There aren’t many shows on air that feature actual disabled actors in credible and good roles but the landscape is quickly changing. When Breaking Bad cast RJ Mitte as Walter White’s son they proved that a character with cerebral palsy could be effectively portrayed by a person with the condition. The brilliance of the role and the importance of the implication wasn’t lost on the actor who now advocates for the cause. In came ABC with Speechless, a beautiful response to the call.
Written as a family sitcom, the show focuses on the life of a special needs kid. His parents and siblings bend over backwards to improve his quality of life making sacrifices along the way that set and alter the overall power dynamic. Realizing JJ is fully functioning mentally but unable to move physically due to the severety of his cerebral palsy is a treat because this teenager’s lines and interactions convince you that he is living a happy go lucky existence. You learn to appreciate his humor and charm, especially when delivered through the antics of his communication aid and once school janitor Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough).
Younger brother Ray and sister Dylan have to pull their weight and help JJ through his adolescences while dealing with their own high school issues. Their mother Maya, played by Mini Driver, isn’t making things any easier with her over the top, force to be reckoned with attitude. She has to be fierce since as a mother of three, one with special needs, she has to go above and beyond to make life as normal and fair as possible for all which can be a challenged due to her son’s handicap. In contrast, Jimmy (the dad) is the laid back partner in crime that balances the crazy to hotness ratio of his wife and provides insight into the life of special needs dads and to the hardship of providing for his unconventional family.
What struck me the most about the series is that the DiMeo’s decided to have more children after having a child with a disability this restrictive and care intensive. It never dawnes on me that there are many families put there that decided to make the best of it and ran with what they were handed, building beautiful chaotic lives for their children despite the economic and emotional strain of their situation. Their journey, although scripted, is inspiring as they are truly living the American Dream albeit it with great difficulties.
Speechless is one of the best comedies on the air. Take a look at Season One and tell me what you think! It redefines the term #thestruggleisreal in a funny way. Watch live Wednesdays on ABC.