SPEECHLESS- "Pilot" - Maya DiMeo moves her family to a new, upscale school district when she finds the perfect situation for her eldest son, JJ, who has cerebral palsy. While JJ and daughter Dylan are thrilled with the move, middle son Ray is frustrated by the family's tendencies to constantly move, since he feels his needs are second to JJ Soon, Maya realizes it is not the right situation for JJ and attempts to uproot the family again. But JJ connects with Kenneth, the school's groundskeeper, and asks him to step in as a his caregiver, and Ray manages to convince Maya to give the school another chance, on the series premiere "Speechless" WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21 (8:30-9:00 p.m. EDT), on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Adam Taylor)
JOHN ROSS BOWIE, MINNIE DRIVER, MASON COOK, KYLA KENEDY, MICAH FOWLER, DINA SPYBEY-WATERS

Speechless Premiere: Does ABC's New Comedy Deserve a Standing Ovation?

There’s a new family joining ABC’s rock-solid Wednesday night comedy block — and so far, it looks like they’re going to fit in just fine.

Speechless, which debuted Wednesday night, introduces us to the DiMeo family, led by hard-charging mom Maya (Minnie Driver). Along for the ride are husband Jimmy (John Ross Bowie), brainy son Ray (Mason Cook), and track-star daughter Dylan (Kyla Kenedy). But Maya’s main focus is her special-needs son, JJ (Micah Fowler), whom she tirelessly defends with mama-bear ferocity.

JJ’s cerebral palsy confines him to a wheelchair, and he can’t speak, so he has to point a laser at a list of words and letters to communicate. In the wrong hands, a show about him could easily get too sentimental or “message”-y. But Speechless does a great job of subverting those expectations with an irreverent sense of humor. The laughs aren’t directed at JJ, but instead at all the well-intentioned people walking on eggshells around him.

We meet the DiMeos in a typically frantic moment, with Maya piling everyone into the family van to redeem a breakfast coupon that expires in… three minutes. As she steers the van wildly around traffic and construction, she calmly sips from a cup of coffee provided by Jimmy. (“Mmmm… hazelnut?”) It’s when they arrive at the restaurant that we learn JJ is disabled, thanks to a nosy lady complaining about their use of the handicapped parking spot.

Ray, though, is tired of all the chaos. When Maya takes the family to check out a shabby shack of a house in a new school district, he’s upset that they’re thinking of moving again; a new school would be his sixth in two years, he says. Maya shuts him down, though, insisting the new school will be great for JJ. It would even provide him with a full-time aide, and finally “give him a voice.”

Unfortunately, that voice belongs to Jennifer (Dina Spybey-Waters), the new school’s dorky aide who’s way too eager to sound cool: “I hit the Urban Dictionary and got up on all the lingo!” And the rest of the school is a overly PC nightmare, with a track coach who tells everyone they’re doing “amazing” no matter how slow they run, and a teacher who has his class welcome JJ with a standing ovation — and immediately regrets it. (“Oh God, he can’t stand! The ovation is insensitive! Everyone sit down!”)

But the school also has a Lionel Richie-loving groundskeeper named Kenneth (Reno 911!‘s Cedric Yarbrough, always a delight), who clashes with Maya early on, but bonds with JJ enough that by episode’s end, he agrees to be JJ’s new aide. (Is anyone else concerned that Kenneth is not in any way qualified or trained for this? Just me?) And Ray discovers a planetarium — and a girl — that convince him to give this new school a try.

The cast has undeniable appeal: Driver is a force of nature as Maya (thank God they didn’t force an American accent on her), and Cook is terrific as the quiet child who always gets lost in the shuffle. Plus, future episodes should have lots of fun mocking the school’s earnest insistence on “inclusivity.” Modern Family, black-ish, and The Goldbergs set a pretty high bar on Wednesday nights, but based on this premiere, Speechless might just earn its spot next to them.

Did Speechless deliver enough laughs and heart to earn a season pass from you? Grade the premiere below, then hit the comments and share your thoughts.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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53 Comments
  1. Rheinmeister says:

    LOL funny – great cast. First show of the new season that I think will watch regularly.

  2. c-mo says:

    It wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be but I’ll definitely tune in again!

    • Sarah says:

      I don’t know about you but I felt that the promo actually gave a little too much away in advance so I also didn’t laugh as much as I’d hoped because I felt like I’d seen a lot of bits and pieces already. But I’m hopeful for the upcoming episodes. The cast is strong, and to be honest I’d probably watch for Micah Fowler alone – he was excellent. If nothing else, as someone who works with a particular special needs population I’m intensely curious about this show and I really hope it does well.

