Characters on the autism spectrum pop up in Korean dramas and films from time to time, but it seems very rare for those characters to be placed in the spotlight, as more often than not they occupy peripheral roles. However, the recent series Extraordinary Attorney Woo not only challenges such notions by having a lawyer on the autism spectrum as the lead character, but it has also proved that it can hit the right note and become a sensational hit series. The Korean legal series on Netflix revolves around a character named Woo Young-woo (Park Eun-bin), who is an autistic genius and a newbie at a top law firm. Starting her first job after graduating top of her class from a prestigious law school, Woo tackles challenges and prejudice in and beyond the courtroom with the help of her colleagues, including paralegal Lee Jun-ho (Kang Tae-oh) and senior lawyer Jung Myung-seok (Kang Ki-young). The 16-part series kicked off with a 0.9 per cent viewership rating on June 29, but soon became the talk of the town with its rating skyrocketing to 9.6 per cent by the time the sixth episode had aired last week. The heartfelt series topped Netflix’s official non-English Top 10 chart in the week following its premiere, recording almost 24 million hours of viewing. Its production company, AStory, revealed last week that it is reviewing a proposal for a remake in the US. Pop culture critic Kim Hern-sik explained that everything about the series – from the characters to the plotline – is a recipe for success, not to mention the uniqueness of a main character. “[The series] built a storyline as a legal drama – considered one of two major genres for success along with medical dramas – from a female-centric perspective. And it presents a socially valuable character who has a disability. “And this character, unlike previously portrayed ones, is not only charming and adorable, but also has a perspective that even people without disabilities can empathise with,” Kim said. Extraordinary ... people can stir tensions and sometimes cause trouble. But they also can change and enrich our world Moon Ji-won, the creator and writer of the series “The lead character is not like any other characters people have seen before. The autism spectrum provides the series with uniqueness and distinctiveness. It’s not easy to create [a story] that seems familiar but is not. Yet the series accomplished this and that’s what makes it different.” In each episode, Woo comes across different lawsuits, and she finds creative and extraordinary ways to work around the cases. The series invites the viewers into Woo’s quirky but lovely world, filled with people who care for her as well as images of her favourite comfort animal, a whale, floating around in the scenes. She constantly faces obstacles and prejudice despite her talent as a lawyer, but manages to take steps forward to grow into a better lawyer. Moon Ji-won, the creator and writer of the series, shared that she wanted to take viewers on a journey to get to know the “extraordinary Young-woo”. “We usually refer to those who are atypical, unfamiliar, unique, peculiar, uncanny, random, odd and outside the box, as extraordinary. Those people can stir tensions and sometimes cause trouble. But they also can change and enrich our world, and make it a more interesting place to live,” she said in an interview released through the network. “I hope, through the series, that people can experience the extraordinary energy that such extraordinary people have.” 5 new Korean drama series to look out for in July 2022 Critic Kim noted that such a feel-good series met the audience’s needs amid the current content market filled with blockbuster, dark and dynamic genres. “The series is a coming-of-age story and overall, it is filled with an optimistic, heartfelt human story rather than negative views,” he said. One viewer said that the series’ healing, heartwarming story is the reason she follows the drama. “The recent series I’ve watched were usually hard-hitting and often portrayed people’s twisted desires and social injustices. That’s what makes them interesting and intriguing but it also puts emotional stress on you,” she said. “But Extraordinary Attorney Woo doesn’t have any of that. And in the cases that lead the story, there’s no absolute evil. Each person has their reasons and stories that led to the case, which resonates with me and makes it easy to watch,” she said. Despite the series’ popularity, some people raised concerns about its portrayal of a person on the autism spectrum, pointing out that the story’s unrealistic features, like the character’s stellar career and abilities in the courtroom, fall short of realistic autistic representation. There has been almost no series [before Extraordinary Attorney Woo] that delicately portrayed a disabled person expressing their own opinion and thoughts Kim Hern-sik, critic Critic Kim, who has years of experience as a consultant for film and TV programmes that help raise disability awareness, said that such criticism is needed for the media to move forward in improving representation of people with disabilities. “There will always be criticism no matter how realistically disabled people’s lives are portrayed. Even disabled people have different views on disability. So what we should do is find a common ground,” he said. “If it’s too close to reality, the issue is that non-disabled people would not watch it. Then it’s impossible to raise awareness […] the priority of a fictional drama is that, although it is based on reality, it needs to have a form of art that makes more people watch it. “And what’s important here is that we continue to criticise the minor mishaps in that process and take actions to revise and correct them,” Kim said. Kim added that the series takes a rather more open-hearted approach to depicting the realities of people with disabilities. “The important thing is not how difficult disabled people’s lives are in reality. It’s important to show how they have changed and how people are trying to change while the social infrastructure and circumstances interfere,” he said. “This series puts the focus on depicting diverse cases of such realities.” He added that the series’ success is very meaningful, as it has set an example for further representation of people with disabilities in the media. “There has been almost no [Korean] series that delicately portrayed a disabled person expressing their own opinion and thoughts. So I think this in itself has an enormous meaning: the fact that you can have a character with a disability and still get a successful response both in the country and abroad,” he said. Read the full story at The Korea Times.