Performer of the Week: Minnie Driver

THE PERFORMER | Minnie Driver

THE SHOW | Speechless

THE EPISODE | “P-i-pilot” (Sept. 21, 2016)

THE PERFORMANCE | It’s appropriate that ABC’s delightful new comedy Speechless premiered this week, right at the peak of hurricane season. After all, Driver’s performance as family matriarch Maya Dimeo proved to be such a force of nature, the World Meteorological Organization really ought to honor the actress by naming the next big tropical depression after her.

Driver needed only the two-minute cold open — in which Maya maniacally sped the family van to a pancake house to redeem an almost-expired coupon — to establish the brashly funny, refreshingly unsentimental nature of both the show and her character. Spotting a couple of smirking bros staring at her son JJ, whose cerebral palsy confines him to a wheelchair and requires him to use an electronic board to communicate, Driver delivered a dressing-down that burned with maternal ferocity and delicious sarcasm, while never once reducing JJ to a pitiable symbol. “Oi! Oi! Yeah, hello? Now, these — these need a bit of a tuneup,” Driver shouted across the lot, her wildly waving arms acknowledging (and simultaneously reclaiming) the way disabled people are too often mocked. “But he’s all there upstairs and he’s got a thing about staring.” As JJ gestured his entire hand toward the men, Driver’s cheeky translation — “That’s the finger. Work in progress.” — proved a thing of wry beauty.

The brilliance of Driver’s performance, though, is that while she makes Maya a righteous mother figure, she’s not afraid to let the audience laugh at her character’s hair-trigger defensiveness, either. In the pilot’s most uproarious scene, Maya railed wildly against JJ’s new school principal and an unsuspecting maintenance worker for suggesting her son use a garbage ramp to get to his classes. As she played a game of “trash or person” — waving an empty fertilizer bag in the air, and labeling the accidental use of the word “cripple” as “hate speech” — a rapt crowd gathered nearby. As long as the Speechless writers continue to give Driver such excellent material, expect that crowd to grow exponentially — and turn the Wednesday-night comedy into a genuine hit.

Masters of SexHONORABLE MENTION | “Do you really think all those years that I just sat here, making lunches and vacuuming the carpets while you were working late?” With that quietly issued opening salvo, Masters of Sex‘s Caitlin FitzGerald launched into a monologue Sunday that allowed Libby to proudly list her own infidelities after a contrite Bill copped to his. FitzGerald played the scene with a captivating, perverse joy as Libby finally got to watch her soon-to-be-ex-husband experience the gut-punch of hearing his wife describe her various affairs. Anyone who’s watched FitzGerald take Mrs. Masters from obedient housewife to woman-on-the-verge-of-something-amazing had to have cheered when the actress triumphantly landed Lib’s ultimate shutdown, all righteous indignation and rekindled ire: “If you want to feel sorry for someone, I would suggest feeling sorry for yourself.”

AtlantaHONORABLE MENTION | Atlanta‘s greatest strength is in how it presents the far-from-glam world of rap from the perspective of Miles, played with a perfectly modulated intensity by Brian Tyree Henry. Case in point: Paper Boi this week schooled a ridiculous blogger on the reality behind that which goes viral via Twitter battles, memes and such. “N—a, there’s no money anywhere near rap,” he declared. “I know it looks like fun and games, but people die. People are forgotten. S—t is real.” When Zan repeatedly tried to frame Paper Boi as opportunistic, Henry made clear his character’s informed solemnity, countering: “I scare people at ATMs, boy. I have to rap. And that’s what rap is — making the best out of a bad situation.”

This Is Us Gerald McRaney NBCHONORABLE MENTION
| Gerald McRaney is arguably best known for playing gruff, tough Marines on Simon & Simon and Major Dad. But he can be a big ol’ softie, too, as we saw in the series premiere of NBC’s This Is Us. As kindly ob-gyn Dr. K, McRaney was warm but firm when reassuring expectant mom Rebecca (Mandy Moore) that he’ll get her through a difficult birth. And with an Emmy-worthy monologue about the inevitability of loss and the importance of making lemonade out of life’s lemons, McRaney helped This Is Us live up to its billing as the new Parenthood — and helped empty a few tissue boxes in the process.

Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Hit the comments!

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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33 Comments
  1. Mommaknowsbest says:

    I’ve always loved Gerald McRaney.

  2. Brian says:

    Yes! To Minnie Driver.

  3. TomC says:

    Speechless looks like one of the few ABC shows that will keep my attention. Hope you’re right they give Minnie Driver good lines like these. And the rest of the cast seems pretty good also, really like “JJ”.

  4. c-mo says:

    Thank you acknowledging both Minnie Driver and Gerald McRaney, they were both stellar in their respective shows! And while I enjoyed Dr. K, my favorite McRaney character will ALWAYS be Dash Goff…which might explain my affection for Dr. K.

  5. East Coast says:

    Gerald McRaney gave a masters class in acting this week, what a superb performance! That is how you make a guest character stand out!

  6. Kevin K says:

    Gerald McRaney’s performance in the This Is Us pilot is Emmy worthy.

