Ever since the success of the show, ABC seems to have made ‘Modern Family’ its motto. Leading the charge on diverse sitcoms, in recent years it has put out excellent shows like Black-ish, Fresh off the boat and, now, Speechless. This sitcom follows the DiMeo family as they relocate to a new town in order to be able to better provide for their oldest child JJ who has cerebral palsy.
Speechless starts off strongly, with a tightly paced in medias res opening sequence that rapidly establishes the character dynamics. Minnie Driver is the well-meaning but embattled mother, competitive and jumping at the bit to right any perceived injustices, while John Ross Bowie (The Big Bang Theory’s Barry Kripke) is her sarcastic straight-man counterpart. Echoing his father’s wit is the aforementioned JJ, played by real-life Cerebral Palsy sufferer Micah Fowler. Then there are his younger siblings: the quintessential middle-child, Ray, and the hyper-competitive runner Dylan. An additional appendix to the family comes in the form of the school groundskeeper, Kenneth, acting as an aide to and the voice of JJ.
The comedy is disarming and charming, but still manages to maintain a wry edge. It very much has the feel of a John Green or early Wes Anderson coming of age comedy, but with a healthier dose of reality. While it leans on certain character archetypes, it never feels stale. This sitcom is like an onion; it has layers. Take, for example, the aforementioned archetypal ‘middle child’. He is well realised in his motivations and is sympathetic and understandable in his actions. Pains are taken to ensure that these characters are justified, and doing so makes them feel very real despite their surface-level derivativeness. It is refreshingly optimistic, and while it treats JJ’s condition seriously, it does not reduce him to his condition.
He is witty, sharp, and comfortable in his own skin. I look forward to see how the premise develops with time.