Speechless S3E16 Review


I'd be lying if I said last week's last-minute bombshell / cliffhanger made me optimistic for this week's episode; so what a pleasant surprise, then, to find that there's so much more to it than just, Oh no! Will JJ finish his short film for his college application on time?

The story picks up right where "G-A-- Game N-I-- Night" left off, with JJ explaining that he doesn't just want to go to New York to be with Izzy (who has already been accepted to a college there), but also he knows NYU has a great film school. The application specifies he submit a 5-minute short "only you can make"; JJ agrees with his girlfriend's suggestion to do a film about disability and brings out his script for Wheelchair Planet, "a Twilight Zone kind of thing" he'd been working on that depicts a world where the physically disabled rule and the one man who can walk is seen and pursued as a "freak." Dylan accepts the job of "Supreme Ruler" on the shoot and casts Jimmy in the starring role of the (literally) last man standing; Maya, however, was uneasy enough about JJ possibly going to college an hour away, so the thought of him moving all the way across the country is enough to make her not only refuse to take part in the project, but to interfere with the filming and try to scare JJ with stories about accessibility problems in New York. Even so, when JJ's script calls for a different location and he must turn to his mom (who knows a place he can use to match his descriptions), he makes a deal with her to endure one of her horror stories in exchange for each bit of help she can give him, and she breaks into the high school so the shoot can continue there.

After filming wears on for several more hours into the early morning, things take an emotional turn when Maya runs into the principal, Dr. Miller (Marin Hinkle -- mostly underused this season due to her filming commitments on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel -- gets some great moments here), and tries to convince her to ruin the shoot: "Otherwise... what? JJ just... makes a film and goes off to New York? And I've fought and I've struggled all these years -- then I have to let him go, and that's my reward? ... It doesn't feel like a reward. Anyway, I'm not crazy [for] not wanting him to go. It's cold there, lonely. It'll be hard for him to get around." Dr. Miller sweetly reassures Maya, "He'll figure it out. He can -- you gave him that. ... We give them the tools, we let them go." Realizing it's not her place to hold her son back, Maya steps up and comes through for JJ in a big way, recruiting some wheelchair-users to play the crowd that "swallows" Jimmy's character in the terrifying final scene; and the shoot is finished just in time for the school day to begin. But the ep is only about half over...

Later, the DiMeos, Kenneth and Izzy gather in the living room to watch JJ's film, only to find the final scene wasn't recorded. Dylan (who had been tasked with filming that part) turning out to be the one who sabotaged the project almost seems to come out of nowhere -- it's certainly a shock to JJ and Ray, who would expect that sort of thing from their mother, but not their sister -- yet it actually makes more sense, as she's always been the most resigned to taking a back seat to JJ's needs, and that's literally the only life she's ever known: "I don't want him to go to New York! Everything in this family, it revolves around you, JJ -- fine. But that means you can't just change everything and leave!" Indeed, at the beginning of the episode she briefly expressed misgivings about New York; but while she seemed to back off after her dad reminded her that they've gone to visit his parents there "dozens of times," it wasn't until she realized her mom wasn't going to stop the shoot that she decided to take matters into her own hands. Maya wisely assures Dylan that one day she'll leave home too but "we'll always come back to us" -- something that ties nicely into what JJ ends up doing with his film: He set out to "make a statement on disability," but he instead turns footage from his film, behind-the-scenes, and home into a documentary "about being DiMeo" -- which still holds true to Maya's claim in the cold-open about how he doesn't let his cerebral palsy define him.

Of course, there's room for some funny business. Early on, while starting the shoot at home, JJ needs a second camera and Jimmy volunteers the cute SneakyBearCam he had placed in the living room; both Kenneth and Ray (sharing their first one-on-one pairing since the s.2 finale!) realize they have footage of themselves on there they don't want others to see. Ray boasts of having made out with "hottest girl in school" Tia Casella (his lab partner) over the past month, but doesn't want his family to discover his secret relationship because he thinks they'll ruin it; however, he ends up doing that himself when Tia happens to come by the house just as he's showing off the footage (in his frustration and desperation over nobody believing his story). Kenneth's reveal doesn't happen until the closing-tag, but it's surprisingly adorable and nowhere near as embarrassing as I would've thought: a Fred Astaire-style dance routine (complete with a top hat and tails) he'd had to stop practicing in his apartment due to his downstairs neighbor's complaints about the "stomping." Plus, this side-plot has a couple nice moments of meta-commentary about this show leaning on Ray and Kenneth's weirdness for easy jokes.

Also, in more of a running-gag than a side-plot, Jimmy (presumably already on thin ice with Izzy -- his having spilled the beans about the text he read on her phone, which hinted at her and JJ's secret, was what set Maya off on her makeshift-board-game interrogation frenzy in the first place) further embarrasses himself by mistaking JJ's girl for his own wife when he sees her from behind (a bit silly, yes, but this wouldn't be the first time he has mistaken someone else with similar hair for Maya); she initially gives him a pass, but gets peeved with him after he quickly screws up again, and later she even sees right through his attempt to make it up to her by tricking her into mistaking him for JJ. Kayla Maisonet has been a delightful addition to the show as Izzy; besides her sweet chemistry with Micah Fowler (JJ), here and in the two previous eps she has also proven herself to match the rest of the cast for delivering terrific deadpan snark.

Musical Moment: "Montage" from the Swiss Army Man soundtrack provides the awesome score for the sequence in which the final scenes of Wheelchair Planet are filmed.

Next Week: Ray's attempt to guilt-trip Maya for an unfulfilled promise backfires, while Jimmy struggles to help Dylan deal with boy-related angst in "S-P-- SPECIAL B-- BOY T-I-- TIME."

Grade: 10/10. After a somewhat less-than-promising setup, this follow-up more than satisfies with its balance of humor and earned emotion, and gives everyone in the cast a chance to shine.

Bonus: Info about National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month (March)

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