In a society of growing body positivity and disability awareness, comedy series “Special” is a breath of fresh air. Netflix released “Special” on April 12, a show that follows Ryan, a 28-year-old gay man with cerebral palsy. “Special is co-produced by “Big Bang Theory” actor Jim Parsons.
A semi-autobiographical series written and co-produced by Ryan O’Connell, “Special” begins at a period of Ryan’s life where he lands an internship at the hub of a fictional blog site named “Eggwoke.” Ryan mentions that he was in a car accident before he started working there, and his coworkers assume that his limp and difficulties with dexterity are a result of that and not cerebral palsy. Afraid that his place of employment will not accept him, he doesn’t correct them.
The main character is played by an actor who gives accurate representation of the condition and the sexuality in the media. Lately there has been an uprise of controversy when actors portray characters with disabilities or members of the LGBTQ+ community when they don’t fit the description in real life. A popular case is when Eddie Redmayne portrayed a transgender woman in “The Danish Girl” in 2015. When Netflix released the trailer for “Special,” there were many supporters of the show, praising it for casting a person who has cerebral palsy and is gay in real life.
At 28, Ryan is still living with his mother and he finds himself becoming codependent on her, as their Saturday night rituals include going to Macaroni Grill. Realizing that he needs a change, Ryan starts trying to be more independent by moving out and spending more time with his coworker-turned-friend Kim. He develops more gay friends and tries to expand his comfort zone.
As the series progresses, Ryan comes to realize that he hasn’t fully accepted himself as a disabled person, projecting his internalized ableism onto a deaf person that he interacts with.
Ryan mentions his struggles with accepting his cerebral palsy to his physical therapist, saying that he feels like he is in limbo: “I’m not able-bodied enough to be hanging in the mainstream world, but I’m not disabled enough to be hanging out with the cool PT crowd.” Since he has a mild case of cerebral palsy, he doesn’t know where to fit it. “Special” also shines a light on his mother’s life. She struggles with balancing her protective nature over her son and caring for her elderly mother with dementia, and allowing herself to have a social life and romantic relationships.
After the ending of “Special,” I was left wanting more. The episodes are all around 15 minutes long and there were only eight episodes in the first season. Because of the short nature of the episodes, it almost felt like I was watching a web series. Normally, Netflix original series have episodes between 30 and 45 minutes long, so I was shocked to see this. Additionally, there were multiple product placements throughout the series from services like Wayfair and Microsoft computers which led me to believe that there wasn’t a large production budget for the series.
Overall, “Special” is an interesting and easily bingeable show, seeing as all of the episodes together are around 120 minutes in total. Hopefully Netflix renews this show because it is great to have both gay and disabled characters played by actors who fit those demographics in real life. Additionally, the season ends on a cliffhanger and there is definitely more I’d like to know about Ryan’s journey.