A review of last night’s Speechless — but really, thoughts on the ABC comedy’s wonderful first season as a whole — coming up just as soon as I tell you what was inside Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase…
When it debuted in the fall, Speechless seemed like another impressive product from the ABC family sitcom factory, feeling simultaneously linked to the other ones and distinct because of its premise and focus on special needs children and parents. Over the course of this season, it’s evolved into my favorite of the bunch, in part because it has the advantage of being the new kid on the block (black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, and the others haven’t gotten worse, but they’re inherently less surprising after being around a few years), but also because Scott Silveri and company have done such a great job of digging deeper into the world and its characters.
Maya needed no expanding, because the character and Minnie Driver’s blunt performance (“Oi!” has become a preferred exclamation in our household) arrived fully-formed. But the writers have gradually figured out what makes the others tick, so that even though Jimmy is deferential to Maya on virtually everything, he’s also the one who sets the emotional tone for the family, and also the one who draws the ethical line between the DiMeos trying to derive benefits from their situation and just being jerks. John Ross Bowie’s underplaying makes the bigness of what Driver’s doing possible; under perfect circumstances, like Kaczmarek and Cranston on Malcolm in the Middle(*), you can have two operatic performances, but a balance works better.
(*) Full credit to @toetyper on Twitter for opening my eyes to the many parallels between Speechless and Malcolm: terrifying alpha mom, cowed beta dad who has let the house fall down around him (much to the chagrin of the neighbors), a smart middle kid constantly objecting to how the family conducts itself, etc. The reality of Malcolm was more exaggerated, but they’re definitely spiritual cousins.