Netflix’s new comedy-drama series The Chair centers on newly-elected English Department Chair Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) and the drama in her life both on and off campus. And for once, the drama involving the English teacher is not sex with a student (as an English Professor, this is reason enough to praise the series).
On campus, enrollment is down, the senior faculty are losing their jobs, and a remark by Professor Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass) results in student protests–the latter of these troubles being significantly worsened by Kim and Dobson’s complex relationship. At home, Kim’s concerns revolve primarily around her daughter and family heritage. While Kim is Korean, her adopted daughter Ju-Hee (Everly Carganilla) is Latina and has reached that age where she wants to know her cultural history.
Needless to say, Kim is navigating a lot, and the amount of emotional storytelling that unfolds in six 30-minute episodes is impressive. The acting from all parties is exceptional, and lead actress Sandra Oh is as compelling as always. The characters are complex, and, despite the series being so short, their stories are revealed in unexpected ways. Although most of the characters are professors, The Chair manages to deliver just enough English Department drama to appeal to those who have no interest or experience in that profession.
That said, there are a lot humorous moments that I don’t think would be quite so amusing to someone unfamiliar with this particular set of workplace politics. Similarly, the stress surrounding tenure and student approval might not seem as dire to those who are outside of it. Relatedly, the show presents a surprisingly balanced and objective view of how college life has shifted dramatically–particularly when it comes to matters like “safe spaces” and diversity initiatives.
Despite all of the tension, The Chair is decidedly uplifting. Kim’s conversations with her father and daughter are a joy, and through all of the death-of-the-humanities despair, we witness an important shift as the English Department remembers why they arrived at Pembroke University in the first place: to teach. Academia can be (and often is) a soul-killing business, but The Chair is a good reminder that it doesn’t have to be.
English Department Politics10.0/10
Desire to adopt Ju-Hee10.0/10
David Duchovny Cameo10.0/10
Save the Humanities10.0/10
- Stars: Sandra Oh, Jay Duplass, Everly Carganilla, et al.
- Director: Daniel Gray Longino
- Writers: Amanda Peet, Annie Wyman, Richard Robbins
- Producers: David Benioff, Bernadette Caulfield, D.B. Weiss, et al.
- Musician: Stephanie Economou
- Cinematographer: Jim Frohna
- Film Editor: Jay Deuby
- Art Director: Aleksandra Landsberg
- Set Director: Ali Rubinfeld
- Visual Effects Supervisor: James Pastorius