THE SHOW “Speechless”
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC/7
WHAT IT’S ABOUT What’s the title again? “Speechless,” or “Reckless”? The pilot starts with star Minnie Driver careening her van down the road, in speeding pursuit of — well, Something Important. Because she’s the mother of A Disabled Child who has Needs That Must Be Attended To.
Driver’s relentless mom behaves in capital letters. She’s quick with a quip, and she picks fights with people even before they prove clueless when it comes to her wheelchair teen, J.J. (Micah Fowler). All the better to accelerate the show’s action, leaving (just enough) time to introduce her sidelined husband (likable John Ross Bowie “The Big Bang Theory”), her yearny younger son (Mason Cook, “If There Be Thorns”) and a loudmouthed jock daughter (Kyla Kennedy, “The Walking Dead”) who seems to exist for the sitcom Rule of Three.
It’s no surprise this is the sixth school in two years for J.J., who has cerebral palsy (like actor Fowler) and uses a Stephen Hawking-style computer to express himself (unlike Fowler). Mom is forever uprooting her brood in pursuit of The Best for this son, while neglecting others. This time, though, brainy younger son meets a cute girl nerd and insists they stay put. That conflict climaxes at a school fair, where J.J. connects with a crucial ally (“Reno 911’s” Cedric Yarbrough).
MY SAY If only “Speechless” didn’t play pilot viewers into such an uncomfortable corner. The show’s setup is contrived and obstreperous, yet demands adoration because Driver is A Fun Mom who’s doing The Right Thing by her disabled kid.
Yes, of course, J.J. deserves equal treatment. Especially because he’s not just an outside-the-box TV character, but also, in the work of adept actor Fowler, clearly a great kid. But Driver is so self-righteous in her advocacy, so insensitive to her impact, that a little of her goes a long way. And there’s more than a little of her here.
BOTTOM LINE “Speechless” may well find the right balance to all of this. ABC’s Wednesday time-slot hammock between “The Goldbergs” and “Modern Family” seems meant to give it the chance.