Netflix's Special Is Special For A Lot Of Reasons — This Is The One You May Not Know

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
In the era of Too Much TV, we’re having the champagne problem of dealing with the fact that the shows we love are too long. Yes, The Crown is a sumptuous masterpiece of Britishness, but does every single episode need to be an hour long? Or, after 13 Reasons Why’s acceptably gimmicky first season, does every subsequent one have to be exactly 13 episodes long too? No one needs to spend more than 13 hours in Clay Jensen’s (Dylan Minnette) punishingly dark world every year.
At last, Netflix is giving subscribers a series that is precisely the right length: Special, which premieres Friday, April 12. Not only is the 20-something comedy, created by and starring former Thought Catalog editor Ryan O’Connell, only eight episodes long, but each of those installments is bite-sized. It is the television revolution you didn’t know you needed.
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The longest episode of Special’s debut season is just under 17 minutes, credits included — and most of the chapters come in around 15 minutes. That’s almost exactly the amount of time it takes to finish lunch at your desk. As someone who watched Special's premiere in between bites of a Sweetgreen salad, I would know.
You can dip into Ryan’s adventures in between checking your email and sending Slack DMs, and it is a treat you wholeheartedly deserve. Special is already being heralded as a boundary-breaking achievement in storytelling around disability. Its creator, O’Connell, has cerebral palsy. As the memoirist (his 2015 title I'm Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves inspires the new Netflix series) also stars in the Jim Parsons-produced sitcom, we’re looking at one of most powerful depictions of disability in TV history.
And at a time when Bryan Cranston is still defending his choice to play a disabled character, that means something.
That shines through when you realize Special isn’t a “disability comedy,” it’s a comedy where disability is a meaningful, but singular, slice of its main character’s rich life. Over the show’s first season, Ryan, a gay man, tries to find his place in the L.A. queer community, stumbling through awkward hookups, tough crushes, and a visit to a sex worker along the way. Where some shows would try to moralize paying for sex, Special swerves away from that puritanical impulse. One rarely gets to describe anal sex involving a sex worker as “sweet” in pop culture, but that’s exactly what it is on Special.
Because the comedy is a true coming of age saga, viewers also get to watch Ryan try to figure out his codependent relationship with his mom (a great Jessica Hecht, best known as Susan from Friends), his career, his first real friend (scene-stealer Punam Patel), and his first apartment. Ryan’s inherent personality quirks and anxieties affect these sections of his life just as much as his cerebral palsy does.
Thanks to Special's shorter episodes, you're able to enjoy each and every one of those moments in their funniest, and sometimes most tender, form.
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