Special: Season One Review
Special follows the story of Ryan, a gay man in his late twenties who has cerebral palsy and the people in his life. It touches not only on what it is like to be both gay and disabled, but also on fatphobia and the experiences of those who care for people with disabilities.
The series format, which works spectacularly, is a little odd at first. I have always liked that Netflix's platform gives shows the freedom to make their episodes as long, or in this case short, as they need to be. It means that the stories aren't snipped and contorted in order to accommodate adverts. However, the almost 'web series' like format of Special is pretty new. The only other Netflix show I have seen it from is BONDiNG. It's different, and it works. Especially considering that Ryan works at eggwoke, a 'Buzzfeed'-esque website, which is very in the spirit of short-form new media.
When Ryan first starts his job he meets Kim, the writer with the most views of any employee. At first glance Kim seems like not only the most put together of the eggwoke employees, but also the only one who is down to earth enough for Ryan to actually be friends with. She is a kick ass, plus sized, woman of colour and she rocks every look she has all season. But the cracks in her glamorous armour begin to show relatively early in the show. In episode two Ryan finds that she still has the label on her bikini top, but when he offers to remove it she says not to. This culminates in her telling Ryan that keeping up her look and life style has left her broke.
Kim's story really highlights how much extra effort plus sized women and women of colour have to make in order to be taken seriously. Kim has to spend all of her money and have a second job in order to afford the life style that is expected of her. She feels she has to fit into a certain image in order for her size and ethnicity to be seen as acceptable and palatable for her audience. Which is ridiculous, sad, and indicates how vapid and narrow social media can be. Kim is a genuinely hilarious character and supportive friend to Ryan, it is eye-opening to see how she is treated by the world around her.
Ryan, for his part, isn't always the greatest friend, but he is growing and learning throughout the whole season. At the beginning of the season Ryan is shown to have little to no life experience and be in a co-dependent relationship with his mother. It is a real treat to watch him become more comfortable in himself throughout the season. But it is also bitter sweet. It has often been said that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to live out their formative years in their twenties or thirties due to the oppression they face; Special suggests that this may also be the case for some people with disabilities. Ryan has been coddled by his mother, even if it was coming from the kindest of places, and he has been patronised by his peers. So it it was amazing to see him be able to just live and make mistakes as an independent adult.
Ryan's relationship with his mother is another central theme of the show. Their co-dependence is shown to come from a place of love, but it is not healthy. Karen cares for Ryan, and worries for him, but this means that she has trouble letting him be free to grow. It also means that she comes to resent him, because looking after him means that she can't do certain things. One of which is have relationships. When Ryan disapproves of Karen's new boyfriend Phil, it causes their relationship to fracture, as neither of them knows how to react to the other gaining their independence. Ryan acts like the child Karen treats him as and Karen allows the worst part of her to take over when Ryan having a life means he lets her down. Navigating a parent-child relationship is always difficult, and in this case it doesn't end well.
The intricacies of Special are spectacular. In a short amount of time this show tackles with some really heavy topics while still managing to be bright and hopeful. All of the characters are relatable, they all have very real problems and make very real mistakes. Special is an important show, and I look forward to its continuation.