It is difficult to sit down and watch a half-hour comedy at a time like this, and it would be disingenuous for me to claim otherwise. I wish I had something more or better or broader to say about the state of our world and what role television might play going forward — especially television about love and kindness and complicated families — but for now, this disclaimer is all I’ve got.
This week, Speechless continues Ray’s misadventures on the journey toward becoming an Average Teen Boy. He’s thrilled when some friends ask if they can watch the MMA fight over at his house — after all, he’s taken a year off from dating and made a vow of celibacy ever since Gillian rejected him. He really could use a little time to bro down, and he’s upset when his plans intersect with the party for special-needs moms that Maya is hosting on the same night. Ray pouts about it, and Maya inimitably throws back, “If you get embarrassed by six strong mums that party as hard as they love, well … you need to check your privilege,” and then quickly whisper-asks Jimmy if that’s the correct use of “check your privilege.” It’s not, which is part of what makes it so perfect.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, Ray is awful at having dude friends. He starts their hang session by pulling out a pack of conversational ice-breaking cards, and reads the first one aloud. “Have you ever spoken in front of a large group of people? How did it go?” Everyone politely ignores him and starts talking about girls. Ray scores some wordplay points along the way, but he’s pretty much stuck on the outskirts of the conversation. His friends start talking about some girls they hooked up with at bar mitzvahs, and Ray, adorably, dorkishly, heartbreakingly, tries to steer the conversation back to his lame conversation starter. “Let’s get back to this bar mitzvah. Did Jeremy speak in front of a large group? How did it go?” It’s far funnier than it has any right to be.
Ray starts to lose face a little bit after his friends overhear Maya swooning about how sweet he is, so he tries to convince them that he has a girlfriend. They swipe his phone and find a picture of a nipple, but the only problem is it’s actually Ray’s nipple not a girlfriend’s. This makes Ray a bit of a legend at his high school … until he’s called into the principal’s office for distributing a sexual picture of a minor. And that sets off a massive fight between him and Maya. She’s furious with him for taking advantage of a young girl, but once she realizes it’s his nipple, she’s dead set on making him come clean. Ray digs in his heels, and somehow convinces his mom that he should get to retain all the street cred he’s generated through the sheer force of his own nipple. She tells the principal that, yes, Ray has been sending photos of a young woman around, and just as the principal’s about to mete out punishment, Dylan walks in, looks at the desk, and asks, “Why are we all looking at Ray’s nipple?”
Meanwhile, J.J. befriends Claire, who’s in a wheelchair for a few weeks because of two broken ankles. He’s asked to show her the ropes, which leads to a tour including one ramp, one elevator, and one inspirational poster. Kenneth switches from aide to wingman, and invites Claire to participate in one of J.J.’s physical therapy sessions. He expertly continues his wingman-ing throughout the session, making J.J. look properly strong and accomplished. When Claire’s ready to try putting weight on her casted legs, J.J. flashes the square on his voice board that reads, “Do it better, Kenneth!” This means we get to hear Kenneth’s best Rocky imitation as he cheers Claire on. It’s a pretty bad imitation, but Claire invites J.J. over to study for midterms nonetheless. Sadly, it’s not a date — it’s just a group hang. But J.J. invites Claire over to watch Rocky sometime soon, so all isn’t lost just yet. I really, really liked this as a first “love” story for J.J. He didn’t fall head over heels or anything, and he wasn’t mocked or made to feel like he couldn’t ask Claire out. It felt both realistic and hopeful.
There’s also a spot of bother with Dylan and a trophy case, in keeping with the episode’s side thesis that siblings of special-needs children act out because they need attention. She gets mad about the trophy culture at Lafayette High, claiming it promotes mediocrity, and smashes a good sportsmanship award in protest. (Maya rightly criticizes her for not smashing the “Most Improved Participation” trophy.) She asks Jimmy why he doesn’t react and get angry the way she and Maya do, and he responds with an unofficial “take your daughter to work day.” It turns out he works at a lost-baggage office in an airport and gets yelled at all day. Later, he shows Dylan that he blows the rage off by lying on the ground, yelling up at airplanes. It’s unconventional father-daughter bonding, and that’s exactly what makes it work so nicely.
Speaking of Speechless…
- “You are a VERY unhelpful level of drunk.” Ray to Maya, while she’s sloshed on sangria but still won’t let him serve beer at his guys’ night.
- “Is it a baby? I WON’T love it, Ray, I promise.” Maya’s response to Ray saying that he had a terrible secret.
- “I am never wrong about women. Aside from my two ex-wives. Wait, am I always wrong about women?” Oh, Kenneth.