I tripped over a reference to a “new” show called Special, and I didn’t really know much about it. Something about a main character who was disabled and gay, and that was about it. Then I watched the first few minutes of it in passing, just to get a feel for it, and the initial truth of the show hit me hard.
I had heard of the creator, Ryan O’Connell, previously but I didn’t realize it was the same person. He has cerebral palsy and has written some pretty raw posts over the years about his life with CP, being gay, just day to day stuff, and some of the posts went viral. I had read some pieces here and there, generally knew about him more so than knew his story, but it was apparently one of his viral pieces that caught the eye of Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory) and they agreed to a show on a miniscule budget and fifteen-minute episode format to talk about Ryan’s semi-auto-biographical idea.
So the premise is based on Ryan’s life, where he was hit by a car and injured, but relatively minor as car accidents go. However, afterwards, he moved to New York and made all these new friends and acquaintances, and rather than tell them he had CP, he told them he was injured in the car accident. In short, he changed his narrative from disabled to injured. And he liked that people didn’t treat him like a disabled person anymore. So he kept it up for awhile, before eventually writing a blog post as part of preparation for a book arc where he “came out of the disabled closet”.
In the show, Episode 1 has him being hit by a car and then starting a job at a blogging magazine site as an intern. He’s excited to be there, but hasn’t told them he’s disabled. Through a series of slight miscommunications, they come to understand that he was in an accident and his CP-like symptoms are the result. He goes from disabled to injured, which feels great to him, so he doesn’t correct them.
I’d love to tell you the acting is amazing, but well, they had no budget so Ryan O’Connell is acting as himself with no acting experience. He’s pretty good though. There are lots of small characters — a mom, his boss, some coworkers, a physio-therapist, etc. — and they are okay, but about the same feel as you might get from an amateur theatre. Yet I’m hooked.
Hooked for an entirely personal reason, all of which is summed up by a quote from Ryan’s character before the accident, reflecting on the nature of having mild CP:
I’m not able-bodied enough to be hanging in the mainstream world but I’m not disabled enough to be hanging out with the cool DP crowd.
I’ve used that paradigm (without the judgement) to describe my own son’s condition as he also has mild CP. For him, it shows up in things like amateur sports programs. His coordination and body movements are not good enough for running and moving to do regular soccer, for example, or hockey/skating lessons, or swimming…his body has too much tone in it, plus he has twists in his legs. He also has limited strength in his upper body. But, equally, he doesn’t need much accommodation. So he is usually way more functional than any of the other people in “disabled sports” groups. He has no impediment for speech or cognitive limitations, just physical coordination, and so like Ryan’s example, he’s in limbo between the two worlds. It’s hard to find opportunities for him for certain things, camp activities at times, for instance because he can’t quite do the regular group thing but he doesn’t need a spot in the disabled group. Not to mention that we don’t necessarily want him taking a spot from someone who really needs that type of spot (there are often limited numbers of spaces available). Yet there aren’t in-between groups for “mildly affected”.
And, honestly as a parent, we can’t relate. Something he has taken to pointing out at times — “You don’t understand”. He’s right, we don’t, not exactly. We can intellectually picture the issues, but we haven’t lived it. But when I heard Ryan O’Connell say those words above, it was like a small #TruthBomb going off in my heart. With lots of questions.
Will my son feel the same way? We don’t think our son is gay, but I don’t think he would know yet (he has no interest in anything in that area), but either way, will he feel some of the same romantic and sexual isolation that Ryan talks about? What else don’t we understand?
Yes, it’s a comedy, not a documentary. There are some funny bits, including him talking to his PT about dating, and joking that he thinks it’s funny that the PT thinks he has enough self-esteem to be on Grindr. With some relatively dark self-effacing humour about what his gay disabled profile would say.
I don’t know if the subject matter would appeal to everyone. But it resonated with me, and I am attracted to his style of writing. I’ve recently ordered his book too, apparently somewhat overlapping with the series in places. So I’ll read that when the series is done.
I would have predicted CANCELLATION before seeing the show, but afterwards, I’m going to go with RENEWAL based on the rawness in the first episode.