Photo By: Noah Nickel via Netflix
The Chair is a new Netflix series starring Sandra Oh as Ji-Yoon, the first female chair of Pembroke University’s English department (this is, of course, a fictional university). The series depicts Ji-Yoon’s struggle in a department that is overlooked in favour of the departments that teach “hard skills” like the sciences.
These characters who have given their lives to the study of literature must face the fact that analysis, critical thinking, and empathy are thought of as lesser because they are more difficult to quantify than coding, for example.
Each character is written as a complete person with conflicting interests that Ji-Yoon must attempt to balance without running the department into the ground. Her personal life is explored in the show as well. As a single mother and career-driven woman, the divide between her home and work lives makes the story more personal. Her relationship with former chair Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass) only further complicates her job.
Despite the drama central to The Chair, the script is balanced by light comedic moments that give it charm. The compelling conflict makes it hard to stop watching. All the characters have more growth ahead of them and are well-written, as the script gives the characters time to change slowly as real people do, making it the kind of show that will leave viewers hoping for a second season.
As a story about the faculty at a university, students will find the narrative compelling. The warm colour palette and academic aesthetic is also perfect for fall. The Chair is a good show to help get you excited about attending classes in-person again. The Ivy League charm of the set and the cast dressed in cozy sweaters makes it great a show to curl up with a coffee and binge on an afternoon after submitting an essay.
Not only is the ambiance a huge selling point for the show, but Oh’s performance alone is compelling enough to make the show worth watching. Fans of Killing Eve and Grey’s Anatomy will not be disappointed with her acting. She delivers sincerity in serious and comedic moments alike. Ji-Yoon is loveable and sympathetic; the worse things get for her the more the audience leans in to see just what will happen next. Oh consistently plays wonderfully written female characters and her role in The Chair is no exception.
If that wasn’t enough to make you want to watch it, there is a bizarre subplot featuring David Duchovny (as himself). This subplot seems to border on satire when commenting on American academia. The school is far more focused on profit than creating an environment to foster learning, and so the use of celebrity status to, “get butts in seats” feels silly, but not far from reality.
The Chair draws back the curtain on the operations of an elite university. It is an especially interesting watch for students and a worthwhile commentary on academia. It features strong writing and acting performances as well as an irresistible ambiance. Anyone with a Netflix account and a bit of spare time should check it out.