If we’re going to be pedantic about what Netflix does (or tries to do) — we’d probably throw in a few lines on how they shoot for representation, absurdity, or just plain ol’ virality. This is illustrative of their rollouts that usually scale on extreme ends, which are understandably almost always the talk of the town.
Fortunately, Special stands on the right side of the fence.
Special is an autobiographical sitcom by Will & Grace writer Ryan O’Connell (who plays Ryan Hayes). It follows an honest depiction of how a disabled gay man gets himself familiar with the gay culture while figuring out life around family codependence, work mishaps, friendships, and sex. It’s the real to reel narrative of O’Connell himself, whose work thrives to provide better representation in media and TV.
This latest comedic offering from Netflix comes with an eight-episode premiere season that runs on 15-minute increments. This is a bold experiment to be running on a TV series, since even well-known shows struggle to fit a lot of elements for story buildup and running gags with more time allotment. Nevertheless, Special makes a lean case for the crucial cut by panning on relevant scenes that actually contribute to the storyline.
The most notable thing about this, however, is its genuine take on disability and sexuality. In the first episode of the series, O’Connell compared having a mild case of disability with being in limbo. He said, “I’m not able-bodied enough to be hanging in the mainstream world, but I am not disabled enough to hang out with the cool crowd.” That statement alone set the tone of Special — with the flow, treatment, and nuances created and executed by someone who has actually lived the story.
Good grasp of parody
Since the show is the brainchild of O’Connell, it runs on loose adaptations of the many facets of his life. One memorable killing of it is the internship for a blog site called “Eggwoke,” which is based on his experience writing for Thought Catalog. The tinges are all there — a great friend from work named Kim (Punam Patel), some quirky co-workers, and a boss from hell named Olivia (Marla Mindelle).
The funniest bits aren’t just focused on Kim’s witty comebacks, it’s mostly on roundtable discussions about weird, exploitative essay pitches that bang on the writers’ shameful secrets in attempts to break the Internet. It’s especially hilarious when you’re reminded of the many posts that run on the same premise, truths, and articles making something out of the mundane.
In any case, O’Connell’s writing may not be as polished when it comes to memorable jokes or smooth one-liners, but it thrives on amusing observations of situational notes and distinctions of real-life occurrences.
Self-acceptance is king
We’ve come a long way in terms of self-care and acceptance, but a show like Special remains deserving of a good welcome banquet to the self-love party — especially since it’s not trying to be the be-all and end-all of disability and sexuality representation. It’s simply sharing the story of the lead who doesn’t have stuff figured out yet, packed with misadventures and a heap of gawkiness.
Special is a good attempt that will open doors for better content that could resonate and tug at the heartstrings, regardless of whether we share the initial struggles of the characters or not. Hopefully, this continues to be a trend among showrunners, because authenticity is the best way to tell a story. Netflix is usually a let-down with decent and right representation, but thankfully, this installment made all the right choices.
Featured image from Netflix