Unconventional Comedy is Raising Awareness in Untraditional Way
(NoHo Arts District, Calif. — April 10, 2017) — ABC's Speechless is redefining the rules for comedies on broadcast television by tackling real-life issues with humor while bringing diversity — specifically people with disabilities — to the forefront. In the latest issue of emmy magazine, the cast discusses the challenges of producing a show with tonal complexities that often include wrenching emotional scenes and irreverent humor in the same episode. The award-winning official publication of the Television Academy hits newsstands April 18.
The ABC comedy stars Minnie Driver as Maya DiMeo, a mother who moves her family to a wealthy suburb to provide a better life for her son, J.J., a high school student with cerebral palsy, played by newcomer Micah Fowler. Speechless is one of the few broadcast-network comedies to feature an actor with a disability as a series regular.
Showrunner Scott Silveri, who grew up with a brother with a disability, was committed to involving the disability community in every level of production and was determined to make a show that was funny and entertaining. "If it was too glib, it would have given the people with this disability short shrift, but I thought, 'Maybe we can go for both big silliness and sincerity,'" Silveri says.
Based on the widespread critical acclaim it has received, Speechless appears to have gotten it right. Driver tells emmy that the show and her character are "written with such irreverence and insight into what it is to be in a family that has special needs."
Each episode addresses challenging issues in a smart, comical, kind-hearted way. "It's funny, because when I watch the show, there's such an ease to it, but it's a difficult show to do because you're making these big turns," Driver says. "There will be physical comedy, then these emotional moments. They'll be brief, and you have to go there. It's not easy, but it's challenging and that's why I like it. It's not just, 'Go for the joke and break'. It's myriad and varied and plays on different levels of emotion."
Because J.J. does not speak, Fowler must rely on facial expressions and body movements to give voice to his character instead of dialogue. "We have had days where the tone is serious and even heartbreaking in one or two scenes, and then light and comedic in the next scene," Fowler says via email.
The other cast members are realizing the show's impact as well. Actress Kyla Kenedy, who plays younger sister Dylan, in the series says, "I was at Chick-fil-A and a man came up to me and said 'You are the only reason my son has smiled in months.' His son has cerebral palsy, and this man said he could never find anyone to relate to on television. Plus he's home-schooled, so he doesn't know people like himself. I started tearing up when he said that because stories like that make everything worth it."
Additional feature highlights from the new issue include:
Readers can catch behind-the-scenes video of the cover shoot with the cast of Speechless on on TelevisionAcademy.com.
Emmy, the official publication of the Television Academy, goes behind the scenes of the industry for a unique insider's view. It showcases the scope of television and profiles the people who make TV happen, from the stars of top shows to the pros behind the cameras, covering programming trends and advances in technology. Honored consistently for excellence, emmy is a six-time Maggie Award winner as Best Trade Publication in Communications or the Arts and has collected 49 Maggies from the Western Publishing Association. Emmy is available on selected newsstands and at TelevisionAcademy.com for single-print and digital copies as well as subscriptions.
Download the press release here.
breakwhitelight for the Television Academy