I’m a sucker for a good Halloween episode, a preference that started all the way back in first grade when I saw the Garfield Halloween special for the first time (it holds up well), and that’s carried me through holiday classics by Community and The Simpsons. That fondness and my respect for Speechless so far brought me into “H-a-l-Halloween” with high hopes, and once again, the show didn’t disappoint.
Right off the bat, it’s clear the episode will give us more insight into who Jimmy is (which was very exciting, as he’s still my secret favorite). Jimmy explains that he can’t run fast, remember things, or win at Tic-Tac-Toe, but he excels at creating group Halloween costumes that incorporate J.J.’s wheelchair. The family has been characters from Titanic, with J.J. as the ship; the Aladdin gang, with J.J. as the magic carpet; and the cast of Star Wars, with J.J. as R2D2. Terrence ruins the family’s walk down memory lane by pointing out that in every single Halloween scenario, Ray and Maya are playing a couple.
We dive deeper into Maya’s head, too, as Jimmy makes a list on the dining-room wall of all the people, places, and things that are “dead to Maya.” (What is it with ABC characters and the wanton wall drawing?) What ostensibly started out as a list of businesses that had wronged J.J. evolves into a list of things that she simply finds annoying. Sal’s Pizza! Hawaiian shirts! The expression, “Uh, you think?!” Credit to the Speechless writing staff: They’ve found creative ways to make Maya terrible, while still making her a great character.
Meanwhile, Ray and J.J. and Dylan come up with their own Halloween plans that aren’t family-costume-friendly: an invitation to help with a haunted house from a newly single Jillian, a chance to go to a real-life high-school party, and an affection for “spookly stuff.” Reflecting on her reason for skipping the family costume, Dylan realizes she probably shouldn’t have gone after J.J. But then again, she seems to have found her true calling in helping Ray and Jillian with the haunted house. She suggests pig’s blood, ordering cadavers online, and briefly waterboarding people. Their finished haunted-house room is so scary that it sends Jillian into the arms of another dude. “But that’s my scare-rousal!” Ray yells, despondently, and storms out. Back at home, he has a heart-to-heart with Jimmy who, to his credit, never uses the sentence, “Calm down, you’re like 14 years old.” Jimmy does, however, tell Ray to let it go, which seems almost revolutionary as sitcoms go. Too often, televised relationships encourage young men to pester women into liking them, which is pretty toxic behavior.
Jimmy takes the news of the canceled family costume hard, saying it physically hurts, and then telling Maya it’s his fault for half-assing the idea this year. As he says that, he pushes a button revealing he’s built a wooden, fully functional (aside from the time travel, presumably) model of the Delorean from Back to the Future. His sorrow is completely understandable — who wouldn’t be bummed to lose a night of the year on which you’re just like every other family, but better? To cheer him up, Maya tells him the entire “dead to her” list is undead, just for tonight. A resurrected zombie list, if you will. (Sorry if zombies don’t actually get resurrected; I might love Halloween TV, but that aforementioned Garfield special is about as scary as I’ll let it get.)
What happens next is pretty predictable: J.J. keeps sending Kenneth to get him water, tissues, and his jacket, so his friends can slip him beer. It’s important to note that it seems like his classmates want him to drink so that he can share in their good time — this doesn’t seem like a case of, “Hey, let’s get the wheelchair kid messed up!” But J.J. comes home completely wasted anyway, and while Kenneth tries to cover for him, he pukes in his lap at the front door. It’s all followed by the typical “we’re disappointed” and “you’re grounded” speeches, but later, Maya and Jimmy celebrate the fact that this was normal, idiot teen stuff. Kenneth makes a semi-confusing, “The friend in me wants you to win!” speech, a dynamic I’m assuming will only get more complex as Speechless continues. But for now, J.J.’s home safe, and the family heads out for candy in their Back to the Future gear. “Are any of these houses open?” Dylan complains. And Jimmy replies, “We’ll find one. It’s only 1:45.” Then J.J. drunk drives the Delorean into a garbage can. Happy Halloween, everyone!
Speaking of Speechless …
- It struck me this week that Speechless doesn’t have an opening-titles sequence or theme song. That’s not a huge loss or anything, but if the show were an ’80s sitcom, you know there’d be insufferable footage of J.J.’s wheelchair rolling around to cheesy music.
- Additional entries on the “Dead to Maya” list: whistling, male baths, puns, cinnamon schnapps, and secret handshakes.
- “Fine. I’ll sing ‘Monster Mash’ next weekend at normal karaoke, like an idiot.” — Kenneth’s response to J.J.’s request for a change in Halloween plans.
- Kenneth shows up in an incredible, full-on Stevie Wonder costume, before realizing J.J.’s wearing everyday clothes to the party. Farewell, Kennie Wonder! We barely knew ye. (He makes a brief appearance again at the end of the episode.)