When I went out for lunch with Will recently, he asked me about a film I’d reviewed for Creative Non-Fiction a little while ago – the critically-acclaimed Whiplash. As we discussed our shared enjoyment of it, it occurred to me that I have never published a film or TV review – or at least a post of appreciation – here before. What I wrote for that film may yet be uploaded, but for this post I’ve decided to focus on Speechless, an American sitcom that has only just arrived on British screens. There’s so much comedy on offer to us nowadays that the good examples must really shine in order to stand out, and Speechless had me intrigued from the very first episode I saw. It’s being broadcast on E4, but I knew straight away that I had to dig deeper to make the most of it, so I found the rest of its three seasons on YouTube.
In case you haven’t seen it, Speechless follows the exploits of the weird and wonderful DiMeo family, consisting of mum Maya (Minnie Driver), dad Jimmy (John Ross Bowie), and their three children, Ray (Mason Cook), Dylan (Kyla Kennedy), and JJ (Micah Fowler). The latter is the one around whom all their lives revolve. Like me, JJ has cerebral palsy, albeit in a more severe form than me or the actor who plays him. He is given a great deal of physical assistance from both his family and his aide Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough), with whom he forms something of a double act. The show’s title alludes to the fact that he does not speak – instead, he uses a laser pointer and word board to communicate, and Fowler had to learn to use both of these prior to taking his role. The result of this is a wide array of reactions and expressions, all of which allow the viewer to connect and laugh with him, without ever needing to hear a word. Of course, it is immensely satisfying to see that despite his differences to others, JJ is accepted and engaged with like any other teenager by his peers. So far, I’ve seen him join his school choir (using Kenneth as his “singing voice”), get drunk at a house party and find love, and I can’t wait to see him get up to more mischief – he isn’t made a total saint…
What’s even more pleasing to see, though, is cerebral palsy itself being highlighted so prominently on TV, and so brilliantly by Fowler. Whilst I have seen disabled characters and actors before (albeit not often enough), I can scarcely remember another occasion when I have seen someone with my condition. I’ve never met anyone whose cerebral palsy affects them in the same way mine does, such are the differences between cases, but to see it at all means a great deal. It’s therefore such a shame that Speechless has literally just been cancelled – I can’t help but feel that this important, entertaining and very much cherished show has been cruelly snatched away from me just as I’m getting hooked on it. Nevertheless, there are plenty more episodes for me to devour just yet!