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We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

TV Series Review

Having a disability is a funny thing.

Not "ha-ha" funny, mind you. I would never suggest that. But funny in a curious way. People who have disabilities know they must do things differently than their peers. The mere presence of a wheelchair can … change things. And it can change people around them.

In ABC's Speechless, disability—and how people deal with it—can be funny indeed. Too bad it can be a bit foul, as well.

Handi-Capable

J.J. Dimeo has cerebral palsy, which has robbed him of the ability to speak and walk. But despite those impediments, J.J. is doing OK. He cruises through life in a fancy wheelchair. He communicates with a massive keyboard and with a Bluetooth-like laser pointer attached to his head. His physical abilities may be impaired, but mentally he's just peachy, thanks very much.

Too bad the same can't be said about his family.

Maya, his mother, is determined to give J.J. as normal a school experience as possible—even if that means she has to check J.J. into every high school in the region. J.J.'s on his sixth in a two-year span, with Maya and husband Jimmy moving the whole Dimeo clan into a truly frightening house just to be in the right school district. She'll call foul on any insensitivity—real or imagined—that bounces J.J.'s way. If a school's not accessible enough, she'll holler until it is. School administrators run when they see Maya. Like, they literally sprint—sometimes tripping over shrubbery in their rush to escape.

But it's not just J.J. who's on his sixth school. His younger siblings, Ray and Dylan, are too. They've found their own ways to cope with their family's literal and metaphorical instability. Smart, geeky Ray retreats into his books and his love of astronomy and, recently, an attraction to a fellow star-gazer named Jillian. Dylan loses herself in sports. And she has very little patience for her new school's habit of ignoring scores and praising everyone, no matter how badly they perform. "Not amazing, Emma!" she hollers, counteracting her coach. "You're slow!"

A Mixed Bag

Speechless feels a lot like ABC's The Middle with wheelchair accessibility. It's clever and zany and, in its own wacky way, insightful. While some treat J.J. like a charity case and others treat him with exaggerated reverence, the show itself treats him as a flawed, realistic person: It doesn't ignore his cerebral palsy, because that's part of what makes him who he is. Nor does it ignore how that disability impacts the people closest to him, because that's part of what makes them who they are, too.

My favorite moment in the pilot comes as Maya considers moving the family yet again, even though middle son Ray would really like to stick around for once. And Jimmy drops a little wisdom in his wife's lap.

"You fight and fight for J.J. to have a normal life," he tells her. "Maybe he's not the only one who deserves that."

Speechless has been praised by both critics and families dealing with their own disabled kids. And the show's credentials are boosted by the fact that Micah Fowler, the actor who plays J.J., has a neurological disorder himself.

But from a content perspective, Speechless sometimes still says the wrong things.

Even as Maya tries to ensure that J.J. isn't mocked or abused, the Dimeo family—including J.J.—doesn't always extend the same grace to others. (Indeed, a woman hired to serve as J.J.'s interpreter is essentially bullied out of her job by J.J. and the family.) Sexual content and allusions sometimes make an appearance. And the language, while pretty typical by modern sitcom standards, may at times make viewers wish these characters were at least temporarily speechless.

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Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Speechless: Sept. 21, 2016 "Pilot"
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