The second season of Special is the perfect conclusion for what Ryan O’Connell established in its first run. We pick up a few months from the end of season one -but things are still the same. Ryan is struggling with his new found independence, Kim is faking her way to success, Karen is alone, and Olivia is still a demon. The season quickly progresses as O’Connell sets each character on a journey for the proper send off.
The theme of season two is self-care. The creator and star, Ryan O’Connell, considers the needs of each character and lets them discover it through a dose of reality. Special teaches a lesson in growing up through its bubbly characters and bright atmosphere. We see Ryan, Karen, and Kim operate in spaces outside of their cages from the first season.
WHAT OUR CHARACTERS NEED
Ryan and Karen aren’t codependent on one another. Ryan is frequenting bars and becoming more sociable. Karen is finding friendships outside of her son. Kim’s insecurities around debt and relationships continue to push her. And even Olivia is navigating a new romantic relationship.
Ryan is having a lot of sex. His articles about disability are making him very popular in queer LA social circles. Our leading man discovers what he wants after navigating a polyamorous relationship between Tanner and his partner, Richard.
Ryan is used to monogamy -so particular challenges make Ryan question his decision. There are times when Tanner is with Ryan all the time -then disappears once Richard comes back from a work trip. Ryan is distraught at the push and pull of Tanner’s attention -but refuses to admit it. It’s the constant back and forth that challenges Ryan to accept what he is so eager to ignore. He constantly compromises with Tanner until he recognizes what is best for him.
Meanwhile, Karen struggles to have a life without Phil -and more importantly Ryan. But she runs into an old friend, Tonya, and her life of loneliness is uprooted. I can’t get enough of Tonya, who is played by Lauren Weedman. She is cooky, she likes yoga, and she identifies “as childlike since adulthood is a trap”. She serves as an emotional crutch for Karen as well as a substitute for Ryan. Karen becomes the caregiver to yet another person -and she’s had enough.
Kim meets a man of her own, Harrison, played by the wonderful Charlie Barnett. Harrison developed an app and then sold it, so he’s rich -and reeks of confidence. But Harrison also has a vulnerable side -he is supportive and respectful towards Kim when she opens up about her debt. However, it isn’t long until Kim’s insecurities get the best of her. Kim is afraid of commitment, love, and money. When things get serious with Harrison, Kim flees.
Kim’s debt becomes a larger issue when she is the most vulnerable. Out of our three main characters, Kim hits the hardest low. She is forced to leave her apartment and face the root of her insecurities: her family. Kim’s parents are judgemental about her weight and life choices. While her brother is a fool that her parents praise. She is out of place -this anxiety scratches at Kim until she breaks down.
GROWTH IN DESTRUCTION
Ryan, Karen, and Kim refuse to accept their problems until they reach a breaking point. The first of many emotional zeniths happens in episode three. Ryan comforts a crying Kim and finds himself crawling back to his mother when he is lonelier than ever.
Ryan and Kim face their fears directly in their writing. Ryan writes about his disabilities. Kim writes about loving her body despite society standards. But once challenged in real time -they cower. Ryan doesn’t address Tanner’s microagressions seriously. While Kim disassociates whenever taking meaningful steps in a relationship.
These emotional outbursts lead to character growth. Our characters find out what works best for their relationships. They need to consider the needs of both parties. Luckily, our main characters are able to compromise with one another. But what the second season of Special does so brilliantly is also acknowledge those relationships that can’t reach a compromise.
IS IT WORTH FIGHTING FOR?
There are relationships that can mend -and others that can’t. There are two relationships in Special that showcase which relationships can and can’t be saved. The one that can’t be saved is between Ryan and Tanner. While Kim and her family are able to find common ground.
Tanner triggers many microaggressions with Ryan and his disabled friends. There’s so many cringe moments where Ryan knows, the audience knows -but Tanner fails to understand the impact of his words. One example is during prom when Tanner talks to Natalie, played by Nicole Lynn Evans. Tanner asks Natalie if she knows Juliette from his dance class. Although this doesn’t sound completely harmful, Natalie would have no reason to know Juliette. The only reason Tanner thought they knew each other is because they are both in wheelchairs. This implies that all disabled people know each other -they are all in one social circle -they are all the same.
Later, Ryan tries to confront Tanner about his ignorance and Tanner responds with “I’m sorry I don’t have a PhD in disability rights!”
*sigh* Tanner you don’t need a P.H.D. but you are acting like one.
Kim faces the same problems when she is forced to move back in with her family. They make condescending remarks about her weight. Her mother notices that she can finally get her hands around Kim. They neglect Kim’s feelings by being hard on her. While coddling her goofy brother who just got engaged.
During the family reunion, Kim’s childhood best friend with benefits, Devi, joins in. Devi is the closest thing Kim has to a partner -and that scares her. Devi knows everything about Kim, even what she likes in her coffee! Kim’s relationship with Devi and her family reach a turning point when she has to face her fears and be honest.
Kim’s honesty opens a much healthier path. Her family and childhood best friend with benefits are there to help her. The dynamic shift shows an example of a relationship worth salvaging. Although Kim’s dynamic with her family is complicated -it is worth fighting for.
CLOSING THE SERIES
There aren’t any perfect relationships -but Special recognizes which ones are worth compromising for. Tanner can only give Ryan so much -and even that isn’t enough. But Kim’s relationship with her parents is worth navigating. Why? Because both parties are able to compromise to suit the other’s needs. Ryan needs a supportive and loyal partner while Tanner needs Richard.
Special analyzes realistic relationships in it’s bubbly LA lense. In each character’s journey of self they question what relationships are best for them. Which are worth fighting for? Who should I compromise with? And who should I leave at a distance? As for my relationship with Special, I will not be leaving anything about this show at a distance.
I’ve taken a lot away from this show. Seeing queer and POC creatives in the spotlight is always inspiring. For so long I felt like I never saw anyone that I could connect to. But seeing queer representation -especially in such a wholesome way, is exciting! Having a show openly talk about disabilities and ableism has educated me on the internal biases people still hold. O’Connell brings the audience into a glimpse of what life is like while having disabilities. Special has led me to analyze my own relationships and look at the compromises I make.
I’m sure whatever O’Connell and the rest of the cast sign onto next will be equally as exciting and intelligent to watch. I’m sad to see the show go so early, but the writing talents of O’Connell shine as he gives the characters the proper finale they deserve.