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The Chair

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This Netflix mini series begins with a metaphorical take on its title. We see Sandra Oh's Professor Ji-Yoon Kim enter the elegant office of Pembrook University's English department's chief officer— a.k.a. as "the chair."

The appointment of an Asian woman to this post represents a double breakthrough at this white male dominated and second tier Ivy League institution. But not so fast. Ji-Yoon's takeover of that impressive office is an instant disaster. The chair in front of her desk collapses beneath her— effectively symbolizing the risks that come with breaking through that glass ceiling as well as the creators' mission of dramatizing the challenges Ji-Yoon faces with comedic flair.

Instead of overstaying its clickbait appeal, like so many serials, The Chair unpacks all its issues and subplots pertaining to Ji-Yoon's private and professional life in just six, eventful half-hour episodes. If this sounds like a series that manages to be both substantial and brisk, serious as well as funny, it is, and it isn't.

The top job of an important department is indeed something to be cherished, but coming as it does at a problem-riddled time at Pembroke, it's no wonder the newly appointed chair feels that she has been handed a ticking time bomb. President Biden, for whom the desk in the White House's oval office was long a coveted destination, could surely emphasize with Oh's professor; that is, if he weren't busy 24/7 dealing with Afghanistan, Covid, and the fallout from Trumpism.

So here are some of the minefields Ji-Yoon must navigate to keep this stronghold of decidedly un-woke, white males from male-dominated academic from succumbing to the steady loss of student enrollment.

The fact that the English department's only other woman of color besides her is Yaz McKay (Nana Mensah), whose class is always filled with enthusiastic students, doesn't sit well with Melville scholar Elliot Rentz/ (Bob Balaban) who refuses to update the lecture he's now presenting to empty classrooms.

There is one other female professor, Chaucer scholar Joan Hambling (Holland Taylor). She's not as stuffy as her contemporaries, but like so many women of her era, she compromised rather than fought for her turn as the department's chair. Thus, she's now now being pressured to retire even more than her colleagues.

As for the lless fossilized and still popular Professor Bob Dobson (Jay Duplass), he turns out to add another fire Ji-Yoon Lee has to put out but also figures importantly in her private life. An inappropriate joke he makes in his classroom goes viral, but his rapport with Ju Ju (Evelyn Carganilla), the precocious 7-year -old daughter that Ji-Yoon adopted as a single mother, rachets up the romance between them.

Interesting and timely as all these subplots are, too many details are missing. Consequently, I found myself wishing that the episodes were long enough to fill in plot holes and round out the characters.

Ultimately, The Chair is worth watching because the actors are so good that they give life to their characters despite the script's shortcomings. Sandra Oh makes the most of this star turn, and Amanda Peet, herself an accomplished stage actor, has wisely brought fellow stage actors like David Morse, Holland Taylor and Bob Balaban on board.

While a brief cameo by real-life actor David Duchovny adds a savvy putdown of hiring celebrity professors, it would have been better to spend more time with some of the other characters.

As British period series are greatly enhanced by their settings, so the campus traumas unfold against a flavorful background as filmed on lcaton location in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the surrounding area. To create The Pembroke University's campus Washington & Jefferson College and Chatham University's Shadyside campus were used.

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The Chair
Created by Amanda Peet and Annie Wyman
Directed by Daniel Gray Longino
Principal Cast Members: Sandra Oh /Ji-Yoon Kim, Jay Duplass/ Bill Dobson, Bob Balaban/ Elliot Rentz, Nana Mensah/Yaz McKay,, Everly Carganilla// Ju Ju, David Morse/ Dean Paul Larson, HollandTaylor/ Joan Hambling
Cinematography: Kiarash Sadigh
Art Direction: Aleksandra Landsberg
Set Decoration: Ali Rubinfeld
Mini series, streaming at Netflix , starting August 20, 2021
6 half-hour episodes

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