Ryan O’Connelly stars in a mostly-autobiographical Netflix comedy special called, “Special.”
It’s about a gay man with cerebral palsy who is working through being gay – as in, wanting to get laid, have a relationship, being independent – moving away from his overprotective mom, and cerebral palsy, which he has been lying to people about.
You see, Ryan had a car accident when he was around 20 years old, and he blamed his limp and lack of dexterity on his car accident instead of on cerebral palsy!
It’s funny because you can see how people shrug with, “no big deal” when they attribute his differences to a car accident – a car accident could, after all, happen to anyone, right? (Well, so could cerebral palsy, but most people don’t see it that way).
The show is in a new 15-minute layout, and it’s on the darkly humored side. Ryan’s world is white and privileged – he has some stream of money (his mom sued the hospital? It’s called his “CP Money”) that enables him to go for an unpaid internship and afford a really sweet rental the moment he wants to move out, away from his mom’s (and his mom’s house is really sweet too!).
The show also does not shy away from gay sex or the intricacies of gay relationships and love.
That trifecta or any combination of it’s parts: it being a darker type of comedy, the white privilege present in the story and the very gay-ness of it might make this unpalatable for some people, but I loved it!
I loved Special for so many reasons, not least it’s title: “Special.” That made me laugh out loud and feel immediately that this show was going to have some balls. And it does.
O’Connelly humorously tackles the Overprotective Mom, internalized ableism, disabled independence, disability hierarchy, caregiving fatigue, and disabled sexuality. In 15-minute bursts, no less!
This guy is incredible; I can’t wait to see what he could do with 30-minutes per segment, if he got so much into 15 minutes.
Things That Stand Out For Me in Netflix’ Special:
There are a few things that stand out for me: one, the deaf scene.
Of course the deaf scene!
This is what happens: Ryan’s narcissistic, shallow and mean boss sets him up with her cousin on a blind date. The cousin is deaf, like, using only ASL, Deaf. Ryan is confused and goes back to his boss, saying something along the lines of, “I can do better than that.”
His boss then tells him to check his internalized ableism and proceeds to lecture him on it. Ryan seems stunned by the conversation and you see him later secretly googling “internalized ableism.”
What a clever way of tackling this!! Ryan getting a lecture from his mean boss about his own internalized ableism! I loved it.
The mom stuff really stood out for me too.
You see, Ryan’s mom is suffering from caregiving fatigue. She has been taking care of her own mother and Ryan for a long time. She has clearly made Ryan the center of her world and hasn’t dated since she split with Ryan’s dad. She has also done pretty much everything for Ryan: she hasn’t taught him much in the way of independent living skills (in his mid-20’s, he apparently doesn’t know how to cook).
Now, while I’m not this mom, I know her! I’ve seen her in the Down syndrome parent community! She’s friends with the mom from Speechless!
Another thing that stood out for me was the blogging! You see, Ryan’s writing for a trendy blog, and they are all bloggers. That made me endlessly giggle – not that they were bloggers, but the viral-post chasing and obsession with stats. That was hilarious.
All in all, I think this is a fabulous show. It’s amazing to me that we finally got a series – albeit a short series and super-white and privileged) from a DISABLED WRITER and it’s played by THE DISABLED WRITER.
He fought to get that show on Netflix and I’m glad he did. I think it’s funny, smart, on-pointe and gets some major disability concepts out there in the mainstream. Hallelujah!
Podcast and PDF
The podcast episode is below and the downloadable PDF is linked here and in button below (just click it: it will take you to Gumroad, where it will say “name a fair price” or something like that – feel free to put 0 in the box (and you can feel free to pay for it too – really, it’s all good and I won’t be hurt!). After you enter a number, it will take you to the next screen where you enter your email address for the download. I do not store your email address and I won’t bug you after – this is NOT a bait-and-switch thing where I say “free download” just to get your email address then harass you. NOPE! The system will then automatically send you the PDF or MP3 to download via your email).
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.