Speechless, an ABC comedy that premiered on September 21, is shining awareness on disabilities via a fictional family who works together to provide a better life for their son J.J., a teen with cerebral palsy who’s just like any other person his age.
According to Scott Silveri, the creator of the Speechless, the aim of the show is to be funny, while at the same time accurately portraying the challenges faced by kids with cerebral palsy. He created Speechless based upon his own childhood. He grew up with a disabled brother, but he does admit that it’s easier to create episodes “the farther away” he gets from his own experiences.
“It’s like where comedy meets therapy…. It’s actually gotten easier and easier the farther away I’ve gotten from my actual experience. There are things that are sacrosanct, things that I’m determined to portray, but around the margins it’s served us well to move away from my exact experience.”
Silveri enlisted the help of Richard Ellenson, chief executive of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, to ensure that the show touched on all aspects of cerebral palsy, a disorder that can range from mild to severe, with a variety of side effects and associated disorder. Ellenson said that it’s difficult to portray the disorder 100% correctly, since it varies so much, depending on each person who has it.
It’s cerebral palsy. You’re not going to get it right. The point is, let’s not get it wrong. What the show is doing is being brave and honest and using humor to avoid pussyfooting around. It’s allowing us to start conversations that people are uncomfortable starting.”
Meet Micah Fowler
Michah Fowler, an actor who Entertainment Weekly (EW) calls the “breakout star” of Speechless, plays the part of J.J. DiMeo, one of the first lead characters in a sitcom with cerebral palsy. Fowler, 18, who also has cerebral palsy, played small roles in a handful of shows while growing up, such as in Sesame Street and Blues Clues, but as a child, he realized that there weren’t many shows that focused on people with disabilities.
Growing up a huge TV and movie fan, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of characters dealing with disabilities.”
That all changed when he was offered the role of J.J., a teen with cerebral palsy who’s confined to a wheelchair and unable to talk. Fowler also uses a wheelchair in real life, but unlike J.J., he can use his arm muscles to move around. He indicated that he has to remember to restrain the urge to use his arms while playing J.J., who communicates solely through a laser pointer. Yet, it’s something the young actor is used to doing.
All of my acting choices have to come through my expressions alone.”
Minnie Driver stars as Jimmy’s (John Ross Bowie) wife, and mother to both J.J. and Dylan (Kyla Kenedy). While reflecting on J.J., Driver said that despite his disabilities, he’s just like any other teenage boy.
“He likes girls, wants to try beer for the first time, wants to hang out and get in with the cool kids.”
Driver, a veteran actress, commended Fowler on his exceptional job while playing J.J. She stated that he was “absolutely inspiring in terms of his work ethic.”
The next episode of Speechless premieres October 5 at 8:00 p.m. EST. Check out the official Speechless trailer below!