      • c-mo says:

        I didn’t necessarily think the promos gave away too much but I thought that they spent too much time on some bits, like they were supposed to be funny but I just didn’t agree. One example was the house, what kind of “expensive” neighborhood allow that house to exist? I too loved Micah, particularly him on the ride at the end, that was awesome!

  3. Hamish says:

    The Middle isn’t too shabby either. It should be included in your list of Wednesday night shows.

  4. Wish Minnie’s character was a few notches lower. I’ll give it another shot.

    • TIM says:

      As a parent of a special needs child, my wife has been the tireless/fearless/loud voice for him for years, and I see much of Driver’s character in my wife! You have to develop a thick skin and a take charge attitude to deal with a school district to get what is legally afforded to your child.

      • PatriciaLee says:

        I’ve worked with the population and their families in the schools, and I was shocked how fresh and almost-believable the show is. Just enough fantasy to make us feel we are looking at a family who’s got their communication dynamics worked out. And that is a family for all of us to relate to and enjoy. Wow, the actors were so good, and the characters delightful. It reminds me of Benched capturing the early days of the Legal Services in a certain city, at the beginning of legal aid, way before law firms started offering pro-bono. It shows the essence.

    • Mo says:

      As the parent of a special needs child, I can attest to the accuracy of her character. When we left our old state, the district we were in practically threw a party lol. Needless to say, I LOVED the show!

  5. Kim R says:

    Loved it!!😊

  6. Kevin K says:

    I give Speechless an A. Truly find it heartwarming and funny and Micah Fowler as JJ is the heart and soul of the series. This is definitely the best new comedy of the season and it does have a mix of My Name is Earl and Raising Hope in between.

  7. laurelnev says:

    As someone with extensive experience in the field, I LOVE this! It is very well done, and I like that it addresses both the family’s issues and those of the PWD. Sitcom pilots are usually underwhelming and in no way indicative of what is yet to come. I hope this continues to go uphill. And really, Minnie Driver’s character is tame compared to me when I worked in advocacy.

    • TIM says:

      “And really, Minnie Driver’s character is tame compared to me when I worked in advocacy.” You and my wife would get along great1

    • Mo says:

      This!!!

      When my son started Kindergarten, I asked for the NOREP. It confused them because they didn’t expect me to know what it was. Then I revised the IEP and told them they had 30 days to impress me because I knew their failing reputation and didn’t want him there anyway. Nothing was really signed that day. But, they DID realize I wasn’t their favorite person lol.

      So, yes, people like her absolutely exist. I have a feeling that those of us who “get” her character would get along splendidly. ;)

      • laurelnev says:

        I told a Tiger Momma I know she NEEDS to watch this show, as Minnie plays a more PC version of her. :D Hopefully, this series will continue to be realistic (unlike LA Law Benny,) and will help raise awareness in a Stephen Hawking kind of way.

  8. Tom says:

    I liked it, looking forward to more

  9. Sandee says:

    As a mother with a child with special needs who is in a wheelchair and also cannot speak loved it. Finally a show that represents us. As for Minnie Drivers character being too brash not at all. Sometimes you have to speak loudly to get your child what they need.

    • Sarah says:

      It makes me really happy to know that a parent of a special needs child in a wheelchair likes this series. Although I work with special needs kids, I don’t work specifically with kids who use wheelchairs, so I don’t have a lot of insight into this specific population. I do however know how many questions I get about my kids that are way off base because people know so little about their needs and their abilities.

    • donholley77 says:

      I have CP. I can walk with cane & talk. I agree with you! Finally a show that speaks for us! Those with special needs! BTW the Minnie Driver character is similar to the way my mom was!

    • PatriciaLee says:

      Not brash, but organized and focused, that’s the way to do it to break through complacency. Kudos to the parent army of the world! The husband and I were never blessed with children, but we appreciate the hard working parents. This show is giving a glimpse into that aspect of family. Love it.

  10. hbeachman says:

    Liked the show a lot, quite a few unexpected LOL moments like Kenneth calling Maya “Blindside.” I did like that Ray vocalized his unhappiness that everything in the family was about JJ. It must be hard to never have your good or upsetting events acknowledged. The mama bear ferocity of Maya could be dialed down a bit. It would be interesting to see her trying to be everything to everyone in the family and getting stressed out by that. The husband/father (Kwipke of BBT! Um, make that Kripke since he is lispless here) is a good character but I hope his role is defined more strongly in future episodes. How does the family cope financially? Disability payments don’t come close to covering expenses.

    • donholley77 says:

      When you’re the mother of a disabled/ special needs child, ur can be that verocious, trust me! Also kids like ray often feel in the shadow of their special needs kid! Trust me again! I speak from personal experience!

  11. Juan says:

    I thought it was great. The cast is fantastic. I really look forward to more.

  12. Victoria says:

    Loved it! I thought it was funny and sweet and had the right balanced and not be overly preachy. I did sit there a lot thinking how Kripke sounded so weird without the lisp. Will be tuning in next week.

