Upcoming Netflix drama ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’

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ASPartOfMe
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18 Aug 2022, 9:20 am

Extraordinary Attorney Woo is autistic representation at its best and its worst

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Extraordinary Attorney Woo begins with an argument. Jung Myung-seok, a senior attorney with Hanbada law firm, objects that CEO Han Seon-young has assigned an autistic lawyer to his team. Seon-young is quick to admonish him. It doesn’t matter that she’s autistic, she says; what matters is that she graduated top of her class from Korea’s most prestigious university.

It’s an immediate introduction to Extraordinary Attorney Woo at its best and worst: text that highlights Myung-seok’s, and Korea’s, ableism while the subtext reinforces the idea that disabled people’s value is derived from what they can contribute.

Is Extraordinary Attorney Woo good representation? The answer is complex. Having watched the series, and spoken to autistic viewers, autism organizations, and an actual autistic attorney, the consensus appears to be yes… and no?

Ableism is pervasive in the West, but there is significantly more stigma surrounding autism and disability in Korea, where the primacy of societal normalcy is traditionally paramount. “There is much more of a sense of shame, not just for individuals with disabilities but also for their families,” says Son Da-eun of Autism Partnership Korea. “Despite the prevalence of autism in Korea” — she tells me Koreans are diagnosed at a rate of 1 in 38, compared to the WHO’s global estimate of 1 in 100 — “you rarely have interactions with persons with autism on a daily basis. Historically, people with autism are kept home, hidden away from the world.”

That’s not to say there is no progress in Korea. Public awareness is slowly shifting, which leads to better accessibility and more service providers. That improving support infrastructure took a hit due to COVID-19, however, and reading through reactions to Extraordinary Attorney Woo it’s clear autism and disability remain intensely stigmatized in Korea — the extent of which becomes apparent when reading how many parents felt forced to emigrate for better support for their autistic children.

In that vein, it’s appropriate that the series starts with Young-woo’s difficulty finding work. According to the Employment Development Institute of Korea, only 22% of autistic people in the country are employed — the lowest rate of any demographic, and a proportion is echoed globally.

In highlighting the realities of discrimination through the microcosmic lens of Hanbada, Extraordinary Attorney Woo excels. Though it stops short of ever challenging the system that drives those realities, it frequently emphasizes the issues within. For instance, while Young-woo’s ableist colleague Kwon Min-woo is often reprimanded for his efforts to undermine Young-woo, the show never tries to challenge where that ableism is coming from or how Hanbada is latently encouraging it by withholding censure.

Woo Young-woo and her coworker sitting at a conference table. She is poring over documents while he sits and looks slightly consternated.

In this way, Extraordinary Attorney Woo aptly illustrates what moving through a (often hostile) world with autism can feel like. “I felt extremely represented,” Haley Moss, an autistic attorney and neurodiversity advocate, tells me. “People typically are very nice to me,” she says. “But a lot of the time they offer me unwanted and unneeded assistance and it ends up looking like special treatment that makes me (and everyone else) sort of uncomfortable.”

So, too, is the show relatable for Stephanie Bethany, an autistic content creator, who felt particular affinity with Young-woo’s mannerisms and story.

“Attorney Woo does finger and hand stims like I do,” she says in an email, “wears her headphones as needed and not 24/7 like I do, gets into a romantic relationship with someone who is not autistic like I have, engages in occasional echolalia and hits her head/ears when things become escalated, threatening, and loud like I do. So, there are many ways that I feel represented by Attorney Woo.”

The ultimately supportive nature of Young-woo’s colleagues has led some to criticize the show for being too fantastical.

Offering comfort like that, it’s no wonder that Extraordinary Attorney Woo has found an audience among the disabled community. When we’re so used to being chronically underrepresented, it sometimes feels like, as a community, we’re ready to accept any relatable moment in film and television. And even shows that are aiming to do good can fall short. Extraordinary Attorney Woo is no exception.

The creators of the show talk about bringing more attention to autism in Korea. But there is an ableist undertone that feeds into the show, starting with the title before it was altered for Western audiences. The Korean title, 이상한 변호사 우영우, is most accurately translated to Weird Lawyer Woo Young-woo.

One can perhaps understand what the show is trying to do: highlight a perceived otherness that may ultimately be dispelled for some viewers. Instead, it feels like the show is starting from an ableist, allistic place rather than invoking meaningful support for autistic people. That they’ve since introduced a Woo Young-woo NFT collection hasn’t helped make the series seem like it was firmly built on altruistic motivations.

