The voice of rea­son

Min­nie Driver stars as the mum of a child with spe­cial needs in Speech­less, a sit­com with pur­pose, em­pa­thy – and lots of hu­mour in ad­ver­sity, which starts on OSN Se­ries Com­edy HD on Mon­day, writes Greg Kennedy

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page -

Liv­ing with cere­bral palsy is no pic­nic, which makes it all the more amaz­ing how Speech­less – a new hit sit­com star­ring Min­nie Driver ( Good Will Hunt­ing, The Riches) as the fiercely pro­tec­tive mother of a non-ver­bal son – spins such a se­ri­ous premise into fam­ily fun, heart and hi­lar­ity as sweet as candy floss.

Dur­ing its 23- episode first sea­son on Amer­i­can TV net­work ABC, which ended last week, the se­ries, which be­gins on Mon­day on OSN First Com­edy HD, quickly be­came a dar­ling with view­ers and crit­ics, earn­ing a 98 per cent rating on Rot­ten Toma­toes.

Driver stars as Maya DiMeo, a Bri­tish mum on a mis­sion who will do any­thing for her fam­ily, dis­play­ing a brassy per­son­al­ity that could in­tim­i­date moun­tains into mov­ing. When we first meet her, she is mov­ing her fam­ily into the most di­lap­i­dated house in an up­scale Amer­i­can neigh­bour­hood to get her eldest son, J J – who com­mu­ni­cates us­ing head­gear with a laser pointer to in­di­cate words, let­ters and num­bers on a board – into a bet­ter school.

“I’m sick of see­ing dis­abled peo­ple, peo­ple with spe­cial needs – what­ever the ver­biage is you choose to use – de­picted as peo­ple who can’t wait to die and want to get away from it,” says Driver. “It’s aw­ful. These are ro­bust, amaz­ing lives that need to be cel­e­brated. They need to have a laugh, God knows.” The break­out star is Micah Fowler, who por­trays J J. He has the same con­di­tion as his char­ac­ter, though he can speak, halt­ingly, but clearly. The 19-year-old is help­ing to break new ground for spe­cial-needs ac­tors, fol­low­ing on from the work of ac­tor R J Mitte, who also has cere­bral palsy, as Walt Jr in Break­ing Bad. “All you have to do is just come and get to know us ... and we are just like any­body else,” says Fowler.

The show treads a fine line, gen­er­at­ing hu­mour with­out ever be­ing mawk­ish or of­fen­sive – and Fowler wrings huge laughs out of the tini­est of fa­cial move­ments.

“It was tough at the be­gin­ning,” he says. “This role made me a bet­ter ac­tor be­cause I have to use fa­cial ex­pres­sions – and [be funny] too.”

Driver is full of praise for her on­screen son. “He’s a magic ac­tor,” she says. “Funny. Sly – I think peo­ple are go­ing to fall in love with him. Micah’s body has some chal­lenges, but his mind is beau­ti­ful and amaz­ing and sharp. He him­self is full of alacrity and hu­mour.” While hav­ing an amaz­ing war­rior mother might ben­e­fit J J, the daily dra­mas that en­sue can be try­ing for other mem­bers of the fam­ily, in­clud­ing Maya’s hus­band Jimmy. He is played, sym­pa­thet­i­cally, by John Ross Bowie, pre­vi­ously best-known as the less-than-like­able Barry Kripke, Shel­don’s sci­en­tist neme­sis on The Big Bang The­ory.

“You fight and fight to make sure J J has a nor­mal life,” Jimmy tells Maya, “but maybe he’s not the only one who de­serves that”.

This is a clear ref­er­ence to what he per­ceives as her ne­glect of their other chil­dren, Ray (Ma­son Cook), a schol­arly mid­dle child who acts as the “brains” in the fam­ily, and Dy­lan (for­mer The Walk­ing Dead star Kyla Kenedy), their nonon­sense ath­letic daugh­ter. Jimmy’s saving grace and strength as the fam­ily’s pil­lar is that he doesn’t seem to care what other peo­ple think. In a poignant fa­ther-son mo­ment, he con­fides in Ray: “All this stuff ... other peo­ple’s opin­ions, it’s noth­ing. You know what’s not noth­ing? It’s when the doc­tor tells you there’s some­thing wrong with your kid. All the things he’s never go­ing to do – and it’s a nice, long list.”

“My dad wrote that,” says se­ries cre­ator and showrun­ner Scott Sil­veri ( Friends), who loosely based Speech­less on his own up­bring­ing. “He’s not a poet or any­thing, but a guy whose ex­pe­ri­ence re­ally crafted his world view. As long as I’ve been do­ing this for a liv­ing, I’ve been want­ing to de­pict a fam­ily like the one I grew up in, with some­body who is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent.

“I wish we had more speeches like [my dad’s we could use],” he adds with a laugh. “We had 23 episodes to fill.”

It can’t be easy to be the heart of a hit TV show in a wheel­chair, with­out words, re­ly­ing to­tally on phys­i­cal­ity – let alone do it as well as Fowler – but his win­ning at­ti­tude says it all. “I choose to do my very best,” he says.

be­gins on Mon­day at 8pm on OSN Se­ries Com­edy HD

Ni­cole Wilder / ABC via AP

From left, Kyla Kennedy, Ma­son Cook, Micah Fowler and Min­nie Driver star in the sit­com Speech­less.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.