By Polly Conway,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Biting but warm comedy skewers millennial life, disability.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Empathy, communication, and compassion are shown as Ryan manages new friendships, romances, and life experiences.
Positive Role Models
Ryan doesn't always do the right thing but he's trying; he's a realistic representation of a struggling twenty-something who also has a disability. Punam is a larger woman brimming with confidence and a great, supportive friend to Ryan.
Violence & Scariness
A character falls down sometimes; a car accident is portrayed without blood or gore.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Characters are young and sexually active. Lots of sex talk, and a character chooses to lose their virginity to a sex worker in a frank scene that includes anal sex. Characters are in their underwear and naked butts are visible.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters drink at parties and at home.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Special is a comedy series about a young gay man who's trying to navigate a new job, dating, and living alone for the first time. He's also hiding his cerebral palsy from his new friends at work, letting people believe his physical differences stem from a car accident. Language can be strong, including "f--k" and "s--t." Jokes about sex and sexuality are frequent, and a character loses their virginity with a sex worker, who is shown as a kind and respectful professional. Starring Ryan O'Connell and based on his real-life experiences, this show could be a fun watch for older teens who are interested in the challenges of twenty-somethings, both at work and at home, and opens up lots of conversations about how people with disabilities are treated in the world.
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Based on 1 parent review
"Mom I'm moving out..."
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What's the Story?
SPECIAL's Ryan (Ryan O'Connell) is a young man in transition. After a car accident, he's getting back into the groove with a new job (well, unpaid internship) at Buzzfeed-esque website EggWoke, meeting new friends like ultra-confident Kim (Punam Patel), and even moving into his own apartment, much to the chagrin of his overprotective mother, (Jessica Hecht). However, as he finds success writing about his life for EggWoke, he leaves out one little detail: he has cerebral palsy.
Is It Any Good?
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.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how disability is portrayed onscreen. Do you think Hollywood does a good job of representing people with disabilities? Do you know anyone with a disability who has a story you'd like to see in a movie or on TV?
How does Ryan balance becoming independent with still needing help in some ways?
Do you think stories like Special are better when framed as comedy or drama? Why?
How does Ryan manage his disability? Do you blame him for not being completely honest about it to his new friends?
- Premiere date: April 15, 2019
- Cast: Ryan O'Connell, Jessica Hecht, Punam Patel
- Network: Netflix
- Genre: Comedy
- TV rating: TV-MA
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
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.
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