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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Speechless is a family-oriented comedy that centers on a teenage boy with cerebral palsy who can only communicate by aiming a headset-mounted laser at a chart of commonly used words and letters that are then "translated" via a family member or aide. He gets around in a motorized wheelchair, but even though he's "speechless," he has a lot to say about pretty much everything. You'll hear words like "suck" and "ass" (including a teen who uses the phrase "you're leaving a lot of ass on the table") and see some light teen romance, including some pelvic thrusting and attempts at kissing that are played for comedy. But, above all, this show is chock-full of worthy messages about family, communication, intolerance, and having hope in the face of difficult odds.
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What's the story?
He might be SPEECHLESS. But 16-year-old JJ DiMeo (Micah Fowler) is anything but silent, using a laser pointer and a communication board to spell out his thoughts and try to keep his crazy family in line. His mom, Maya (Minnie Driver), is his most vocal advocate, with a reputation for moving mountains to get her son access to the opportunities he deserves. But she's so absorbed with fighting for her oldest son that she sometimes forgets that her other children -- brainy middle child Ray (Mason Cook) and competitive young runner Dylan (Kyla Kenedy) -- need her, too. Good thing JJ's dad, Jimmy (John Ross Bowie), is the voice of reason -- if only he could get a word in edgewise. Cedric Yarbrough rounds out the cast as a school groundskeeper turned mentor for JJ.
Is it any good?
It’s rare -- perhaps unprecedented -- for a prime-time comedy to take on the topic of special-needs advocacy. But it’s even rarer to do it with such skill that you forget you’re being educated. And that's where Speechless truly excels, delivering a serious message alongside smart comedy that makes you laugh and, more importantly, makes you think. It's compelling family television at its very best.
Creator Scott Silveri's own experiences growing up as the sibling of a nonverbal brother with cerebral palsy adds obvious authenticity to the family dynamic, physical challenges, and emotional struggles of special needs families, and Driver makes an effectively charming turn as Maya, the show's impassioned mother unhinged. But Fowler's winning performance as JJ -- a character as complex and disarmingly funny as any other typically abled teen on television -- is the secret ingredient that makes Speechless a show that's truly worth talking about.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the real-life family of Speechless creator Scott Silveri, who grew up with a nonverbal brother with cerebral palsy. How do Silveri's experiences inform the plot and enhance the characters in ways other writers couldn't?
How does Speechless compare to other shows about characters with special needs? How are disabilities typically portrayed in film and and on television? What's Speechless doing differently, and does it work?
Is Speechless a good choice for families? Why, or why not? How do the DiMeos stack up as role models in the ways they solve problems and communicate?
- Premiere date: September 21, 2016
- Cast: Minnie Driver, Micah Fowler, Mason Cook
- Network: ABC
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Communication, Compassion, Perseverance
- TV rating: TV-PG
- Available on: Streaming
- Award: Common Sense Seal
- Last updated: April 27, 2020
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