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Leon Kaye headshot

‘Special’ Is the Netflix Series You Should Be Watching

Special must be in your Netflix queue: The series shares the story about a young gay man who has cerebral palsy, told in his words.
By Leon Kaye

We’re on the second of our two-part series on popular culture and how certain shows should be required watching for just about everyone in a corporate setting: human resources, marketing, communications and, really, anyone. To that end, Special, the second season of which premiered on Netflix late last month, must be in your queue.

The story focuses on Ryan Hayes, an unpaid intern at the ridiculous blog Eggwoke, a site so absurd it makes Buzzfeed’s addictive listicles read like NPR. More importantly to the story, Ryan has cerebral palsy and is also coming to terms with living as a gay man in the Los Angeles area. Ryan is optimistic and has an infectious smile, but he is also flawed: He certainly has his anger issues and at times has toxic co-dependent relationships with his mother and Kim, a fellow Eggwoke writer and his best friend.

But best of all, Ryan is telling his own story, as the series is based on the experiences of Ryan O’Connell, a disability activist and LGBTQ advocate. He plays a fictionalized version of himself in the series, while also writing for and producing it. This is a story that was unthinkable even five years ago, and it’s refreshing to see O’Connell’s perspective shared on Netflix.

And therein lies the gift of Special: It’s told in Ryan’s own words.

Much of the show revolves around Ryan coping with cerebral palsy and the foibles of a 20s-something gay man living in Southern California. But in its second season, more characters and their backstories are coming to life, which augurs well for season three.

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As is the case of many conventional television and now Netflix series over the years — from landmark shows like the first season of Schitt’s Creek in 2015 and to the Mary Tyler Moore Show’s launch 50 years ago — the writing and development of the characters improved remarkably in the second set of episodes of Special. The result is a series that in only eight episodes touches upon many challenges countless people who don’t “fit in” face day after day.

Those struggles include some of the basics: balancing work and home life, finding one’s way as a person of color in a very white and “bro-centric” office, coping with how corporate types respond to you based on your appearance and background, and having your colleagues view you more as a professional and less like the token gay or disabled person who helps the comms team prove your company is “woke.”

As the Pride Month messages start rolling out with calls to “celebrate diversity,” shows like Special are a reminder that before your organization sets off your celebrations, make sure that as you communicate such efforts, any storytelling about your colleagues’ experiences is told in their voices — instead of on your own assumptions.

Image credit: Izayah Ramos/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye