Netflix recently released season 2 of “Special,” a quirky and honest tv series that centers around Ryan Hayes’ (Ryan O’Connell) life. This semi-autobiographical series follows a fictionalized version of Ryan and his experiences as a gay man with cerebral palsy. Nonetheless, it raises awareness to the important topic of intersectionality and what it means to live in a heteronormative and ableist society.
Being the creator of the tv series, O’Connell named the show after his memoir, “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.” The idea behind his work is how society tends to treat those with disabilities differently, when truthfully, we are all facing similar struggles. “Special” displays the aspects of life that anybody could relate to — such as the pressure of finding a partner and settling down, adapting to a new job with a self-centered boss or making new friends and finding where you fit in.
“Special” gives insight to some of the little things that have a major impact on somebody with a disability. In one scene, Ryan and his then-boyfriend Tanner (Max Jenkins) are seen at “Crip Prom,” a revamped version of the traditional high school event that was coordinated by Ryan’s support group. Tanner, who is blindly ignorant to Ryan’s disability, begins to show off during a dance battle, doing elaborate moves and breakdancing. This leads to everybody slowly moving away from him as it was a total vibe killer. Another one of Ryan’s able-bodied partners, Marc (Jeremy Glazer) has a disability fetish, which causes inner conflict for Ryan. Is he with Ryan because of his disability or because he genuinely cares about Ryan and his well-being? These questions often circle around in Ryan’s head, making him question the legitimacy of the relationship.
Season 2 not only continues following Ryan’s life, but his best friend Kim’s (Punam Patel) as well. Kim is a woman of color who is also deemed plus sized. The duo’s boss, Olivia (Marla Mindelle), who runs a blog, Eggwoke, exploits her employees for views, especially Kim. We often see Olivia picking on Kim and asking her to write another article about how she manages life as a plus size woman. Not only does Kim deal with societal pressure, but she also deals with familial pressures as well. Kim’s mother is often seen babying Kim’s delinquent brother, while simultaneously looking down on Kim’s career and life choices.
Kim is hesitant to disclose her struggles with her family in fear of judgement. The importance of adding Kim’s personal life to the series is so viewers can see the range of differences amongst families in different cultures. Kim is proud to be a self-made woman of color in America, knowing she did not have somebody to hold her hand the whole way through, much like her parents. Despite all of her efforts, she is the black sheep of the family and thinks she’ll never live up to her parent’s expectations.
Ryan and Kim consistently show the true meaning of friendship, as they always have each other’s back and support each other through all endeavors. Kim often steps in to defend Ryan when he becomes too shy to speak up. Whether it’s a side eye or full-on verbal attack, Kim is there to fight back. And vice versa, Ryan supports Kim and hypes up her writing abilities, despite her family’s disapproval.
Something major to take away from this series is how far we have come with how we portray queer men’s sex life. Not too long ago, displaying gay sex on television was unheard of or considered innapropriate and rough, whereas showing hetero sex was considered normal and romantic. “Special” delivers gay sex scenes that are passionate and soft, which has bashed the stigma. In fact, all the male characters that partake in sex scenes throughout the series are casted in a romantic and gentle light.
Much to the dismay of fans, “Special” has not been renewed for a season 3. The tv series received some awards — such as the GLAAD Media Award for Special Recognition and the Writers Guild of American Award for Original Short Form. O’Connell has stated in interviews that this is just the beginning of a long journey; he plans to continue raising awareness and telling stories about disability and being queer.
Fans took to twitter to verbalize how they felt about the series ending. One user wrote: “Well, #Special is cancelled for season 3 and I’m sad!” Another wrote: “Just finished #Special, sooo good! Then went to see if there is a season 3 & it’s been cancelled! Noooooo it’s too cute! Xo.” I think it’s safe to say we are all hoping to get more shows like “Special.”
“Special” is available to stream on Netflix.
By Mia Godorov