Punam Patel interview: ‘Special’

“We can really knock down a lot of walls and actually be rewarded for it,” proclaims Punam Patel about the Netflix series “Special.” The comedy, created by and starring Ryan O’Connell as a gay man with cerebral palsy, was a short-form series in its first season and returns as a half-hour comedy for its second and final season, now streaming. Patel earned an Emmy nomination for Best Short Form Actress for her performance as Kim, Ryan’s best friend and confidant. In an exclusive interview with Gold Derby (watch the video above) Patel discusses Kim’s journey in season two and the importance of representation on television.

Patel argues that the show has a unique take on the “gay guy/straight girl” relationship so common in television. “[Ryan and I] both come from marginalized populations,” she says. “Most rooms with work that I’ve been in, or Ryan has been in, we are the only ones. He’s the only disabled person or perhaps the only gay person. I’m always the only Indian woman. Sometimes I’m the only curvy woman. So I think we really bonded on that.”

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A major story arc for Patel this season involved Kim going home to her family as she hits rock bottom both professionally and personally. Patel says that she was impressed by the sensitivity of the entire production when it came to showing the cultural details of this particular Indian family, including preparing cuisine from Patel’s home region in India. “I just don’t think I had ever been on a set that was that thoughtful and considerate and being like ‘oh yeah, I’m not just like a minority accessory…I’m a full person,” she explains.

Patel also believes that the family scenes are incredibly universal in spite of their cultural specificity. “First and foremost, because I’ve never been on a set with that many Indian people,” she exclaims. “Representation is getting better. But I think a lot of marginalized populations are still painted very one dimensional and it was just so fun to be like, this is a family of characters, they happen to be Indian.”

With the series coming to an end after this new season, Patel reflects on why “Special” is so important for television. “I think I’ve learned that so many things that you don’t see on TV are actually possible,” she declares. “It is possible to have a show with a gay disabled lead played by someone who actually is gay and disabled. It is possible to have a curvy brown, Indian woman in a bikini looking amazing on screen. It is possible to have multiple disabled actors or multiple Indian actors on screen together. Nothing’s going to explode. People are still going to watch it. People will still be able to relate.”

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UPLOADED May 21, 2021 2:47 pm