The first episode of “Speechless” Season 2 starts with a flurry. Part of the action comes from the plot, as the DiMeo family wakens to the startling revelation that their house has been tented for fumigation. In a panic, Maya (Minnie Driver), Jimmy (John Ross Bowie), and their children, Ray (Mason Cook), Dylan (Kyla Kenedy), and J.J. (Micah Fowler) roll out of bed and go rushing out into the street wearing nothing but their pajamas.
The whirlwind of activity also complements a mad rush of situational, verbal, and physical jokes. Starting inside Ray’s imagination, the cold open unveils our newly dating middle-child is being “incepted” by Dylan, who’s whispering negative thoughts into his ear in order to ruin his dreams (quite literally). When he tells her to go back to sleep, they realize it’s noon; a fact they missed because the tent draped over their house is blocking out most of the sun’s light.
Within moments, Ray is bouncing off the tarp covering the front door and Maya is shouting her trademark, “Oy!” at the fumigators. In short, the beginning of “Speechless” Season 2 casually illustrates just how incredibly clever this family can be. There’s so much comedy packed into a tight two minutes, it’s easy to forget the series isn’t often marketed that way.
So let this serve as a reminder, a motivating tool, or some brand new information (hopefully not the latter): “Speechless” isn’t just another sweet family comedy. It’s a very, very funny one, too.
Nothing better illustrates the point than the first two episodes of the new season. After the above introduction, Episode 1 gets into its main storyline: that the DiMeos have been using J.J., the son with cerebral palsy, as an excuse to slack off or avoid responsibilities. Filled with insightful delights — like Ray being reduced to a shell of his former self once there’s nothing left for him to criticize — the premiere, “W-E–WE’RE B-A–BACK!”, finds time for big heartfelt moments (like a romantic first for J.J.) and creative comedic bits.
There’s even a musical number, for Pete’s sake, led by one of the series’ many breakout stars, Cedric Yarbrough, as J.J.’s aide, Kenneth. (Yarbrough, for what it’s worth, is probably right behind Fowler and neck-and-neck with Kenedy.) Kenneth is, plainly put, an absolute treasure. Infused with an infectious enthusiasm by Yarbrough, the aide is capable of surprising at every turn without ever losing authenticity. He’s given plenty of human moments, especially with J.J., and Season 2 feels like he’s growing into an even more fleshed out friend of the family.
But that musical number. Oh, Yarbrough nails it. Credit to the episode’s writer (and series creator) Scott Silveri for crafting a quippy riff on Looking Glass’ “Brandy” (recently featured in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” which Jimmy mentions in the show), as Yarbrough brings all his comic talents to a number that sees him dancing from room to room, introducing the many cheap tricks employed by the DiMeos to save money. From a gaggle of shampoo bottles flipped upside-down to Starbucks napkins as toilet paper, the song feels like something Kenneth could make up on the spot, but it’s smart enough to entertain.
It exemplifies the fine balance “Speechless” has achieved in its second season. Rarely do you question the authenticity of this family; often are you moved by their compassion, patience, and commitment; but you’re always laughing. Season 1 was praised repeatedly for blending heart and humor. Over the course of its first 23 episodes, it was clear Silveri’s heart was in the right place, as J.J. quickly became a fully fleshed-out character and the show sagaciously leaned into stories specific to his situation. But viewers shouldn’t forget that “Speechless” is a damn funny show even without the good vibes you get while watching.
So sit back and enjoy the madness. This kind of controlled chaos only comes around every so often, and rarely is it this hysterical.
“Speechless” premieres Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.