Parents' Guide to


By Polly Conway, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Biting but warm comedy skewers millennial life, disability.

TV Netflix Comedy 2019
Special Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.

Community Reviews

age 18+

Based on 1 parent review

age 18+

"Mom I'm moving out..."

Netflix series Special is the story a 28-year-old gay man with mild cerebral palsy trying to navigate his life without having his disability make him the only thing he is. This comical tv series follows Ryan on his journey to discover his wants and needs in life. Ryan has lived his whole life beside his mom but recently decides to move out and go on a journey of self-discovery. Ryan has started an internship at a journalism company because he wants to pursuit writing. Ryan will now begin to make new friendships, intimate relationships, and figure out his own purpose. After finishing the series, the theme that mostly stood out to me was Ryan not owning his disability in the mainstream world. When people have interactions with Ryan, they can notice a slight difference, but he brushes it off and doesn’t make disability be a part of him. Ryan wants to start living in a world in which his disability is not the thing that makes him “special”. In the first episode Ryan’s boss Olivia confronts him about opening her mail with a scissor. He apologizes to her and says that he has a “distarity issue”. That to me sounds like an issue with his disability instead. In this scene we can see how Ryan doesn’t want his boss or coworkers to know he suffers from cerebral palsy and that because of that he isn’t able to open the envelops with his fingers. I liked this scene because we’re able to see that Ryan basically wants to start over and not have others feel sorry for him not being able to do something that’s supposed to be simple in the mainstream world. Later that day Ryan goes home and begins opening envelopes on his own. This shows us how persistent he is in creating that independency for himself to prove to others that he can do something that can be seen as “simple”. What I didn’t like about the scene is how Ryan describes what he has as a “distarity issue”. To me this means that he is viewing his disability as an issue in his life he must deal with, when in fact it’s just something that is part of him. Another scene that stood out to me in this series is when Ryan has invited his friend Kim over to his home and they’re hanging out in his room. Ryan’s mom walks in without knocking and is finally able to meet Kim. They begin having a conversation about how great they think Ryan is and he proceeds to stop his mom from saying he has cerebral palsy in front of Kim. We can see how Ryan might feel like Kim knowing this about him might affect how their friendship has been evolving. Although he is starting to trust Kim, he doesn’t trust enough that she’ll change towards him after knowing that he has cerebral palsy. It’s the fear of not being accepted into the world he wants to be a part of. I didn’t like this scene as much because Kim has now shown Ryan that she’s there to support him as a friend and he’s not being honest with her. Ryan later decides that create that boundary in his life, he must move out on his own. Ryan does have mild cerebral palsy, which only causes him to walk with a limp. He doesn’t need to use anything to walk either like a cane or walker, which to him doesn’t make him “disabled enough”. I compared this to visible and invisible disability. Visible disabilities can be noticed to an individual right away, like someone using a wheelchair. Compared to invisible disability which can someone diagnosed with a mental disorder like anxiety. According to author and clinical psychologist Andrew Solomon, “people who disclose at work can find themselves passed over for promotions and stuck with low salaries. People who disclose socially may encounter personal rejection.” We can clearly see how Ryan fears being rejected by his coworkers and new friendships if he begins to disclose that he suffers from cerebral palsy. Ryan is unable to see that hiding his disability won’t make a difference in how those around him treat him, because they already like him for who he is and not for trying to be someone he isn’t. Starting a new journey in his life Ryan wants to recreate a new version of himself without cerebral palsy being the main character. According to senior program manager at Understood Claire Odom, “on the other hand some people don’t want to be seen for their disability, which they may consider to be a minor part of their life, so they don’t disclose.” As Ryan starts to get older, he realizes that he doesn’t want to be known for his cereal palsy or make that be the thing that makes him “special”. There’s a specific scene when his mother is telling Ryan that he should feel good writing an article about his cereal palsy because it’s what makes him different and special. However, he proceeds to write about the car that hit him because to him that’s more exciting than the fact that he was born with mild cerebral palsy. People for once have sympathy for Ryan because he was hit by a car instead of because his disability. In this tv series we see a real perspective of how an individual with a disability may view their life. We all want to feel fulfilled based off what we’ve been able to accomplish on our own. Which is something that Ryan wants to feel, in terms of being independent for once in his life even if it means having to hide his disability. Independency is something that we want to achieve at a certain age. Even the sense of privacy that Ryan wants to achieve by moving out from his mom’s house. In the mainstream world we think that individuals with disability need to have someone around them constantly to protect them. In the show we’re able to see Ryan achieve many things he could never think of, on his own.

This title has:

Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
1 person found this helpful.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (1):
Kids say (1):

It's easy to fall in love with this decidedly un-Afterschool Special story of living with disability, which is as packed with jokes as it is touching moments between friends and family. O'Connell is hilarious and charming as Ryan, who's a little naive but finally ready to put himself out there in the workplace and world. Sometimes Ryan's privilege is clear; he somehow rents a large, charming apartment as an unpaid intern, and when he can't put an IKEA-type table together himself, he just calls a TaskRabbit. But it's a joy to watch as he tries to extricate himself from the mother who's been his best (and only?) friend for 28 years, meanwhile learning to be honest with himself as well as others about how CP affects his life.

Special tells at least three stories that aren't often portrayed on screen. Ryan's, which deals with disability, sexuality, and getting by in the wild world of millennial culture, Kim's, which brings to the surface issues of money and self-worth as a person of color and size, and Ryan's middle-aged mom Karen, who's rediscovering her own life after spending most of it caring for her son. That's incredible for a show with eight 15-minute episodes, and definitely leaves viewers wanting more.

TV Details

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate