“Speechless”, is a new comedy series about a family with three children, one of whom is a teenager named JJ who is non-speaking and uses a wheelchair.
Yes, a sitcom on ABC about a family with a child who has a disability and communicates using AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). And JJ won’t just be featured in one episode to teach the other characters a lesson, but is an integral part of every episode. Just like real life.
If seeing a family like yours on a major network wasn’t enough, JJ is being played by Micah Fowler (“Labor Day”) an actor who has cerebral palsy. Pinch. Me.
Minnie Driver (“About a Boy” and a million others) and John Ross Bowie (“The Big Bang Theory”) play the Di Meo parents Maya and Jimmy . And, Mason Cook and Kyla Kennedy play children Ray and Dylan. Cedric Yarbrough plays Kenneth, JJ’s aide at school.
When the first news about this pilot broke in March, I had some initial reservations based on the descriptions from people writing about the pilot, language like “overbearing mom“, “good at dealing with challenges and excellent at creating new ones“, “throws a fit because the wheelchair ramp is by the garbage” contributes to the negative stereotypes disabled students and families like mine deal with trying to navigate the education system. Perpetuating stereotypes like those empower ableist people who are committed to segregating students with disabilities.
Because surely we’re not being overbearing for advocating for our child’s right to an education and or having a problem with our child having to enter the building through back door via a wheelchair ramp that doubles as the dumpster route. Right?
So, I tracked down the network draft of the pilot for “Speechless”, and quickly realized the March press promoting “Speechless” didn’t represent the show very well. The script was funny and realistic. The clips below from “Speechless” certainly look like the real deal. And yes, Minnie Driver’s character is kind of over-bearing, but in the best way.
The trailer’s youtube description is much better. “Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver) is a mother who is willing to do anything for her family. Her son, JJ (Michah Fowler) has cerebral palsy and she will fight for justice in order to give him what he deserves. From the creators of Fresh Off The Boat, comes Speechless on ABC. ”
Scott Silveri, the creator of Friends, is the executive producer for “Speechless”. Wouldn’t it be amazing if “Speechless” ends up being just as iconic as “Friends”? “Speechless” cast and creators- you have 20% of the population plus rooting for you.
The DiMeo van comes screeching into a parking lot and parks in a Accessible parking space. An older woman with blonde hair, driving a red car pulls up next to them. The woman says “There is no handicap placard on your car.”
The DiMeo family is standing beside the back of the van as JJ’s wheelchair rolls out. JJ looks at the lady and holds up his right hand and it is turned to the side. Maya says, “That’s the finger.Work in progress.”
Maya: “In three minutes this 50% off breakfast coupon becomes a 0 % off breakfast coupon. Buckle up.”
“There’s no way we can make it there in three minutes.”
Van speeds down the road. Policemen clock the van speeding.
Officer ”Not her, not her. Life’s too short.”
The DiMeo van screeches into a parking lot and parks in a Accessible parking space. An older woman with blonde hair, driving a red car pulls up next to them. The woman says “There is no handicap placard on your car.”
Van doors open dramatically. Maya and JJ are on the wheelchair ramp.
Maya: I’m sorry, love, you were saying?
Maya: “he’s all there upstairs and he’s got a thing with staring.”
JJ looks at the lady and holds up his right hand and it is turned to the side.
Maya says, “That’s the finger.”
Maya: “We’re moving!”
Dylan: “To here?”
Ray voicing JJ’s typing:” I-T- it, S-U,sucks. It sucks.”
Door falls down.
Ray : “This will be the 6th school in two years.”
Maya: “Because I found the perfect situation for your brother. It is a full time aide someone who is going to be by your side.”
Scene in school.
Maya: “ Is the new voice guy cool?”
School person: “Well, it’s a she. And..”
New aide: “JJ, hello sugar. I was thinking I’d call you “J-Tizzy”.
JJ: looks shocked.
Maya: “Oh, yeah, don’t do that.”
Let’s go to school ,shall we?
Maya: “where’s the wheelchair ramp?”
The wheelchair ramp is a garbage ramp.
Principal: “It’s not just a garbage ramp .”
Maya: “No, it’s a garbage ramp and my son ramp.”
Principal: “it’s an acceptable alternate access.”
Maya digging through trash:”Empty bag of manure. Trash or person? Go!”
Principal: looks puzzled
Maya: “It’s trash. You. Are you trash or are you a person?”
Principal: “I’m a …”
Kenneth: “You’re a person, Dr. Miller.”
Maya: Of course you are! a person.”
Kenneth: “Oh, Doctor.”
Maya and in school hallway. They see Dr. Miller.
Maya: “Oy. Office .”
Scene with Maya eating pizza.
Maya: “So I told that Principal, I’m not staying anywhere that I’m not wanted.”
Scene at school with Kenneth
Kenneth: “These people know who you are.”
Maya: “What do you mean?”
Kenneth: “They take to some other school that you went off on.”
Maya: “Fountain Valley!”
Kenneth: “ Does the fact that this has taken so long tell you anything about your patterns?”
Ray: We should stay! I like this school. They have a planetarium, with a girl in it, who likes me.”
Maya: “We can’t stay just because you met some girl.”
Ray: “No, of course not, it’s something I want. Who cares?”
Maya:” I’m not going to apologize for taking care of your brother. He got the right mum.”
Ray: “Yeah, he did.”
Maya:” Go upstairs.”
Jimmy:” There’s no upstairs here.”
Maya:” You, go where your room is.”
Jimmy:” You fight and fight to make sure that JJ has a normal life, but maybe he’s not the only one who deserves that.”
Maya speeds down the road.
Jimmy, Dylan, and JJ follow in the van. They pull into parking lot.
Jimmy:” There’s mom’s car.One of you should run with me and stop mom, one of you should stay with the van. Hmm.What might be a good division of labor? ”
JJ: Holds his right hand up sideways. This gesture was used to describe giving the finger before.
Jimmy: “Finger. Fair.”
Van door is open, JJ is sitting inside the van. Kenneth from school comes over and says:” I know whose kid you are.”
JJ: Uses head pointer to type “You sound cool.”
Kenneth:” I am cool.”
JJ: Uses head pointer to type “ Want a job?”
Kenneth: looks interested
Cut to ferris wheel and ride.
Ray: “I’m not a big heights guy.” Sees mom.” Oh, no.”
Maya: Hello love.”
Ray: ride plummets “screams”
Maya:” I came to tell you that I gave up on this place too soon.”
Ray: “You were going to apologize?’
Maya:” Must we put a label on it?”
Maya:” I hear you Ray,and I love you. And if you don’t feel that every minute, then I’m not doing my job properly. And for that I am truly…”
Ray’s ride plummets again. Ray screams: “Ah this is hell.”
Cut to JJ and Kenneth on stage. Kenneth os reading what JJ has written.
“My name is Jj DiMeo. Inspiration, the wheeled avenger. Quiet star.But HOT LADY CANDY. laughs “
JJ looks at Kenneth like , “No.”
Kenneth: “A little less?”
JJ: Nods yes.
Music plays. The van speeds by and a policeman’s radar catches her.