Michael Fowler, an actor with cerebral palsy, has been cast in a new ABC comedy pilot, Speechless, also starring Good Will Hunting‘s Minnie Driver.
Variety reports that Speechless, ABC’s new comedy, is scheduled to air in September, Fowler plays Driver’s special needs teenage son, J.J., who not only lives with cerebral palsy, but also cannot talk. The 30-minute show portrays Driver as doting a mother Maya DiMeo, who’ll stop at nothing to help her children, which includes J.J.’s two younger siblings, played by Kyla Kenedy and Mason Cook. According to ABC’s description of the new show,
As Maya fights injustices both real and imagined, the family works to make a new home for themselves, and searches for just the right person to give JJ his ‘voice.’”
In a quest to find the perfect school for J.J., DiMeo has uprooted her family numerous times, to different towns, despite the complaints of her two youngest children, who do not have cerebral palsy.
Cook, who plays Ray, the youngest child, seems to support his mother’s decision to help his older brother, although the pilot indicates that he’s getting tired of moving to different schools. He also refers to himself as the “the only adult in the family.”
Comedy writer Niki Schwartz-Wright, arguably best-known for producing Grinder (the now-cancelled show that starred Rob Lowe and Fred Savage), is scheduled to join Speechless as the supervising producer. According to 20th Century Fox Television President Jonnie Davis,
“Niki has a fierce and original comedic voice and she did fantastic work for us on The Grinder last season. We knew we wanted to be in business with her exclusively, and she’s the perfect addition to the dream team Scott, Jake and Melvin are putting together for Speechless. She’s a big talent with a bright future and we’re thrilled to have her on our roster.”
Although this is Fowler’s first television series, in 2013, he landed a role in the film Labor Day, starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. He recently emailed The Mighty, and gave his insight on what it’s like playing someone with issues so close to his own.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to play the role of a down-to-earth normal teen living with the challenges of cerebral palsy, and I am thrilled to represent the millions of people living with special needs. In real life, I live every day conquering challenges brought on by cerebral palsy.”
Fowler, who recently went on a prom date, also stated that he hopes that the new show will bring more public awareness to cerebral palsy, and most importantly, will encourage people not to feel so uncomfortable around people with special needs and to hopefully reach out to them and hang out with them, as they are the same as any other child, and love to feel included.
Currently, there is no other show on any network that touches on the topics that Speechless plans to carry out. At least 20% of the population has some form of disability, according to census data, yet there aren’t nearly enough leading or supporting characters in television shows that represent people with special needs.
Speechless, which also stars John Ross Bowie as Jimmy DiMeo, J.J.’s father, will air this Fall, on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. Watch the show’s official trailer below.