15 minutes is about the time it might take for you to get to your favorite restaurant. It’s the bathroom break you take for some peace of mind. It’s the amount of time you’ll wait in line for coffee on a busy morning. These moments are so mundane they pass by in an instant -they’re forgettable.
But what if you’re only given 15 minutes to take in as much information as possible? How fast were you driving to get to the restaurant? What stall did you sit at in the bathroom? Who was the person ahead of you in the coffee line? Ryan O’Connell has to tackle this challenge in his series Special.
The creator and leading man Ryan O’Connell invites audiences to the world of Special in eight impactful 15-minute episodes. There isn’t a line wasted in the premiere episode “Cerebral LOLzy”. Ryan Hayes is struggling to find his independence. He is gay, he is living with his mom, and he has cerbral pasly. His mother Karen Hayes, played by Jessica Hecht is a round the clock nurse. When she isn’t taking care of her patients she is taking care of her son. Neither Ryan or Karen have a life outside of one another. But as Ryan strives for independence, their dependence on one another is tested.
Ryan doesn’t have much of a social life -he doesn’t have friends or a boyfriend. So in order to garner some independence he starts an internship at an online magazine, Eggwoke. The magazine is run by the demonic editor Olivia, played by Marla Mindelle. The editor exploits her employees for content. She orders her staff to write overly personal articles that scratch at their insecurities. If the Eggwoke staff has trouble pitching ideas, Olivia unearths any trauma she can sniff out.
Luckily, Ryan finds a friend in Kim -the epitome of trendy. Kim, played by Punam Patel, is full of one liners and often sounds like an LA instagram model. For example, she described Ryan’s shirt as “picnic chic”… picnic chic. But she also has great moments when talking to Ryan like “you’re an intern, you get paid in yogurt”. As stereotypically LA as Kim sounds she does have a vulnerable side. When out to lunch with Ryan she is careful when approaching his disability. Kim lets Ryan speak for himself.
While Olivia and Kim don’t have any apparent internal conflict, Ryan continues to struggle with accepting his disability. When confronted by Olivia, Ryan blames his physical condition on a recent car accident. He lies about his condition -which serves as his development for the coming episodes.
All of this was established in “Cerebral LOLzy” -or as I like to say the length of a good bathroom break.
The episodes are a brain dump -but they have to be. This hurts and helps O’Connell when crafting the story of Special. Unlike our mundane moments in the coffee shop, there isn’t a moment wasted in each episode. There are no filler lines. Every comedic bit is contingent on story progression. Everything counts -and this benefits the flow of the episodes.
What impresses me about O’Connell’s writing is his ability to craft an episodic arc that ties into the arc of the season. Each episode has a theme that feels complete by the end of the 15 minutes. The episodes don’t end with dissatisfaction -the stories always come to a close, while tying into the larger story. The series is also easy to watch in one sitting because of its limited commitment. You can spend two hours watching the series and still have time to enjoy the rest of your day.
But in some cases the time limit hinders the series from greater potential. In episodes where we focus on Ryan and Karen dealing with their changing relationship, we don’t see our supporting characters. Although the series doesn’t revolve around Kim and Olivia, the characters are intrinsic to Special’s tone. Both supporting characters are fun to watch and it makes me sad to not see them shine in every episode.
This fault doesn’t overshadow the brightness of Special. Thankfully, there is an easy fix to it -longer episodes! In the second (and final) season of Special the episodes will increase to 30 minutes. I’m excited to see what he creates with a higher time order. One thing O’Connell does promise is more Kim. (WE LOVE KIM!)
What makes the first season of Special so great is Ryan O’Connell’s ability to tell stories in such a short amount of time. He combines the mundane of real life with the life of Ryan Hayes to make entertainment. On May 20th, Ryan O’Connell will give us more opportunity to enjoy the mundane in season 2 of Special.