What is the story about?
Dr. Ji-yoon Kim is the new head of the Department of English at Pembroke College. However, she has a tough time managing crises at both her workplace and at home.
Created by Amanda Peet and Annie Wyman, The Chair is a series that could've easily fallen flat on it face while trying to dissect the horrors of modern-day academia. However, the world of academia itself is in a lot of flux in this day and age, and Peet and Wyman don't even have to look hard to find the humour hidden under all the absurdity. The significance of Ji-yoon's elevation as the first woman of colour to head the Department of English at one of America's most premier liberal arts institutions is not lost on her, but she is uncomfortable as an administrator trying to put out multiple fires--a rapidly-ageing department, falling enrolment rates, colleagues with their own egos, one colleague/friend/former lover, a star colleague who struggles for tenure, and an adopted daughter who makes her life miserable. The Chair finds plenty of dark humour in Ji-yoon's hapless life, but it also dives into other themes--the pressure on academics to produce "content" in the age of TikTok, the struggle to fill up classes and even a half-fleshed look at the downside of "cancel culture". Within its six episodes, this series finds a lot to explore, and it does so with relative panache. I hope they think of more relevant themes for the next season.
Sandra Oh is a joy to watch as Ji-yoon. It is fascinating to watch the veteran actress play an academic whose personal and professional lives collide andintermingle in unimaginable ways after she becomes head of the department. Holland Taylor is in smashing form as the Chaucer loyalist Joan, and she is terrific in that library sequence where she confronts a student about the dirty nature of The Canterbury Tales. Jay Duplass is simultaneously funny and heartbreaking to watch as Bill, the star faculty who loses all bearings after the death of his wife. He and Ji-yoon have a very problematic relationship that often borders on toxic at times. Bob Balaban is solid as the insecure Elliot, who is threatened by the rise of a younger colleague. Nana Mensah is decent as Yaz, the star faculty who is looking for tenure. David Morse is suitably oily as the Dean. And then there's David Duchovny, appearing as himself in a delightful cameo.
Music & Other Departments
The background score is dominated by classical music, and it elevates the absurdities on screen.
Certain sequences are hilarious, such as when Joan accidentally sets fire to her office while trying to incinerate her student evaluations, or when Ji-yoon addresses the faculty dinner while being high on pot.
The entire track surrounding Bill's Hitler salute and the backlash it generates is not properly explored.
Did I enjoy it?
Do I recommend it?
Watch it for a reminder of just how good Sandra Oh can be, and also for the unique setting.