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ABC’s family sitcom breaks the family sitcom mold.

Speechless ABC
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

There are so many things working against ABC’s sitcom Speechless, currently in its third season. For one thing, how many different iterations of the family sitcom can there possibly be? For another, Minnie Driver’s turn as an overbearing mother could come off as, well, overbearing. And finally, many of the show’s punchlines rely on J.J. (Micah Fowler), the family’s oldest son, who has cerebral palsy and cannot speak. Having to rely on the other characters reading aloud what J.J. spells out on his letter board could end up proving tiresome, but Speechless instead feels like a fresh and funny story about a family with a special-needs child that doesn’t try to overstate or underplay how J.J.’s cerebral palsy affects everybody’s day-to-day lives. And it’s also sneakily smart about economic class, as J.J. and his family have greater financial struggles than most of the folks in their upper-class California neighborhood.

“J.J. quickly became a fully fleshed-out character and the show sagaciously leaned into stories specific to his situation. But viewers shouldn’t forget that Speechless is a damn funny show even without the good vibes you get while watching.” Ben Travers, Indiewire

Metacritic score: N/A (79 out of 100 for season one)

Where to watch: New episodes of Speechless air Fridays at 8:30 pm Eastern on ABC. Previous episodes are available on Hulu.