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Netflix’s ‘Special’ is New Off-Beat Comedy Starring Actor With Cerebral Palsy

Is the new Netflix comedy series “Special” breaking new ground by focusing on a disabled gay character and actually starring an actor with a disability?

March 25 was Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day, and Netflix chose the day to unveil the trailer for their new series, “Special”, about a young man with cerebral palsy – who is also gay.

“Special” is based on Ryan O’Connell’s memoir “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves”. O’Connell himself will serve as creator, producer, and star of the show. It will be executive produced by “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons.

In the trailer, twenty-something Ryan struggles to be completely open about his disability with new friends and co-workers – attributing his physical impairments to a car accident instead.

Ryan asks: “If you could get rid of the thing you hate most about yourself, the thing no one else understands, wouldn’t you do it?”

“I was in the closet about being gay, and then I was in the closet about being disabled, and now… no more closets,” he says.

There is Something Special About Netflix’s ‘Special’

The new show’s title “Special” is a clever spin on traditional terminology for disabled people – challenging those who are disabled or not to embrace being “different”. The trailer asks: “Why be normal when you can be… special?”

Some cynics may think the show is riding on a wave of novelty, since there has been an increase in shows featuring disabled characters – such as ABC’s recent hit drama series “The Good Doctor”, centering on an autistic doctor. Also on ABC is “Speechless”, a comedy about a teenage boy with cerebral palsy. Netflix’s comedy series “Atypical” is about an autistic high school student, and CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a romantic musical comedy-drama about a woman with borderline personality disorder.

However, it is notable that the disabled lead character for “Special” will be played by an actual disabled person — the author of the original source material it is based on, no less.

Although it may seem like a gimmick to some, gay characters with disabilities have generally been overlooked in popular culture, and “Special” is based on a firsthand account of an actual person rather than a fictionalized take by someone with no insight into that reality.

O’Connell will lead the cast as Ryan Kayes, with Jessica Hecht as his mother Karen Kayes, Punam Patel as Ryan’s co-worker and friend Kim Laghari, Marla Mindelle as Ryan’s intern supervisor Olivia, and Patrick Fabian as Karen’s neighbor and love interest Phil. Also starring are Augustus Prew and Jason Michael Snow.

“Special” will debut on Netflix, April 12. There will be eight episodes total, under 20 minutes each.


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