  7. Rheinmeister says:

    In addition to Minnie Driver and Gerald McRaney, I would add Clayne Crawford to the list. His subtle performance in the brilliant Rectify brought me to Lethal Weapon. Was expecting to right it off as a one and done but he was the star of the show. He also has great chemistry with Damon Wayans. All three shows and maybe Kiefer Sutherland’s new show will be added to my DVR.

  8. QueenB says:

    Gerald McRaney and Milo (and his ass). Milo made me cry and laugh out loud.

  9. I hope Speechless is around for a long time. Because of this, I think its important to correct 2 of your errors early:
    1) Its improper to say someone is “confined” to a wheelchair. The use of a wheelchair allows a person who cannot walk the freedom to transport himself around without the need of others. Without a wheelchair, he’d be “confined” to a bed. JJ “uses” a wheelchair.
    2) JJ’s communication board is not electronic. It is low-tech, which requires the use of a human reader. If he had an electronic communication device, it would speak for him through speakers.

    Thanks!

    • Mo says:

      My kid doesn’t use a wheelchair or a lowtech device. But, as the mom of an au-some kid, and just a supporter of alternatively-abled people in general, thank you for this, <3

      • I’m a speech therapist, so I work with people with disabilities all the time and am very aware of the issues the community faces, even though I am not personally a part of the community. I always want to try to educate others!
        I’m sad to see that its been a few days and the error has not been fixed. :(

    • donholley77 says:

      Ur either disabled like me; parent of a disabled child; or know someone who is! Nice catch!

    • flutiefan says:

      very good points.
      I would also add that the author seemed to miss the point entirely about Driver waving her arms around. She wasn’t referring to the mocking, IMHO. She was saying “THESE” (his arms) don’t work so hot!

      • PatriciaLee says:

        Wow, right! And the finger as a work in progress segues right into the arm demonstration, showing the fingers are starting to work under his control, “a work in progress.” Love it.

  10. christopher bee says:

    The Atlanta story alteration of the Grimm Brothers fable of Hans in Luck – with a twist was hillarious, Donald Glover is a genius and i love Paper Boi.

    Gerald and Minnie are two of my favorite Actors, nuanced, experienced but always fresh and different. Cast of the week goes to “This is Us”.

    Maybe TVLine could establish a Cast of the week, please.

  11. LAwoman says:

    Thank you for mentioning Caitlin FitzGerald. Her slow progression to an independent person has been my favorite story line on the show.

  12. Coal says:

    Only show I’ve watched (so far) on this list is This is Us, but I’d also give Jimmy Kimmel a nod, has hosting was simple, direct and nothing over the top. Now if only award shows could stop having a plethora of presenters give out the awards that would save so much time.

  13. Kels says:

    Minnie was great this week. Speechless is my favorite new show so far. I really hope it continues on the same level.

  14. Leo Berry says:

    I think Kiefer Sutherland deserved to win it this week

  15. Lala says:

    So tired of Libby on Masters of Sex! She is the worst part of the show and I don’t get how she always gets a special mention…

  16. Lisa Echerd says:

    Yes to Minnie Driver. I wasn’t really planning to watch this show. The previews weren’t that funny but at the last minute I turned it on and am so glad I did. It is just hilarious and the show obviously will have heart. All of the cast was good. Look forward to next week.

  17. BOGS2002 says:

    Driver was really good but the show itself – not so much.

  18. Joey Padron says:

    Glad Minnie got performer of the week. She did great in pilot of Speechless. Good Gerald McReaney got honorable mention. He did great on This Is Us pilot episode.

  19. John Stark says:

    Apparently I’m the only one who didn’t enjoy Speechless and found Minnie Driver grating.

  20. flowerduh says:

    I’m just glad that Atlanta us getting the love that it deserves.

  21. Ally Oop says:

    I couldn’t get into Speechless as I found the mom too over-the-top and grating on my nerves. I enjoyed Atlanta though, great directing and writing. And Gerald McRaney was awesome on This is Us so deserved the kudos.

  22. Thank you to Jenna, the person who noted “confined” is not consistent with wheelchair use. I am a person who doesn’t walk and my wheelchair is a source of freedom for me. I can understand from an ambulatory perspective this may not appear to be true, but “wheelchair-user” is just as descriptive without assigning a value on certain modes of mobility.

    I hope this show sticks. It’s like watching a time capsule of my life . . . and I got all the jokes. :)

  23. Catherine Johnson says:

    Love the show! However as an SLP, I find it odd that the son does not have a Tobii Dynavox speech output eye gaze device. Mom should really advocate for that as well. He is a perfect candidate. He doesn’t need anyone speaking for him other than himself. So glad to see a show like this on the air. I will plan to watch the entire season.

  24. Joe Da Rold says:

    Minnie Driver has been the most underrated actress on tv for far too long. Her performance in the series about the Irish Travelers was amazing. When needed she delivers an American actress like a native. (Mark Addy, too!) Now that Big Bang Theory and Modern Family are dissolving into unbelievable silliness, let’s hope Speechless had enough staying power to create more fans of Driver.