Is ‘Special’ Based On A True Story? This Netflix Series Gives Viewers The Representation They've Been Waiting Forever For
The first season of Special, a brand new Netflix series you're going to want to queue up ASAP, is spread out over eight episodes. But that won't be nearly enough once you calculate that each episode is only 15 minutes long. Then, once you see star and creator Ryan O'Connell in action you'll wonder if Special is based on a true story. The answer is both yes and no.
Don't let O'Connell and his innate charm fool you — Special is, in many ways, a totally fictional series. But — and this is huge — it's also grounded in O'Connell's life and experiences. The show is based loosely on his 2015 memoir, I'm Special and Lies We Tell Ourselves, which chronicles O'Connell's life as a gay man with cerebral palsy (CP), who, at 20, was hit by a car. That bit of information is important because when people assumed the accident was the reason for his evident disability, he let them go on believing it, feeling compelled to "rewrite his identity." His candid content about topics like this went viral for Thought Catalog, which is what garnered the book deal-turned-series.
The official Netflix description of Special says after "years of dead-end internships, working in his pajamas as a blogger and communicating mostly via text, Ryan eventually figured out how to take his life from bleak to chic and began limping towards adulthood." And, while Special does closely resemble some of what O'Connell experienced, he told Queerty in an interview, "I never wanted to star in Special but — and this make shock you — the world is not exactly swimming with gay 20-something actors who have mild cerebral palsy." He went on to note the differences between his real life and the character's saying, "The journey Ryan goes on in Special is different than the journey I went on. I mean, the emotions and themes are autobiographical. It’s all about how hard it is to run from who you really are, especially if you have a limp. But the actual things I’m portraying didn’t always happen to me."
In the trailer, Ryan the character (so not to conflate the two), is also a writer who uses the "hit by a car" situation as a front for his CP. IRL, O'Connell not only blogged, but wrote for shows like MTV's Awkward, Will & Grace, and the 90210 reboot. Additionally, O'Connell's boyfriend of four years, Jonathan Parks-Ramage, is writing a movie to be produced by Margot Robbie, titled, Big Gay Jamboree, whereas in the series, Ryan is still looking for Mr. Right.
Special isn't only an important show because of what makes O'Connell "different" but because he's representing the underrepresented in the most tender, realistic way. He told Time it's important the story of Ryan hits the right notes saying, "It needs to come from a person that’s experienced it." With that, he added he's definitely not trying to fill any void or anything. This is just his story to tell and it's time to tell it. "I’m excited that people are saying, ‘I’ve never seen this before', but part of me is also like, Why? We should have seen this 40 million years ago."
It doesn't really matter if Special is based on O'Connell's real life or not, and honestly, you'll forget there's any acting involved (he's that good). Do yourself a favor and give this show the Netflix ratings it deserves so there can be a Season 2, and O'Connell will get the full 30 minutes he deserves.