Ryan (Ryan O’Connell) is a twenty-one year old gay man with mild cerebral palsy who lives with his protective mom, Karen (Jessica Hecht). He decides to take on an unpaid internship Eggwoke (imagine Buzzfeed meets Vice) and shortly after is hit by a car. Seeing this as an opportunity to pass off his disability as an after effect of the accident he decides to reinvent himself with hilarious and life changing consequences.
I almost immediately fell in love with Ryan as a character. He is awkward, snarky, sweet and fabulous all in one charming package. His journey is heartwarming to watch but the character is never sugar coated and there are times when Ryan is selfish, nasty and hypocritical which humanises and rounds him.
I loved how openly his disability and the limitations and challenges it causes are explored. It’s an eye opener for able-bodied audiences but never exploitative or played for laughs.
There are two core relationships at the heart of Special, the first is between Ryan and Karen. Karen’s whole life revolves around Ryan, which means she has largely forgotten about her own wants and needs. This drives Ryan nuts but when she does give him some freedom and start exploring a potential romantic connection, he suddenly struggles with not being the centre of her life. Jessica Hecht is perfect for Karen and imbues her with both strength and vulnerability in the face of a complete rethink of her life.
The other relationship is with Ryan’s colleague and new bestie, Kim (Punam Patel). Kim is not conventionally attractive (according to boring Western stereotypes) but comes across as a powerful force for body positivity in both her own life and Ryan’s. She pushes Ryan out of his comfort zone and provides a foil to his constant self-doubt. However, some of Kim’s outward bravado is a front and seeing her succumb to some of the hurtful things that are said about her was so relatable. I loved her and their friendship.
Special is presented in bite-sized episodes less than twenty minutes long so its easy to fly through. It is also impressive how much is packed into such short snippets. It’s possibly a little breakneck and would benefit from longer episodes in future.
It ended on a cliff hanger and I am hungry for a second season to find out what happens between Ryan and Karen and with both of their burgeoning love lives. Let’s hope Netflix renews!