Meet Ryan: a 28-year old LA resident, about to embark on his first-ever internship with online blogging platform ‘Eggwoke’. It seems he has it all figured out; but navigating first-impressions at a new job is somewhat tricky when you are a gay man with cerebral palsy. Oh, and he has just been hit by a car.
At a lunch-date with new co-worker (and soon-to-be spirit animal) Kim (Punam Patel), Ryan begins to discuss his accident when Kim puts the pieces together – a skewed limp when walking and a vehicular collision? Got it. In fact, so seamless is the connection that there really is no need to explain in more detail why his hand-eye coordination doesn’t lend itself well to opening letters. Besides – cerebral palsy doesn’t define a person, right?
Special is a refreshingly sophisticated look at intersectionality and millennial culture. As a semi-autobiographical piece, creator and actor Ryan O’Connell brings a unique and unrivalled honesty to his performance – navigating the pitfalls of prejudice with nuance and pride. He defies the norm through his depiction of that sex scene; portraying queer relations without the cinematic heteronormativity intrinsic to the classic moonlit pan-away camera movement.
So truthful are his observations that the blind date scene with his boss’ deaf cousin makes for ecstatic viewing. When Ryan is confronted by disability, he is taken aback at the audacity to pair two people together in such a (clearly) discriminatory way. But when the concept of internalized ableism is thrown at Ryan in response to his questionable behaviour, he is forced to face his own preconceptions. He has cerebral palsy – surely that makes him immune or something?
With astonishingly profound character development, Special ventures where no other show has done before. Witty, bold and triumphant from its concept through its execution: if TV has a canon, add it to the list.
Special is available to stream on Netflix now.