Speechless 2x14 "E-I--Eighteen"
JJ is turning eighteen, and officially becoming an adult! The family counts down the last few seconds until midnight, but instead of saying “Happy Birthday, JJ!” at the stroke of midnight, they all say in chorus to Maya, “You look way too young to have an adult son!” As the DiMeos finish up the last few touches on JJ’s birthday party, Maya asks him if he still wants the same cake he’s been getting for years (called “Fudgy the Whale”). JJ insists that Dylan really wants it, so they have to do it. “Fine, I’ll be your fall guy,” Dylan concedes.
JJ and Kenneth are going to have a special night out to celebrate turning 18, with Maya’s blessing (“Don’t need it.” “Yeah, well, it’s there.” “Don’t want it.” “Just take it!”), but just one condition: no tattoos. Kenneth takes JJ to a convenience store, where they ask for lottery tickets, butane, and their “cheapest cigar.” The cashier guesses that JJ has just turned 18, and helps him go wild with all his new freedom. JJ buys some non-drowsy cold medicine, and the cashier asks if he’s “one of those normal just-turned-eighteen kids,” or if he wanted to “get weird.” He hurriedly adds that he’s just talking about dry ice, and Kenneth says they want to get weird.
While JJ and Kenneth sit outside the convenience store, scratching off the lottery tickets and playing with the dry ice, they run into one of JJ’s friends from school. He tells them about how he has to find a job and an apartment before he starts at Stanford, and you can see JJ’s face fall as he thinks about how he isn’t going to graduate this year, and isn’t as independent as he would like to be.
This is a common thing for teenagers with disabilities—so much of society is focused on independence, and following one particular track of life (graduate high school, move out, go to college, get a job, etc), but often that track doesn’t work for disabled people. I lived with my parents until I was 20, and every show that made jokes about losers living with their parents past 18 was like a little punch to the gut. I also get asked quite frequently about when I’m going to college, and people rarely understand when I explain that I don’t know if or when I’ll go to college, because it’s a huge endeavor for someone with chronic illnesses and fatigue, and I’m happy with the way my life is right now. So I’m really happy that Speechless continues to tackle the hard issues for people with disabilities, instead of just focusing on humor.
JJ is still upset by the time his party rolls around, and asks his friends at the party what they did for their 18th birthdays. He looks around at the balloons and family members in the yard as he hears about one friend’s casino party. Disability often keeps us back from doing things that healthy, able-bodied people our age do. Many venues aren’t wheelchair accessible, or have flashing lights, or don’t have sufficient ASL interpreters or captioning. And then of course some of us have fatigue, which affects our decisions about going out. Not having that sense of independence can really weigh on you when your friends are all off going to college and having fun, and you’re stuck watching from the sidelines.
Jimmy asks JJ why he’s upset at his birthday party, and Kenneth tells him that he thinks JJ is feeling like 18 for other people is different from 18 for him. Jimmy stops Kenneth, and tells him JJ hates it when people try to speak for him... then realizes he just did the same thing. Disabled people often get infantilized, whether by how strangers treat them or by how their lives have to be because of their disabilities. Something about mobility aids seems to make people think you aren’t capable of speaking for yourself—I’ve had people ask my mom when I’m going to college while I’m sitting right next to her in my wheelchair! Double whammy! Maya brings JJ a piece of cake, but he refuses it and tells his parents that he’s leaving. Jimmy tells him that he may be 18, but he still lives under their roof, and needs to be polite. “When will I not live under your roof?” JJ retorts, and drives away, knocking over the table with the cake on it in the process.
Maya goes into the house to find that JJ has gotten a ride from an accessible ridesharing service, and while she gathers her keys and purse and coat, she tells Kenneth that she’s going to treat him like an adult, and not go searching for him. Clearly, her brain and her body have different ideas of what’s going to happen. Kenneth blocks her path out the door, as she requests, and tells her that she’s been so good to JJ, and deserves to be treated better. “I just hope he doesn’t do something stupid,” Maya sighs, as we cut to… a tattoo parlor. Kenneth finds JJ there, and confronts him about his behavior. “Just because you use a wheelchair doesn’t mean you can’t still be a jerk.” I really liked that they addressed this, because often people treat disabled people with kid gloves, thinking that if they don’t let the disabled person get away with everything, they’re being ableist. But like Kenneth pointed out, disabled people can be rude or mean or bratty, and it’s not something to be swept under the rug.
JJ and Kenneth return to the house, and Kenneth reads a sincere apology statement JJ wrote, complete with “Yes mom, it is a bloody tattoo,” timed perfectly with Maya’s noticing of the tattoo. The tattoo is of Fudgy the Whale, to commemorate his eighteenth birthday, and Maya doesn’t hate it, surprisingly enough. Jimmy and Maya then take JJ to the garage to show him his birthday present: they’re turning the garage into a man cave for him! It’s a “nearby but different roof,” as Jimmy says, and goes a long way in helping JJ feel like more of an adult.