Writer Moon Ji-won purportedly spent a year consulting with an early childhood special education professor to ensure accuracy. Research is fine, but how you implement it is more important. And Moon’s characterization of Young-woo as a genius savant, in line with so many stereotypical depictions of autism that refuse to go away, is particularly telling.

Rain Man is older than me and I still have to talk about it!” Moss says, exasperated. The way Young-woo is characterized, as a genius savant (known as the prodigious savant), represents less than 75 people in the world.

The extensive use of savants-like characters and other autistic tropes (e.g., limited interests, difficulty making friends) in television is concerning for two reasons,” Sarah Audley wrote in her 2020 study into autistic representation in television. “The exclusion of authentic autistic representation, and the spread of misinformation about autism that may be perpetuated by the prevalence of autism stereotypes in the entertainment industry.”

It’s depressing, because the diverse realities of disability are intrinsically human stories that deserve more than stereotypical representation, rather than merely molding us into something palatable and misleading for non-disabled viewers.

Da-eun tells me Extraordinary Attorney Woo “strips some of the shame and stigmatization” from autism through its humanizing of Young-woo, though she recognizes “the show does reinforce a few common misconceptions about the nature and treatment of autism.”

“The fact that the vast majority of characters with autism in media is portrayed as having a superpower, or that autism is really a blessing in disguise muddies the waters and can confuse the public as to what autism really is.”

The effect of that reinforcement is already being felt in Korea. Allistic content creators are imitating Young-woo’s voice patterns and mannerisms for views on TikTok and YouTube, driven by the decision to exaggerate many of Young-woo’s mannerisms that could be considered cute or quirky.

This isn’t new. Lydia Netzer calls it “cute autism,” depictions that strip away behaviors that might be off-putting or obtrusive to create an image as close as possible to neurotypicality in order to “trick us into thinking tolerance is easy.”

Meanwhile, Korean schoolchildren are reportedly insulting each other by asking, “Are you Woo Young-woo?” Autistic content creators field comments expressing disappointment they’re not like Young-woo, while receiving abuse for their criticisms of the series.

Wevcan laud the show’s alleged intent to bring better awareness to autism in a country that intensely stigmatizes it — and with an average nationwide viewership of around 13%, it is putting autism in front of a lot of Korean people. Yet, we also need to question how easily Extraordinary Attorney Woo’s stereotypical depiction of autism and disability is inspiring further narrow-mindedness. That the lesson the show is teaching its allistic, non-disabled target audience is just… more ableism.

Perhaps I’m an optimist, but I do believe some people will watch Extraordinary Attorney Woo and begin to think differently about autism and disability.

But the facade is brittle; it’s easy to peel away. Once you do, you understand how much the ableism that pervades Korea — and, let’s get real, that pervades the world — has seeped into the making of Extraordinary Attorney Woo.

But, if things are worse in Korea, shouldn’t we be asking more of representation like this rather than accepting less?

I’m happy for those that relate to the show. I think, on an individual basis, that’s important. But it’s just as vital to remember that this is but one of many very narrow — often identical — windows into autism in media, and that we’re not the monolith shows like ”Weird Lawyer Woo Young-woo” make us out to be.


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MrsPeel
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18 Aug 2022, 5:45 pm

Well, yeah, I get where the author of that article is coming from. Having series revolving around autistic savant characters can give the impression we're all like that.

But when you get down to it, people are watching these series to be entertained. They're not going to watch the daily struggles of "Ordinarily autistic almost-attorney Woo", who drops out of work within 3 episodes because she doesn't have the memory abilities to offset her autism. Or "The could-have-been-good doctor", who fails to get enough respect from colleagues to hang onto his surgery role and gets shunted off to be a medical archivist or something.

How about allowing the general public get over autism stigma with savants first, and later they might be ready to accept the rest of us.



ASPartOfMe
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19 Aug 2022, 5:20 am

MrsPeel wrote:
Well, yeah, I get where the author of that article is coming from. Having series revolving around autistic savant characters can give the impression we're all like that.

But when you get down to it, people are watching these series to be entertained. They're not going to watch the daily struggles of "Ordinarily autistic almost-attorney Woo", who drops out of work within 3 episodes because she doesn't have the memory abilities to offset her autism. Or "The could-have-been-good doctor", who fails to get enough respect from colleagues to hang onto his surgery role and gets shunted off to be a medical archivist or something.

How about allowing the general public get over autism stigma with savants first, and later they might be ready to accept the rest of us.

I don't have a Netflix subscription so I can not judge Extraordinary Attorney Woo but The Good Doctor does show plenty of meltdowns which IRL would get him fired.


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24 Aug 2022, 2:27 am

Fnord wrote:
I enjoyed both "Mrs. Cop" series' (the 1st more than the 2nd), so I am looking forward to this new show.

