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Fall TV: ‘Speechless’ is a funny and inclusive family comedy

The cast of ABC’s ‘Speechless,’ from left, Mason Cook, Kyla Kenedy, John Ross Bowie, Minnie Driver, Micah Fowler and Cedric Yarbrough.
The cast of ABC’s ‘Speechless,’ from left, Mason Cook, Kyla Kenedy, John Ross Bowie, Minnie Driver, Micah Fowler and Cedric Yarbrough. ABC

New show: “Speechless”

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, ABC

Cast: Minnie Driver, John Ross Bowie, Mason Cook, Micah Fowler, Cedric Yarbrough

Premise: Fiercely protective (and ferociously funny) mother Maya DiMeo (Driver) will do anything to help her teenage son with cerebral palsy, sometimes to the detriment of her other two children.

Verdict: Finding humor in a family dealing with a condition such as cerebral palsy can be a tricky business. (Just ask “The Michael J. Fox Show” of a few seasons ago that tried – sometimes unsuccessfully – to reap laughs from the star’s real-life Parkinson’s disease.) But “Speechless” is off to a great start, lifted by the go-for-broke comedy talents of Driver. She’s willing to be both the butt of the joke herself and to point out the ridiculousness of others – like her son’s ultra-PC new school that has recently changed its mascot from the violent Vikings to the gentler, and gender-neutral, Sea Slugs. There’s also the way son JJ (actor Fowler has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair) is patronized by his new teacher and classmates. (“He’s taller sitting down than many of us are standing up” they say on first meeting JJ.) Add in Yarbrough as the school janitor who becomes the translator for JJ’s typed messages, and you’ve got the makings of a hit. And bonus points for ABC – home of “Black-ish,” “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Modern Family” – for continuing to have the most inclusive comedies on TV.

Read our complete guide to what to watch and what to skip for the 2016 Fall TV season.

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