Ray’s girlfriend, Taylor, has a foreign exchange student living with her family. He’s tall and handsome, and Ray is more than a little insecure, though he tries not to be. Ray tells Jimmy that he’s feeling threatened by Lars, and Jimmy jokingly says that he’s thinking of leaving Maya for Lars—he has a bag packed and everything. Ray asks Jimmy to help him keep Taylor, but Jimmy tells him that he’s got too much game for Ray to handle, and that he should just stick to being himself, since that’s who Taylor fell in love with in the first place. Ray isn’t satisfied with this answer, though, and goes to Maya to find out Jimmy’s tricks.
At JJ’s birthday party, Jimmy notices that Ray is wearing his jean jacket and talking about guacamole, two of his signature moves for getting a girl, and figures out that Maya must have shown Ray his secret playbook, which Ray definitely isn’t ready for. He puts his hand on Lars’ shoulder way too early! (That, by the way, is “a sophisticated dominance technique based on canine mating dynamics.”) Ray also invites another girl, Kimberly, to JJ’s party, and flirts with her in an attempt to make Taylor jealous. Jimmy tries to put a stop to Ray’s shenanigans, but Ray is sure he knows how best to keep Taylor. His flirting works a little too well, and Kimberly kisses him. He decides he’s done with games and moves and tells Taylor the truth— that Lars made him insecure, so he wanted to make her jealous. Taylor appreciates the honesty, so Ray tells her that Kimberly kissed him. Taylor is heartbroken, even though Ray didn’t kiss her back, and tells him to leave.
The wrestling coach at Dylan’s school sees her wrestle a kid who shot a spitball at her, and asks her to join the wrestling team. She refuses at first, because she’s a runner, not a wrestler, but as she’s darting out of the gym, she runs straight into a cute boy named Rev, who is also on the wrestling team. Dylan decides that wrestling might be fun, especially with cute boys like Rev on the team, so she tells the coach she’ll give it a shot. After their first practice, Rev asks Dylan if he can carry her bag, and after she hands it over, she asks if she can carry his. But then the coach interrupts the sweet moment of young love by telling them that they’re both in the same weight class, and that there’s only room for one at that weight class. So the two will have to have a wrestle-off to decide who gets to be on the team. “But what’s gonna happen when I beat you?” both exclaim.
Dylan laments to her mother about the predicament she’s found herself in, saying, “I wish there was a way to change how much you weigh!” Just then, her eyes light up with an idea. “No. You’re not losing weight for a boy,” Maya tells her. But that wasn’t Dylan’s plan— she’ll gain weight instead! After all, there’s plenty of food at this party. Surely she can jump up a weight class so they can both be on the team. She manages to gain 3 pounds, but when she arrives at practice, she finds that Rev has also gained 3 pounds, also in an attempt to change weight classes so as not to have to do the wrestle-off with Dylan. The coach tells Dylan that if she beats Rev in front of the whole class, he’ll likely be too humiliated to date her, but asks if she would really throw the match for a chance at love. (He loves all wrestling, whether it’s with a person or a dilemma.)
As Dylan and Rev wrestle, Dylan asks him where he’d take her on their first date if she were to let him win. He suggests pizza, and she puts him in a headlock and insists on somewhere “really fancy, with lots of forks.” Dylan decides to let him win, but when Rev is about to pin her, she can’t go through with it and pins him instead. The coach declares her the winner, and she kisses Rev, who actually didn’t mind losing. They decide to compromise and get burgers.
If you’ve been reading my Speechless reviews for very long, you’ll know I absolutely love it—it’s consistently funny, it portrays disability accurately, it tackles hard topics, and they actually have disabled people in the writers’ room and playing disabled characters, which is rare. I’m consistently giving the show 5 bees, but I can’t give them anything lower when every episode consistently delivers the perfect balance of humor to reality.
“Talking about guacamole has a powerful subconscious effect on women. Why? Not sure. It’s a social food, everybody likes it, it’s exotic but not intimidating, it just works.” Jimmy tells Ray about how talking about guacamole automatically makes women like you.
“I’m off to wrestling practice to not humiliate the boy I like,” Dylan declares to her father as she leaves JJ’s birthday party.
“I was all ready to bark at [JJ], but you’ll do. What shall it be about? I take requests.” Maya comes into JJ’s room to address his behavior, but only Kenneth is there and she’s got a full head of steam.
“So you can kick back with your knife, and for some reason, cold medicine.” Jimmy and Maya have moved all of JJ’s new “adult stuff” into the garage-turned-man-cave, and Maya doesn’t know what to make of the cold medicine.
Speechless airs Wednesdays at 8:30/7:30c on ABC.