Netflix’s new series “Special” is an unconventional comedy about a gay man with cerebral palsy. The show, which debuts Friday, has eight 20-minute episodes and is based on actor Ryan O'Connell’s memoir: “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.”
O’Connell stars in the series and serves as its executive producer, alongside “The Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons.
In a recent interview with NBC News, O’Connell said it was “a shock” for him that the series “actually made it to the finish line.”
“It feels very surreal, because I didn't think that any of this could be possible,” he said. “I’ve been working in Hollywood for six years now, and I know that even the best ideas, even the best shows, with the best talent attached, the odds of one actually getting shot and made and released is very medium rare."
“Special” is based on O’Connell’s experience living with cerebral palsy, a motor disability that affects one's ability to move and maintain balance and posture, and his real-life decision to falsely claim his limp as the result of a car accident.
“I felt like I had achieved this amazing life hack, and for a few years, I felt like it just gave me the confidence to go after the things I want,” O’Connell said of the false claim. “It did give me an extra boost, but that faded after a couple years, because it was just creating a lot of emotional problems for me 'cause I was lying about who I was — to myself and to other people. I was trying to cut out this big part of myself, but that doesn't work, it never works.”
O’Connell, who said he realized he is gay when he was 12, stayed closeted until his late 20s. “I didn't love that for me,” he said. “I wasn't thrilled and over the moon, because I felt like being gay and disabled basically set a death sentence to my love life.”
“I assumed that all gay men would be disgusted by my disability, and I think that the vast majority of them truly didn't care, and I was making it into something that it wasn't,” he added. “That's not to say that I wasn't valid in my feelings of being scared or being judged ... but I also think that I was really scared and I was projecting a lot of s--t on people.”
However, O’Connell acknowledged, many people with disabilities “face a lot of discrimination and ostracization” and their fears of being judged and not accepted are “completely founded in reality.”
He said he hopes “Special” changes the conversation surrounding those with disabilities and provides much-needed visibility for the estimated 61 million Americans who identify as having a disability.
“The fact that we have so little content to account for that population of people, just from a business point of view, it feels like it’s bad business,” he said. “You have a totally untapped demo that is starving for stories like theirs, and we’re gonna ignore it? That doesn’t make sense.”
He said he hopes “Special” can help normalize the experience of those with disabilities. “For so long, we've been ignored,” he lamented. “I really hope that stops.”