Netflix’s ‘Special’ and My Gratitude

Early last month Netflix released a new series titled Special which follows Ryan, a gay man living with Cerebral Palsy as he navigates finding the life he wants.

I have been a long preacher of wanting shows/films with homosexual leads that step away from the tragedy and/or two-dimensional fantasy fulfillment we have gotten in the past.

I think the closest we have come to an honest depiction of the modern gay pursuit of happiness was HBO’s Looking which was canceled after two seasons.

This project was evidently unique and its premise alone suggested I might get my wish. So, after a few episodes, what are my thoughts? Oh Let’s go…

Relatable: The show opens with Ryan at physical therapy venting about his frustrations with his disability. He makes a point of how he is jealous of a man who is bound to a wheelchair for life. His reasoning is that the man falls completely under the category of “disabled.” There is no in-between to debate his condition. He expresses that in his case, he isn’t disabled enough to be considered as such by the public and he isn’t “normal” enough to fit in with the rest of society. He feels he floats in a limbo on his own.

Look, we don’t all have cerebral palsy but we can all relate to this feeling of inadequacy. This of course is not to belittle his hardships and experiences but rather to say that it sets up for the rest of the season a story that we can all connect to.

Kim (Punam Patel), has a moment in the second episode where fans are gushing over her writing. She has a moment of pride before finding out that their fandom is really an unconscious insult; If she can look as big as she does and still find confidence, there’s no reason skinny pretty girls like them should be able to complain about their looks.

I refer to this moment to make clear it’s not a competition of who “has it worse” and “who has the right to feel insecure” but Ryan’s experience in the show speaks volumes to the gay experience of any person who does not hold all the attributes that are iconified in the bubbles of gay communities.

We hear so often growing up gay that life will be better when we come out of the closet. When in reality, it can feel like a transition from one hardship to another. It has been, and can be, an extremely shallow world! A world where average and ordinary men struggle to find a seat.

Ryan’s free scone analogy in the third episode is a great observation of this.

No Apologies Here: Just like Looking, this series takes a swing at not just the elements of loneliness in the gay experience but allows a character to have sexual needs and not apologize for it!

Yes, we’ve all seen a Shonda Rhimes show and some of the gay action that happens over there. But, come on. Not fair. They’re usually successful and beautiful gay people with amazing bodies getting it on in a hyper reality setting. Sure, it’s something to fantasize about and scenes to use as escapism, but what about just every day people struggling to find an opportunity for connection?

Ryan going to see the prostitute in a suit made my heart EXPLODE. The scene is awkward, its cringey, and clearly something not shown in mainstream TV! There is an unspoken reality that our representation remains under the rule of “it has to be perfect or it’s not getting shown.” So, thanks for this horrible prostitute scene!

 

Overall, I’m a huge fan of the project. I think the short but sweet chapters makes for a safe way to present this original material while also making sure new audiences stick around for the whole thing.

Hopefully it gets a second season and we can continue to open the doors for more stories like Ryan’s.

 

 

 

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