When Netflix released Special in 2019 the short-form narrative was like nothing ever seen on television or streaming platforms before. The story, based on Ryan O’Connell’s 2015 memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves is a glimpse into the life of a gay man with cerebral palsy. Special follows O’Connell’s character as he navigates the worlds of blogging, dating, and sex above his lifelong struggle with self-acceptance.
Season one of Special was groundbreaking for queer storytelling in the golden age of television. It brought the intersections of disability and queerness to the forefront and skyrocketed O’Connell as a necessary voice in the media.
Special was nominated for four Emmys in the short-form comedy categories while O’Connell won a GLAAD Special Recognition Award in 2020.
Like all great things, however, Special will come to an end with season two as it is released today May 20. While the show will end, fans will be able to enjoy expanded 30-minute episodes, a departure from the 15-minute installments from the first season. While many may be mourning the end of Special, O’Connell promises the subversive show will go out on a high note that will leave fans feeling like the story is complete. Also–there’s way more gay sex!
For O’Connell, Special is just the beginning of his work on and off screen. He is already working on a novel and has recently sold a show to HBO Max called Accessible. When not keeping busy juggling his many projects, you may catch O’Connell being his unabashed self on Instagram where he gives the best answers to fan questions.
While Special will live on as a queer cult classic, it will remain in the lexicon of hilarious yet poignant and multi-dimensional stories that elevate LGBTQ+ and differently abled voices.
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Ryan O’Connell in advance of the season two release of Special. After fangirling a bit, it was great to get to know O’Connell and what to expect as Special comes to an end.
DAVID LOPEZ: ‘Special’ is such an important show for the intersection of LGBTQ+ and disabled communities. What has this response been from these viewers?
RYAN O’CONNELL: I mean, it’s incredibly meaningful and it creates a lot of relief quite frankly, because I think that whenever you’re one of the first people to represent such a large swath of population, you’re like, ‘Oh, okay. I hope I didn’t fuck this up.’ You know what I mean? Because you also know as a writer that you can really only write from your experience. You can’t try to speak for a huge [group of people]. You know, we’re not a monolith, so you can’t speak for everybody. You just have to just write from a true place of truth and authenticity. And usually if you do that, you’ll be okay dot, dot, dot, but it’s still nerve wracking. It’s a lot of pressure and it’s very intense. So having such an overwhelmingly positive response, it’s really validating. And it’s also just validating on a deeper level based on how hard the show was to get made and how I had so many rejections, with the inherent feeling of was like ‘your existence is too fringe for anyone to care or to, you know, matter.’ So having this kind of amazing support. It’s very validating in its indication TBH.
DL: Absolutely! How did the storytelling shift when you learned that season two would be the end for ‘Special’?
RO: Well, it’s interesting. I always thought, conceptually, ‘Special’ would go probably three seasons max, cuz I’m a big advocate of leaving a party early. But now, knowing for sure that there was one final season, I knew that I wanted to end the show in a satisfying place. I didn’t want to do what I did with season one, which was to end it with a psychotic tense cliffhanger. So what was just in the back of my mind was taking these characters on these arcs that were exciting and challenging, but also leaving them in a place where you weren’t going to worry about them the second you turned off the TV. So I really appreciated knowing that in advance. I think if I didn’t, I would be standing here like, ‘yeah, maybe it’s season three’ and it ended on the psycho note, it would probably hurt more if the show was ending and it felt like the story was incomplete.
DL: How much more of the storyline do you think you could have told for these characters?
RO: I think I just had one more season left, but even so, I have to say ‘Special’ ending is bittersweet for me because this show has been a part of my life for six years. We went and pitched it in 2015 and it took four years for season one to get made. Then it took two years between seasons one and season two. So it’s been amazing. It’s changed my life. I’m so grateful. On the other hand, it’s taken up so much emotional real estate and it’s been very very hard. And so part of me is kind of excited to start something new.
DL: I know much of ‘Special’ is based on your life. But are there characters that are especially close to people in your real life?
RO: That’s a really good question. I feel like because the show seems so inherently autobiographical you think that it’s coming from somewhere like my diary, but it really isn’t. I think the show has just evolved into its own thing. I mean, I think emotionally, I really relate to the character of Ryan, like what he’s going through, what he’s experiencing, his struggles with self-worth and self-esteem–that really resonates with like younger me, but the actual kind of setups and things that he and the characters find themselves in don’t really. And I am #GRATEFUL because these people are fucking messes and I light a gypsy candle for them every night.
DL: There are so many great things about season two. First of all, the longer episodes, so much more gay sex and some pretty difficult moments. How were these experiences for you?
RO: I mean, it was great. I think season one was the hardest, because season one, I’d never shot a show before. I’d never acted before. And season one, we shot the whole thing in 19 days. It was like–Oh honey–it was so DIY Blair Witch Project vibes so it’s not like we were greeted with ‘Succession’ levels of money, but we were, we were definitely given more money and just more time.
I mean, because again, season one, I’m like twitching–season one with such a journey. Season two, everything felt luxurious! I was like, ‘Wait we don’t have to shoot 10 pages a day? Oh my God!’ I just also think I had more confidence in what I was doing and there was just a general feeling of, ‘Oh, we did this, we can do it again.’
It was great. I did secretly miss shooting in Austin, even though I think it was definitely the right thing to shoot in L.A. I did miss the summer camp vibe of going away and making something and being kind of untethered to your real life. Being in L.A. it was like, ‘Oh, I’m just going home to my apartment’ and ‘Oh, I randomly have to get brunch with this person on Saturday.’ Oh my God. What the fuck?
In Austin I could kind of disappear, but season two was just such a joy. And again, I think there was just a general ease that there wasn’t in season one. Season one was really, really fun, but it was just a little stressful.
DL: And now you have a book coming out. What else is next for you?
RO: My novel’s coming out in a year and then I sold a show to HBO Max called ‘Accessible’–which I’m waiting to hear back on–dot dot, dot HBO Max. You there, Babe? Pick up! I am also working on the film adaptation of my novel. So I’m starting the screenplay on that.
I’m also writing for the ‘Queer As Folk’ reboot. Just keeping busy, you know, she’s a Virgo, honey! She’s out here in these streets bookin’.
DL: Definitely gotta keep makin’ the coin.
RO: Exactly. I gotta keep buying those tea candles that I keep lighting for everybody.
Check out the official trailer:
About Special Season 2:
Ryan (Ryan O’Connell) really needs to get his shit together. It’s been two months and he still hasn’t spoken to Karen (Jessica Hecht) since their fight and he has a gnarly case of writer’s block that’s getting him in hot water with Olivia. Enter Tanner, a fun, flirty dance instructor who charms Ryan despite not being totally available. When his writer’s block eventually lifts, he’s inspired to write a longform piece about disability. From there, he begins a journey of self-discovery that creates unexpected complications in his relationship with Tanner. Meanwhile, Kim (Punam Patel) lets her guard down when she meets Harrison, a sensitive tech mogul with a humble background – but her insecurities and jealous tendencies continue to hamper her personal life and threaten to push Harrison away. With her spiraling credit card debt driving Kim even further towards rock bottom, she makes a hard choice to regain control of her finances and personal life. Since taking care of Ryan was her life’s purpose until their fight, Karen realizes that she needs to take an active approach to create a fulfilling life for herself – beyond just taking care of her ailing mother. Will she be content with continuing to clean up everyone else’s messes, or will Karen be able to lean into her newfound independence and create a life that centers around her own desires for once? This season is about Ryan, Karen and Kim—coming into their power and realizing they all deserve big gorgeous lives—whether society agrees or not, bitch!