Third-episode verdict: Speechless (US: ABC)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Wednesdays, 8.30/7.30c, ABC

Speechless has done a surprisingly good job so far of not running out of things to say. In a show that’s founded on the comedy in how American society treats the disabled, there was the extreme risk from the very first episode that there were only so many nuanced and intelligent things to contribute on this issue.

But the show, which sees Minnie Driver trying to do her best for her son who has cerebral palsy, her other nerdy son, her sporty daughter and her patently odd husband, while they all try to do the best for her, has managed to find a whole lot to say not just about discrimination but about well meaning over-compensation against discrimination, working class families living in middle class neighbourhoods, having overbearing mothers, having odd fathers, being black in an all-white environment, young teachers teaching in schools and more. Clearly, there’s a lot of this coming from real-life observation, rather than watching a whole lot of other TV shows.

Speechless has also managed to do all that while still being funny. Perhaps its main line in laughs comes from the tension between the normal American need to try to be normal and fit in and when achieving that is impossible, because, for example, you’re in a wheelchair and can’t attend a beach party. Or because you like collecting items of trash and the girl you’re with doesn’t. A lot of which is genuinely amusing and original. 

Also of note is that Minnie Driver gets to be English. Not pseudo-English, as per Jameela Jamil’s Good Place character, who puts on a posh accent and talks about ‘suspenders’ when she means braces*. No, proper, sarcastically-pretending-to-enjoy-it’s-called-American-football English. That’s worth a sigh of relief in itself, even beyond the fun of just watching Driver blasting every other actor off the screen à la Tim Roth in Lie To Me.

So Speechless is a quick recommend, as it’s one of the best comedies so far this season. It’s not perfect. There’s at least child in the family who’s dispensible. It’s not Son of Zorn funny. But it’s good, smart, consistent and likable.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? N/A
TMINE’s prediction: Should last until there’s a new entertainment head at ABC, which could be three months or seven years