John Ross Bowie as Jimmy, Minnie Driver as Maya.
If you’ve been reading these recaps, you know that I’m a sucker for holiday episodes, so it’s no surprise I was eager to see how Speechless would tackle Thanksgiving. And if I’m being honest, I was also eager to spend 21 minutes with something silly and light tonight. But while “T-h-a-Thanksgiving” is certainly silly, it isn’t exactly light. It even made me reexamine a question the series raised a few episodes back: Are the DiMeos jerks or idiots? But we’ll get to that.
All the DiMeos want for Thanksgiving is to skip out of the fancy country-club affair that Jimmy’s older brother, Billy, has planned for them. Billy is played by Rob Corddry, which is fitting, since Billy is a watered-down, family-friendly version of Corddry’s Hot Tub Time Machine character. Yep, he’s that douche bag. The episode opens on a commercial Billy created for his dental practice in which he plays every single character. We’ve learned over these past few weeks that Jimmy is a master at stuffing down and then dismissing his feelings, but he’s so irritated by Billy and the commercial that he knocks over the family’s television.
So a new plan is hatched: Tell Billy’s family that J.J. is sick and they can’t make Thanksgiving, stay home, and then get in line early to buy a new TV at a Black Friday sale. Maya even invites Kenneth, but informs him he’ll have to bring his own plate since they only own five. Unfortunately, when Jimmy tells Billy that J.J. is sick, Billy says they’ll just come to their place. You’d think Jimmy would be a tad better at making airtight excuses after 16 years of using J.J. as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Meanwhile, Kenneth wants to know what could possibly be so wrong with Jimmy’s extended family, and Maya kicks it off by saying they talk to J.J. like he’s deaf. Dylan adds that her cousin Duncan uses insufferable catchphrases, and J.J. explains that Billy’s mother-in-law puts on one-woman dance recitals for him each year. And then there’s Billy’s incessant bragging (humble and otherwise), plus his wife Audrey’s constantly bursting into tears about poor, brave J.J.
Here’s where the question of jerk versus idiot comes up. To make Thanksgiving bearable, the family devises a game in which they’ll score points every time one of their relatives’ annoying behaviors crops up. I find these people every bit as annoying as the DiMeos do — especially Audrey and her wholly excessive crying — but the game feels mean. It’s a codified way of laughing behind other people’s backs, so it’s not particularly fun to watch. I’m not saying Speechless has to be a nice, sweet show every single week. Arguably, the show is at its best when it steers into darker territory. I’m just saying it would’ve been nice for some sweetness this week. Anyway, after careful consideration, I think we can deem the Tally of Annoyances an idiot move rather than a jerk one. After all, isn’t thinking you can do something snarky and not get caught the ultimate in idiotic schemes?
Fortunately, Jimmy and Billy are in a better place by the time the episode ends. It comes out that Billy and Audrey are broke because he gambled their fortune away, and everyone agrees that, yes, they find one another annoying. At least they’re acknowledging it! Billy and Jimmy go off for a private conversation, and Billy says that he knows Jimmy and his family have a lot going on, “but people have problems and brothers at the same time.” It’s surprisingly poignant, and it would’ve been a nice moment for the episode to end on. Instead, they all head to the superstore, where Jimmy buys the last 60-inch TV, then auctions it off to the shoppers waiting in the Black Friday line. After he accepts $250 from the highest bidder, he presses the cash into Billy’s hand. He’s visibly touched by his brother’s generosity, so much so that he pulls a five-dollar bill out of the stack, hands it back to Jimmy, and says, “Buy yourself something nice.”
Meanwhile, Kenneth and Ray busy themselves setting up a drama-free zone in the kitchen. After telling Maya they’ll be in charge of preparing the feast, Kenneth pulls his phone out of his pocket and asks Siri, “How do you cook?” That phone comes out several more times as he fields calls from family members and screams at them. This all culminates in a weird exchange in which Kenneth comes a tad bit unhinged and starts yelling at Ray. It’s over-the-top, but still really funny, and I love getting to see Kenneth spend one-on-one time with other DiMeos. I like Kenneth the Aide a lot, and Cedric Yarbrough’s chemistry with Micah Fowler is lovely. But I’d really like to keep learning more about Kenneth the Human Being. More scenes like the ones with Ray are a great way to get there. Unrelated: Mason Cook sure is growing up fast! He already looks five years older than he did in the series premiere.
Speaking of Speechless …
- Kudos for bringing on another female director, Speechless. That’s five out of seven episodes so far, a feat that shouldn’t be remarkable but absolutely is.
- “Braces for babies … everybody got a nightguard.” Billy, on selling unnecessary dental procedures.
- Billy’s facial hair consists of the shaggiest imaginable mustache and a barely there soul patch. It’s next-level douche bag.
- At one point, Audrey refers to Maya as a “British Erin Brockovich,” which tracks as both an insult and a compliment.