All that you need to know about the sardonic but sweet tone of the new Netflix comedy series Special — about a young gay writer named Ryan, who happens to have a mild case of cerebral palsy — can be read in the show’s hilariously blunt tagline: Living. Laughing. Limping.
The show’s creator, executive producer, and star Ryan O’Connell, who is gay and does have cerebral palsy, also penned each of the series’ eight episodes, based on his life and memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves. Like his book, Special doesn’t shy away from the challenges of living, working, and dating with CP, especially as the 28-year old embraces his independence away from a doting mom, played by Tony-nominated stage and screen vet Jessica Hecht (Friends).
O’Connell considers her character and the complex mother-son relationship they share to be like a love letter to his own mother. “I think it’s interesting and weird for my mom to watch the show,” he says. “But she’s been so incredibly supportive and loving. She’s just very happy for me, like a true mom.”
And seeing versions of themselves on-screen isn’t just a weird, new experience for O’Connell’s mom. While he had gained solid industry cred writing for the short-lived VH1 comedy Daytime Divas and the successful comeback season of Will and Grace, Special marks O’Connell’s acting debut.
Yet, his assured performance belies any trepidation he might have felt before shooting some intense scenes, including his first love scene, a very funny and sexy encounter opposite actor-comedian Brian Jordan Alvarez (Jack’s new hubby, Estefan, on Will and Grace).
“Obviously, I was very nervous leading up to it,” confesses O’Connell. “I barely ate all day. I was so miserable. But, honestly, I’ll give credit to Brian because [he] has such a loving, non-judgmental energy. And he’s just like a unicorn. He’s hard to explain but…his energy is very light. He made me feel immediately at ease.
“In the beginning, I was dreading it, and at the end, I wouldn’t say I was loving it, because it was still me getting fake fucked for six hours, but it was an incredible scene to do. I feel like what you see in that scene was just what was happening. My responses are very authentic. There was a lot of improv from Brian, a lot of surprises. It just felt like very — I mean, I can’t avoid this word — special. What have I done, calling the show Special? I just want to say special all the time. But it did. It felt very special and unique. And I feel like that energy translated onto the screen.”
Special is currently streaming on Netflix. Visit www.netflix.com.