, and accomplishes a great deal despite comparatively minimal screen time -- Dylan has a breakthrough of sorts regarding how she defines herself.

In Two Weeks: JJ courts Izzy, and his parents hatch a V-Day money-making scheme in "J-I-- JIMMY V-A-L-- VALENTINE" (airing Feb. 15).

Grade: 9/10. More than just another sweet family comedy, this is a series that smartly addresses limitations -- those imposed on us (by disabilities, economic class, etc.), those we put on ourselves (such as through rigidly defined roles, or the consequences of our actions), those we simply live with and try to make the best of it, and those we can try to overcome, as well as how our limitations and our familial roles / dynamics inform each other -- and this ep is a solid example of that.

Bonus: Some behind-the-scenes info about the filming of this episode --
HME News (Q&A with Lisa Wells of Cure Medical)
Abilities.com (article with comments from Wells and other Hollywood-area vendors)

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