  13. Kathy Bergeron says:

    This is the third pilot I have watched so far and even though I usually do not care for half hour shows, I will admit this was entertaining and well worth the time. Minnie Driver can do no wrong and we will keep watching😜

  14. Don Hallsten says:

    I was paralyzed as a result of an accident while I was in law school in 1996. I have often dreamed of creating and writing for a sit-com dealing with disability. I enjoyed the first episode and am excited about this new show. However, I do have a sincere criticism. Why did the creators and writers think they needed to utilize an absurd and wholly unrealistic communal embrace of the special needs character to achieve their comedic goals? Maybe future shows will offer insight, however and at least initially, I found it off-putting.

    Hoping for the best.

    Don

    • laurelnev says:

      I think that was supposed to represent the dichotomy between shunning/warehousing/segregating and those who “pride” themselves on being uber accepting, so much that that acceptance becomes annoying and discriminating. Like they’re still patting him on the head. It goes along with EVERY HS having to vote one of their SpEd kids Prom Kingf/Queen these days, just so they have a chance of Buzzfeed noticing just how special and accepting that HS is. ;)

    • PatriciaLee says:

      Well, if it helps with realism…uber communal embrace or being fired, that’s the modern choice in the educational work climate. (Hey those hard working parents have finally shaken the ed track out of complacency) It was funny to see the internal dialogue, don’t forget to smile, don’t forget to smile in the school. Keep your dream of doing your sitcom, as it sounds like it would be good. Un-fresh words, I know, for a fresh idea, but sometimes simplicity says it all. I mean good in a big way.

  15. Ethel says:

    I am a big fan of JRB and will watch this show just to see him. But, does this mean no more Kripke?

  16. matraupach says:

    Although the promos and trailers gave way basically the whole pilot: I still loved it!
    I hope they keep this level up and I have a new favorite comedy show!

  17. Roxana says:

    What a treat! Great cast: I’ve been a Minnie Driver fan since Circle of Friends, thekids are amazing, especially Jj who has genius comedic sense without traditional speaking. And it’s nice to see John Ross Bowie playing a nice non-annoying character (but I hope this doesn’t mean no more Bawwy Kwipke.) The show was very funny without being condescending. I definitely will be watching this.

  18. Lisa Tuttle says:

    The season premiere of Speechless was an entertaining, snarky insider’s take on a family’s life with a special-needs kid. Although it was a bit sappy in some parts, I think it wasn’t preachy or overly cliche and struck a good balance between seriousness and comedy. The cast is great and I look forward to watching how their characters develop as the show progresses.

  19. Joey Padron says:

    I watched the first episode early on Hulu. It was good, funny, sweet, and heartwarming. I would watch more episodes of the show. Good to have Minnie Driver back on tv again!

  20. Viv says:

    Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Yay Minnie!!! So happy you got a good one. The family is funny and distinctive. John (so talented…) needs a job though . My new fav sitcom. And I say KEEP the Fairy Godmother– every school needs a counselor and she’s wonderful. They need snooty PTA moms and Evil coworkers for conflict.

  21. Patricia Thornton says:

    It was too stupid to even watch after about 10 minutes. Minnie Driver is one of the best actresses that I really like and this is not something she should be doing

    • PatriciaLee says:

      That’s what I thought it was going to be like, going in. and I was shocked at how good it all came together. You might want to give it another try. She pulls it all together, a masterpiece on her part.

  22. Rain says:

    Loved this so much!! I had an awful day at work yesterday and really needed something to lift the spirits, I laughed from start to finish. The cast is a wonderful mix and it was heartwarming without being annoyingly mushy. Looking forward to next week’s episode!

  23. Kiki Heus says:

    Tell me the title of this article wasn’t supposed to be a disability pun 🙄.

  24. Ana G says:

    Love the dad. He feels real to me. The kids were good too. Not a huge fan of the mom though. All in all, I’ll keep watching, mainly for the dad. Loved him on Big Bang.

  25. Bobo Grier says:

    T.U.R.D. What a waste of talent.

  26. Maryanna crawford says:

    How refreshing this show is, I’m hooked. The world spends alot of time not speaking about uncomfortable topics, as the parent of a handicaped child I enjoyed this show, keep it up !

  27. Sam says:

    I really liked it. It reminded me a lot of my childhood and growing up with a neuromuscular disorder.

    (As a side note- He uses a wheelchair due to CP, it doesn’t confine him to one.)

  28. Kirsten says:

    I loved this show. (also as someone who has worked in SpEd- Aids or Paraprofessionals depending on their duties require a varying level of experience and training. Usually a can-do and respectful attitude plus a willingness to learn will get you far even without a degree in the subject)