For anyone who has a really close relationship with their mom, especially if they are queer and/or disabled, the new Netflix series Special will hit close to home. The show centers on Ryan (Ryan O’Connell), a young gay man with cerebral palsy learning how to live independently and truthfully. O’Connell also wrote and directed the series which is loosely based on his own life.
There are so many things to love about this show: Punam Patel’s performance as the loving and vivacious Kim, Ryan’s mile-a-minute puns, or the sweet budding romance between Ryan and Carey (Augustus Prew). But what really resonated the most with me is the close relationship between Ryan and his mother, Karen (Jessica Hecht). At the beginning of the series, Ryan still lives at home with his mom. He doesn’t date. He’s beginning a new internship (which appears to be his first job ever). He still regularly needs help from his mom due to his disability. But his mom is also overprotective and afraid to let him leave.
As the series continues, Ryan moves out and they each gain a bit of independence from each other. His mom begins to date, though secretly behind Ryan’s back because she’s afraid of how he’ll take it, and Ryan is learning how to do more things on his own. The fifth episode told from Karen’s perspective is a high point of the series, showing the way women and mothers take on the emotional labor in families as caretakers not just for their children, but also for everyone around them.
I don’t have anything as serious as cerebral palsy, but I have several chronic illnesses that also caused my mother and I to have a similar relationship growing up as Ryan and Karen’s. I lived with my parents until the age of 25 (at which point, I moved in with my sister–baby steps). I didn’t have a place of my own until I was 27. Now that my mom is gone and I’ve been forced to gain independence from her, I can see that she was pretty overprotective about a lot of things. While I understand why, I also can’t help but look around at my peer group and see how things were different for them, or even how my siblings were treated differently (hello, curfew). I wish I could watch Special with her. It serves as a love letter to these very specific codependent mother-child relationships and how they can shape the lives of both involved.
Special hasn’t been renewed yet. The episodes are 15 minutes each and there are only eight, so you can watch the whole thing in the amount of time it takes to watch a movie. The writing is out of this world and there are so many good, heartfelt, and hilarious moments. So what are you waiting for?