ABC – Speechless
“…this was an attempt to write what I know. And what I know is the challenges, the ups and downs of growing up with a family with a sibling with special needs.” SCOTT SILVERI
By Valerie Milano
Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 9/23/16 – High fives all around. ABC premiered the new dramedy Speechless, Wednesday night in the crucial 08:30 slot following goliath lead-in Modern Family. Speechless will either serve as the left-hook in the most potent one two punch in broadcast comedy, or as a franchise series in the event the mighty Modern Family should falter. It will succeed in either function.
The premise is fresh and is clearly inspired by the success of recent movies and documentaries profiling the life of wheelchair-bound physics guru Stephen Hawking. One is tempted to begin this review with the word Minnie and end it with the word Driver. Because, it is her Alpha girl energy that drives this machine. However, behind Driver’s towering performance there’s a lot of first rate backup. The script is a filler-free affair that snaps and crackles from the lead roles on down to the featured extras.
Minnie Driver plays Maya Dimeo, uber-mom to three kids; one of whom, is a special needs child with Cerebral Palsy. Maya’s every waking hour is focused on the comfort and development of her son, J.J. (Micah Fowler) who is unable to speak, but who communicates just fine with a head activated apparatus that allows him to spell out words (ala Hawking). This pilot opens with Maya dragging her family to yet another town in a relentless search for the perfect school and nurturing environment for her son. Driver hovers and pounces like a mother lioness whenever her beloved is trivialized, patronized or otherwise denied equal access to a world unsuited to his physical disability. Driver’s Brit twang adds just the right amount of snot and polish to a character that is unique in American television comedy.
Ross Bowie plays Jimmy Dimeo – dad and husband (to Maya) whose good humor and philosophical bent counterbalances the ‘5 Hour Energy’ of wife Maya. You may recognize Bowie from his role as Kripke from The Big Bang Theory.
Speechless sheds light on a potentially grim subject, while maintaining a breezy sit-com pace, Also, there might be a best supporting Emmy in the future for Cedric Yarbrough, who plays the school custodian drafted by J.J. to be the ‘hip voice’ – who reads his light penciled musings to the world.
Speechless does everything right and makes it look easy in the process.
THT, TCA and other reporters recently had the opportunity to speak with Minnie Driver, John Ross Bowie, Micah Fowler, Mason Cook, Kyla Kenedy, Cedric Yarbrough, Scott Silveri, and Christine Gernon.
Mini Driver spoke about her character Maya and the challenges of playing her:
Mini Driver, “You know, when I read this, it is a high degree of difficulty to pull this particular character off, because she’s a lot. And someone said that Speechless refers to JJ, the character’s nonverbal situation, but also Maya renders people speechless with the stuff that she says. I think I understand her. I’m a mother. All mothers fight hard for their children. To have a child with special needs, you have to fight so much harder, from everything that I learned. So yeah, I was up for the challenge.”
Scott Silveri spoke about the crucial casting decision as to who would play J.J.:
SCOTT SILVERI: ”The thing about Micah, Micah gave us he did us a real solid in putting himself on tape and making the decision as easy as he did. We saw his audition and you know, decisions about casting can be tough. And I saw him, and he just lit up the screen. He was, you know, so effortlessly funny and endearing. And he gave us everything we were looking for. I mean, like I said, this is a story that I’ve been wanting to tell for, you know, 20 years. And without Micah’s spirit and his performance and his energy, we don’t get a chance to do that. ‘
Minnie Driver speaks about the affinity she feels for her character Maya:
MINNIE DRIVER: “I think that when you have to push as hard as Maya has to push and any mother with a child with special needs, I think, will tell you — you kind of blaze a trail, and you do leave often quite a lot of burned bridges because you have to push hard. In the typical world the things that you or I would take for granted, a person in a wheelchair, for example, they can’t take that for granted. It’s a very funny, but extremely poignant, part of the pilot where the egress to this public school is the trash ramp; and therefore, it becomes the “my son and the trash ramp.” I can see how that would it would make me crazy if that were my child. And it does make Maya crazy. It makes her crazier than she probably needs to get. And it will be challenging to what is it I said to you the other day? I was so worried that it will be, you know, “Maya enters in a huff,” that she will always come in at that place. But I think she runs pretty hot, and that’s all right.”
Cedric Yarbrough spoke about finding the right balance with his character, Kenneth:
CEDRIC YARBROUGH: “This Kenneth character is an interesting one that when I was being cast and Scott and I spoke about who this guy is, and for me specifically, I really wanted to stay away from someone who could be a savior of some sort, come into this family and be able to fix everything. I guess we were talking like kind of a I don’t know if we know this term, the “Magical Negro” that comes in and fixes everything, the Bagger Vance character, you know, who knows all. And I wanted to make sure that this guy doesn’t know much of anything. He’s going to make mistakes. He’s going to make mistakes with the family. He’s going to make mistakes with the kid. But he genuinely really loves the kid. He has a good heart and he’s coming from a good spot. And that’s going to be the fun of it with Minnie’s character who doesn’t take much of anything. She comes in in a huff, and I don’t take much of anything either because he’s just that kind of a guy. So that’s going to be fun. “