Korean TV relies more on characters and plot than on sexual situations and violence (e.g., American TV).


Kinda, but also a lot more soppy romantic influence - couldn't watch much of original Good Doc cos it was OTT with melodramatic music and stuff, but my memory may be playing up.

I've watched a few too... was enjoying it more at first, but by fifth episode, I'm getting triggered by stereotypes.

Also, what do you guys think of the cis-male bias of autistic traits as opposed to more normal cis-female traits?

D


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ASPartOfMe
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27 Aug 2022, 8:23 pm

‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’ Season 2 on Netflix: Renewed for Second Season

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Netflix’s most popular weekly K-drama of the Summer, Extraordinary Attorney Woo, is being renewed for a second season, and is expected to arrive sometime in 2024! We’ll be keeping track of everything you need to know about Extraordinary Attorney Woo season 2 on Netflix.

Lee Sang Baek, the CEO of ASTORY had the following to say about season 2;

"Thanks to the support of many people, we will produce Season 2 of ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo.’ The goal is to air Season 2 in 2024."

Given the overwhelming popularity of the series, it should come as no surprise that a second season is happening. In South Korea, the finale saw its biggest audience share of the entire season, amassing a nationwide rating of 17.534%. Extraordinary Attorney Woo now sits in 7th place as South Korea’s highest-rated cable television drama of all time. When you take into consideration the first episode received less than 1% of the nationwide ratings, its meteoric rise is that much more impressive.

When the announcement was made that Extraordinary Attorney Woo would be returning for a second season, ASTORY CEO Lee Sang Baek stated there are no plans to replace the cast, and if there are no unexpected changes then the goal is to bring back at least 90% of the cast from season 1.


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31 Aug 2022, 9:54 pm

Just watched the first episode. It hit a lot of the typical traits with the fixation on whales, sensory issues, deep obsession with the law, vivid flashbacks and the inability to look people in the eye -- maybe to an extreme. It also caught the confusion of others as to how to deal with her -- do you go out of your way to help, or let her sink or swim on her own. Maybe a little too overdramatic but it's good entertainment.



binstein
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02 Sep 2022, 3:39 am

I watched the series and I liked it, and I admit it was because the MC is attractive and adorable, which leads me to agree with the criticism about "cute autism" and making people easier to accept autistic people as long as they are as cute and attractive as the main character.

So I don't buy the "good representation" bit, but I did enjoy the show, it was well....cute.



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03 Sep 2022, 4:18 pm

Just watched episode 2. It's starting to remind me of Ally McBeal, for those of you old enough to remember that show.



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14 Sep 2022, 3:35 pm

I just watched the episode where Woo finds out who her mother is. If South Korea has Emmy Awards, that episode would win several.



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18 Sep 2022, 3:37 am

ASPartOfMe wrote:
Netflix K-Drama ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’ Coming to Netflix in June 2022
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Extraordinary Attorney Woo is an upcoming internationally licensed South Korean Netflix Original law drama directed by Yoo In Shik, and written by screenwriter Moon Ji Won. Yoo In Shik is known for his work on Dr. Romantic, Vagabond, and Mrs. Cop, As for Moon Ji Won, Extraordinary Attorney Woo is only the second series written by her, the first was Innocent Witness

When is the Extraordinary Attorney Woo Netflix release date?
At the time of publishing the first episode of the Extraordinary Attorney Woois coming to Netflix on Wednesday, June 29th, 2022.

The series will have a total of sixteen episodes, and new episodes released twice a week on Wednesdays and Thursdays for a total of 8 weeks. The finale will air on Sunday, October 2nd, 2022.

Each episode will have an approximate runtime of 60 minutes.

What is the plot of Extraordinary Attorney Woo?
27-year-old lawyer Woo Young Woo graduated at the top of her class at the prestigious Seoul National University for college and law school. Boasting an impressive memory, a wonderfully creative thought process, and a 164 IQ score. However, due to her Aspergers Syndrome, she still finds herself struggling in everyday interactions.

Why do autistic characters always have to have ridiculous IQ's? This is why I prefer Atypical. Even though this character is an Asian woman like me, whilst the guy in Atypical is a caucasian male, he is far more relatable and IMO a more realistic depiction of ASD.

When I was diagnosed as a kid all I knew about ASD were these types of portrayals. It really f****d me up when I realised I wasn't some kind of amazing genius as a kid because then I was like - what's the point of being autistic if I'm not gifted? Then you're just weird. There's no positives to outweigh the flaws.

I mean, I feel now that there are other positives (no NT would have stuck with my special interests the way I have), and I feel these are shown quite well in Atypical.