Speechless S3E18 Review


Desire versus responsibility is the unifying theme of this week's odd but interesting outing, as the DiMeo men especially struggle with deciding what's most important to them.

When Dylan brings in the mail, she gives JJ what turns out to be his first Social Security disability check -- something for which he was supposed to qualify when he turned 18, just over a year ago in s2e14 "E-I-- Eighteen" (incidentally, also the ep in which Taylor, Ray's girlfriend for most of s.2 and the daughter of his mom's rival-turned-friend / business partner Melanie, broke up with him for having let another girl kiss him). The check comes with a letter recommending JJ use the money for "living expenses" (or "boring stuff," as Dylan puts it); still, getting so much at once makes him feel like a "big shot," and while shopping for medical supplies he also splurges on a gift for Ray, which he claims to have bought with his savings from the supermarket job Kenneth got him (introduced and last mentioned in s3e5 "S-T-- Stage Mom"). Ray is awestruck by his brother's generosity but feels their parents and sister are more deserving, so JJ buys them belated birthday gifts he claims he won in a raffle. Dylan knows where the money really came from, though, and JJ's response to her is heartbreaking: He's felt like just a "taker" for so long, it's become more important for him to be able to give back to his family than to get more (even things he could really use) for himself.

Later, as JJ announces yet another extravagant gift for his family (a custom-made oil painting of them), Maya calls him out, claiming she has just called the SS office to complain about the delay in his disability benefits only to learn that 1) he's already started receiving and spending them, and 2) he's actually not allowed to keep the money since he failed to report his supermarket earnings. I'm not quite sure I understood this part, as I find it hard to believe JJ was making too much to qualify for benefits; and while I could understand Kenneth not knowing any better about how JJ's pay might affect his eligibility for SSI (Supplemental Security Income), I would think Maya would be up on things like this and should've known that earned income is a crucial factor the SSA takes into account. Also, I found this twist a bit too similar to the premise of this season's Christmas episode ("J-I-- Jingle T-H-- Thon"), in which Maya ended up inadvertently defrauding a family-outreach charity after fibbing to the kids about presents they lost in a house fire.

Meanwhile, nice to see that Jimmy's old pals Carl, Weird Pete and Glen (Kyle Gass, Derek Basco and Rob Bruner) want to reunite after the disastrous Lafayette High gig Dylan had arranged for them a while back (in s3e11 "H-- Hey, You")! When Maya gives him the OK to "have fun" with his band, Jimmy reluctantly agrees to join them for a weekly "gastropub" gig, only to back out due to having a hard time dealing with a new supervisor at the airport; however, when Kenneth attends a Korean wedding (as a friend of the groom), he spots Jimmy performing with a K-pop combo called the Seoul Brothers and demands to know why he'd rather play with them than his friends. Jimmy tells him he doesn't want Maya to know, and when Kenneth later confronts him again he gets some perspective on Jimya's working dynamic: Having "too much real stuff going on" (as special-needs families like theirs do) means they're not free to indulge in "a lot of silly fun" just for themselves on their own, but since they don't like openly telling each other what they can't or shouldn't do, they choose to "each do our own little things quietly -- it's a beautiful dance that we both hate." (His playing in a Korean wedding band is a curious sort of compromise -- getting to play music and make a bit of extra cash without having to put in additional hours at his airline job, but not with his buddies.)

After he takes Maya to see Jimmy perform at another Korean wedding and the couple refuse to acknowledge each other, Kenneth becomes frustrated with both and spills Jimmy's secret (as well as Maya's own secret -- she and Melanie, who's been dating Kenneth for about six weeks now, have been going out for wine once a week after claiming to be working late on their clothing line). Feeling bad for having blown up a system that has worked for so long between Maya and Jimmy (no matter how messed-up it seems to him), Kenneth starts going through the pair's financial records to see where they can each afford to treat themselves to a little fun, only to discover they're about two years away from having to declare bankruptcy. Jimya are amusingly unfazed at first, but on their way to the Quiz Bowl at Lafayette High, they find JJ panhandling in front the bank -- the same spot where, in the cold-open, a passerby mistook him for a charity case when he and his siblings were waiting for their parents (who were inside, refinancing their debt). In a touching scene, JJ finally opens up to his parents about what he told Dylan earlier, as well as how he's trying to make back the money he spent so they don't have to bail him out, and they reassure him: All the stuff they've given him and done for him over the years isn't "charity," it's what family does; and because they really do believe in him, they're willing to help him out (literally "betting" on him) so he can go on to become successful and pay them back eventually. Suddenly for Jimmy and Maya, finding fun (secret or no) seems less likely as they now have little choice but to devote themselves more to their work.

As for Ray, this year he's joined Lafayette's Quiz Bowl team; with his help, unlike last year, the team is able to win the regional competition and make it to the finals, where they'll be going against the Holy Oaks Catholic High team... of which Taylor (Sedona James, making her first appearance on the show since the s.2 finale) is a member. After she sweetly compliments Ray's regionals performance, his friend / teammate Justin Chang (Lance Lim) observes that because she still seems into him, he should use her to get to her team's notes and help their own team win; but later as Ray meets with her at her school's library, she wonders whether he's trying to win her or the tournament, so he admits what he'd planned to do and offers to throw the final competition for her instead. (I thought her excited response would turn out to be part of a dream / fantasy; kudos to the writers for remembering that she could be as much of a weirdo as him.) Unfortunately, at the Quiz Bowl finals, Ray has an attack of conscience after Justin informs him he's counting on getting a partial college scholarship (the tournament's top prize for each of the winning team members); and in a twist lifted from the Simpsons episode "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can" (s14e12), Ray announces his refusal to deliberately lose... right before he accidentally loses. I found this a slight but funny little side-plot that wisely doesn't take too much away from the weightier main plots; plus, it was cute seeing Raylor together again (however temporarily, though Taylor's smile at Ray when her team wins seems to suggest no hard feelings...).

Musical Moments: Jimmy's bandmates try to torture him with "barbershop quartet-like harmonies"; in a sort of running-gag, "Take It" by The Siege plays as Dylan "make[s] it rain" for JJ (using his SS check and their parents' mail), as they hit the medical-supplies store together, and one more time as JJ has Ray dance like he's in a rap video after gifting him with a microscope; in the closing-tag, Jimmy and Maya sing "I Got You Babe" in Korean at yet another Seoul Brothers gig.

Next Week: Maya must learn to take criticism for the sake of her business, while Ray and Dylan plot to make Izzy jealous after she declines JJ's invitation to prom in "P-R-O-M-P-- PROMPOSAL."

Grade: 8.5/10. A few head-scratching moments aside, I thought this ep did a decent job of getting serious (particularly about priorities and economic struggles) while retaining the series' usual quirky humor and heart.

Bonus: Filming on s.3 wrapped this week, but the show's renewal or cancellation likely won't be announced until about mid-May; in the meantime, check out this RenewSpeechless campaign. :)

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