By: Bill Cushing – Sept. 2021
Netflix’s new limited dramedy series ‘The Chair’ is the perfect sized binge. Six episodes, each about 30 minutes, loaded with plot and filled with humor. The show is interesting, engaging, and a really fun watch.
‘The Chair’ takes place over a few weeks at the fictional Pembrooke University English Department. Ji-Yoon Kim, played by Sandra Oh, has just been appointed to the position of Chair of the English Department, becoming the first woman of color to attain that position. She has high hopes for what she can achieve in the department, but the Dean (David Morse) has his own agenda.
First, he presents her with a list of three aging teachers that she must either fire or convince to retire. Then her choice for the prestigious Distinguished Lecturer position, Yaz McKay (Nana Mensah), the only other woman of color in the department, gets overlooked due to the preferences of a Board member.
If all that wasn’t enough, her best friend, the department’s most popular professor, Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass) gets wrapped up in a scandal that causes both his and Ji-Yoon’s jobs to be in jeopardy. Ji-Yoon realizes she’s inherited a mess. “I feel like someone handed me a ticking time bomb,” she says, “because they wanted to make sure a woman was holding it when it explodes.” It’s a lot of story to be packed into roughly 3 hours of TV, but ‘The Chair’ does a great job at weaving it all together.
The characters in the show are sharply written and feel real and grounded, even as the events surrounding them become more frenzied. Sandra Oh is outstanding as usual, delivering some of her best work. Jay Duplass gives a terrific subtle performance as Bill, a self-destructive man who can barely get out of bed in the morning, let alone defend his values as an educator.
Careers may be at stake, livelihoods threatened, and controversies examined, but the real story here is the relationship between Ji-Yoon and Bill. The scenes that Oh and Duplass share are among the most touching in the series.
The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Holland Taylor Young, and Bob Balaban, playing two of the aging professors do a great job. There’s also a wonderful performance by 7-year-old newcomer Everly Carganilla as Ji-Yoon’s adopted Hispanic daughter JuJu, whose behavior (asking to see the vaginas of strangers, among other things) is the terror of the town babysitters. Watch for a hilarious cameo appearance by David Duchovny playing himself and the terrific scene he and Oh have together.
Written by actress Amanda Peet and Harvard doctoral candidate Annie Wyman, the show is filled with dark humor and is also extraordinarily insightful. The one problem with ‘The Chair’ is that I wish it was a little longer. Maybe 10 episodes so that the show could give a little more time to some of the smaller stories.
If you’re looking for a fun binge, look no further than ‘The Chair.’ It’s being called a limited series, but we know in today’s TV landscape that really doesn’t mean anything. Don’t be surprised if we see a second season down the road, there are definitely more stories to tell here.
‘The Chair’ is available to stream on Netflix.
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