‘The Specials’ Shows Life with Special Needs, Especially Watchable

By 06/02/2010
‘The Specials’ Shows Life with Special Needs, Especially Watchable

One politically correct thing to say about The Specials is that Sarah Silverman won’t be adopting them any time soon.

The cast of the 10-episode reality series features five young adults who have slightly varying degrees of learning disabilities; four of them Down’s syndrome, while the fifth, Lewis, has Williams Syndrome. The precedent for a show with an actor living with Down’s goes all the way back to Corky from Life Goes On to the more recent Retarded Policeman. But in The Specials, all the main players are disabled. It creates a far more inclusive dynamic. Each of the five principal cast members narrates scenes and intros and appearances by any other characters are limited.

Created by Katy Lock and Daniel May, the series follows the dramas and day-to-day activities of five housemates in Brighton, all college students except for Lucy, who works full-time doing odd jobs at a small business. Though the show tones down the sensationalism that we’ve been accustomed to from too much Bachelor and Bravo, The Specials still uses the The Real World as its model. Inner-house romance and friendship rule, minus the evil.

Here’s a quick overview: 20-year-old Hilly is the one who brought the series to fruition. When she told her parents, Carol and Dafydd, that she wanted to live with her friends, they made it happen. All members of the house receive ongoing supervision from support workers, and Dafydd is around the house frequently as well. Hilly has her ups-and-downs with romance, but it’s all out of the house.

22-year-old Sam is the ring leader/head attention-grabber, a good dancer and a real character. He frequently talks about ‘the ladies,’ though admits to being desperate for a girlfriend. He dated Lucy for nine years, and she dumped him for flirting too often – all this before the camera began rolling. Lucy is a 23-year-old with the aforementioned job. She seems to be the most down to earth of the group, and very happy with her current boyfriend, though he gets limited time onscreen.

Lewis is a 19-year-old who has been dating the house’s most recent addition, Megan, for about a year-and-a-half, until she breaks up with him. He never got around to proffering their first kiss, and their dates were awkward as hell. Serious romance appears to be a few years off for Lew, though the guy can be quite witty when he’s on. And finally there’s Megan, another 19-year-old, a competitive show horse-rider who’s gained the affections of both Lewis and Sam, winds up with neither, but appears to remain friends with them both.

It will surprise viewers how eminently watchable The Specials is. While the characters’ lives unfold, you can’t help but empathize with and root for them. They’re far too innocent and absent of any malice not to like. “This is our world and we want to share it with you,” goes the show’s catchphrase, and The Specials is indeed a forum, if a soaped-up one, that shines a light on a subculture usually confined to special-ed classes and specialized institutions.

Sure, it would have been illuminating if the creators offered us backgrounds on the cast’s learning disabilities and how it affects their places in the world, but it was also refreshing that the housemates had an opportunity to speak for themselves without any outside context. While director Lock does do documentary-style Q&As with the players to get their thoughts and feelings from time-to-time, for the most part, The Specials applies a soft, hands-off approach to its subject matter.

After watching the series you’re left entertained and attached, hoping Lock and May put together a sequel, or at least a where-are-they-now follow-up so you can see what these five special people from Brighton are up to now.