The eight-episode series, which premiere on the streaming system last week, accepts Ryan( played by Ryan O’Connell, too the show’s creator ), a 28 -year-old gay man with cerebral palsy. Though Ryan has been living out of the wardrobe for years, he soon detects himself ensnared in the confines of a different one when he persuades colleagues at Eggwoke, the imaginary bulletin website where he works, that his hobble is the result of a gondola disintegrate rather than a disability.( Catch the series trailer above .)
A Los Angeles screenwriter whose credits include MTV’s “Awkward” and NBC’s “Will& Grace” revival, O’Connell based “Special” on his experiences navigating his intersecting identities — many of which he recounted in his 2015 memoir, “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.”
O’Connell , now 32, came out as gay at age 17. But he didn’t start hug his true self — that of a queer being with children with disabilities — until he was 28, the same age as the character of Ryan on “Special.” That’s one of numerous plan stages on the succession that mirrors his off-screen life.
“What happens in the prove happened to me, ” he told HuffPost. “When I was 20, I was hit by a gondola … and when I moved to New York to go to school , no one knew me there, and they all reputed my totter was from my collision. I never inconvenienced to correct them because I grew up with a mild event of cerebral palsy, and I felt like I never certainly belonged in the disabled world-wide because … well, because I now know internalized ableism exists. But back then, I rationalized it.”
As “Special” progresses, Ryan’s attempt to rewrite his identity appears to work in his advantage, opening his self-esteem a much-needed boost. Against the wishes of his well-meaning but co-dependent mother( Jessica Hecht ), he moves out of his childhood home and into his first suite. He also befriends a brand-new gal pal, Kim( Punam Patel ), loses his virginity and begins a flirting with Carey( Augustus Prew ), who becomes a prospective love interest. Of course, Ryan’s truth threatens to shatter this thinly erected facade at every turn.
As an actor, O’Connell boastings a very warm, natural screen presence, and gives Ryan plenty of self-effacing wit. That note-perfect casting, however, was borne out of necessity. Shortly after it was published, “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” caught the attention of “The Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons and head Craig Johnson( “The Skeleton Twins” ). Working with O’Connell, the men began plans to adapt the memoir for the screen. Pitching the idea to major studios, however, they faced “lots of’ no, ’’ no, ’ and’ fucking no, ’” O’Connell said, ensuing in “four years of hell.”
Eventually, they locked an offer with the digital content label Stage 13, which specializes in short-form content( each episode of “Special” clocks in at a brisk 15 -2 0 minutes ). Before long, financial imprisonments necessitated O’Connell to step in.
“If you ever wanna play yourself, lead someplace that doesn’t have a lot of money and they’ll have no choice but to pick you, ” he quipped.
Several months of acting readings later, nonetheless, O’Connell felt confident his thespian choppers were on par with his more experienced cast copulates. “Maybe I’ve lived in LA too long, but … I immediately knew what I needed to do to bring this character to life, ” he said. “I was never scared.”
As to where the off-screen O’Connell points and the fictionalized Ryan begins, “he’s more stunted emotionally that I ever was, ” O’Connell said. “I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 18, I went to college, I lives on my own. I lost my virginity at 18 to my boyfriend at the time.” Still, he added, “We obviously detested ourselves in equal amounts.”
A lot of the early buzz on “Special” has singled out the show’s third chapter, in which Ryan, anxious to date but stalled by his lack of bedroom experience, inspects a fornication proletarian( Brian Jordan Alvarez ). What ensues is, without question, one of the most frank, detailed depictions of homosexual copulation ever shown on a mainstream TV series.
“I was just like,’ Can we really just talk about anal fornication, the positions? ’ Because no one ever has, ” he showed. “I was beyond annoyed. So I was like,’ Fuck, I’ll do it, ’ and then we can start a speech. Better sometime than never, you know? ”
“Special” likewise arrives at a time when disability image is sorely lacking in both film and television services and facilities. A 2017 report from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, for example, found that only 2.7% of attributes in the 100 highest-grossing movies of 2016 were illustrated with children with disabilities. Similarly, a 2018 GLAAD report found that only 2.1% of all regular references on primetime Tv in the 2018 -2 019 season had disabilities.
The first season’s final chapter, “Gay Gardens, ” ends with a multi-dimensional cliffhanger that could affect all of the principal characters. O’Connell is hopeful he’ll be able to further explore that scheme moment, as well as other narrative strands, in a second season, too extending the running time of each episode to 30 hours.
Regardless of whether “Special” extends beyond its current season, he’ll consider his mission achieved if audiences come away from the succession with a larger empathy for the disabled experience.
“People are so uncomfortable around disabilities, and they’re so scared of insult or treating person the wrong way, they choose to ignore us, ” he said. “We’re strong, independent, emotionally complex parties with our own hankers and wants. To me, the show is successful if parties start including those with disabilities in their discussions about diversity.”