Take a peek into this “Special” show

Grace Yang, Staff Writer

Courtesy of Netflix

When it comes to producing content, Netflix has found a steady strategy: throw it at the wall, and see what sticks. On a monthly basis, the streaming service releases its self-produced shows and movies, some which are met with shocking success (“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” anyone?) while others are completely forgettable (looking at you, “The Silence”). The new comedy “Special” is decidedly the former.  

“Special,” based on Ryan O’Connell’s memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves,” is a social satire that plays with the millennial idea of finding one’s self. It’s a quick watch, with only eight episodes in the first season and each episode clocking in at only 15 minutes long.

The plot focuses on the life of Ryan Kayes, played by Ryan O’Connell himself, who is a gay man living with mild cerebral palsy, a motor disability that is due to damage to the brain or abnormal brain development.

After starting his new job at Eggwoke, an online magazine, Kayes is challenged to write about his life experiences, which, in his opinion, are lacking because of his disability. He even goes on to say, “My whole life my C.P. has been the main course, when really it just needs to be an appetizer, or better yet, taken off the menu all together.” He seems to believe that his condition held him back from certain opportunities, leaving him with a boring life overall.

After telling his new coworker, Kim, that the only exciting thing about his life was recently being hit by a car, Kim and his other coworkers assume the accident left him physically disabled. Rather than correcting them, he uses their assumption as a way for him to escape the stigma of having a disability. He then molds into the new identity of being the normal coworker who was just unlucky, rather than being “the guy with C.P.”

With his new identity in the workplace, Kayes feels more accepted, as though masking his disability allows him to pursue the life he never had. It empowers him to be more independent and, as seen in Episode 3 [SPOILER ALERT], he moves out to live on his own, away from his mother’s caretaking.

The show speaks to those who may fear not being accepted, but it does so in a warm and lighthearted manner. The main character is a gay man and person with a disability in a society that discriminates and ostracizes both identities. O’Connell said he hopes that “Special” can help normalize the experience of individuals with disabilities.

The show works to diminish the stigma that that the lives of those with physical disabilities are limited. Rather, it demonstrates that those living with a disability can share the same experiences as those without. The charismatic sitcom is considered groundbreaking for a number of reasons. The lack of representation for people with disabilities is widely critiqued in the media, but O’Connell himself plays Kayes’ title role. The portrayal of sexual desire by people with disabilities is also rare onscreen, but is central to Kayes’ story. “Special” has offered a new narrative to viewers, while also providing more representation in the media of those living with physical disabilities.  

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