whale in the sky holding up a plane

What I’m Watching: Extraordinary Attorney Woo

I recently finished watching a show on Netflix: Extraordinary Attorney Woo. I’ve watched a few other Korean shows and movies (Squid Game and Train to Busan to name a few), and as I was looking for something new to watch, this show sounded interesting. I didn’t expect to love this show as much as I did. I have to say, I loved this show so much!

I don’t typically love legal dramas, but the synopsis of the show intrigued me. The main character, Attorney Woo Young-woo, is a newly hired lawyer who has autism, and the show does an excellent job portraying how a person with autism might experience navigating a career, relationships, and life in general.

Obviously, autism manifests itself differently and to varying degrees in different people, so it can be hard to create a show like this without falling into stereotypes.

The first portrayal I ever saw of a person with autism on t.v. was probably the movie Rain Man (1988) with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. When I was young and would tell people that I had a sister who was autistic, they would sometimes wonder if she was “super smart” or exceptionally good at math like Dustin Hoffman’s character. I would then have to explain that not everyone with autism was a savant.

These days autism is much more commonly talked about and heard about, and I’m grateful for more representation happening on shows like Attorney Woo.

In the show, Woo Young-woo is obsessed with whales, and whales kind of become an important theme. In the intro of the show, as Young-woo is crossing the street, the crosswalk sign utilizes whales instead of the more classic icons like the red “stop” hand or the “go” person. Initially I didn’t realize this was made up – I really thought the crosswalk signs in South Korea had whales icons and I thought, “that is so cute!” I was a bit disappointed once I realized the truth…

At one point in the show, Young-woo describes herself as a “narwhal in a sea of beluga whales,” because she knows she is different (not neurotypical). It made me think about how lonely that would be – to know that others view you as “different,” and to know that in many ways you really are different and may not always fit in, but to also not be able to do much about it.

Despite Young-woo’s differences, she is an excellent attorney. In fact, her differences help make her one of the best attorneys at her firm.

I also thought the show did a great job of showing what it might be like to be a parent of a child with autism. While watching the show, you get to see the struggle Young-woo’s dad goes through as he navigates parenting (there are some flashbacks so we get to see Young-woo as a child.) But the parenting struggle never really stops, as Young-woo’s father is constantly worrying about her even as she becomes an adult. Maybe that’s not so different from any other parent out there… from what I hear, parents never stop worrying about their kids. But being a parent of a child with autism definitely brings some added worries and challenges, and we get to see and experience that in the show.

I really ended up liking most of the characters in the show, even the ones who started out not very likable. There are some very sweet and kind characters who accept Young-woo as they would any other person, and then there are characters that obviously are annoyed with Young-woo’s eccentric habits, like how she pauses and counts to three before she enters any room.

Attorney Kwon is a character that doesn’t seem to have any patience for Young-woo (aka I did not like him at first!) He questions why she was hired and does not help her out when they are assigned to cases together. He gets called out for it by another attorney who asks him how he could pick on someone like Young-woo, and his response was that he wasn’t picking on Young-woo because she was an easy target – he was picking on her because she was their strongest competition at the firm. I thought that was a great twist, because you can see that this whole time even if he hasn’t been nice to Young-woo, he at least respects her as an attorney and doesn’t seem to simply pity her for having autism. I think this is an important point to consider: how do we treat people with differences or disabilities in a way that accommodates them, but also treats them with respect and dignity?

If you’re looking for something to watch, I would highly recommend Extraordinary Attorney Woo!

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