‘The Chair’ is a dramedy worthy of a second season: A Review of the new Netflix series

From Dr. Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy to Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, chair of Pembroke University’s English Department, Sandra Oh has proven to be an effective voice for inclusion in the entertainment industry.

Sandra Oh in The Chair, a new Netflix series

The Chair is a notable addition to Netflix’s original series, newly released in August 20, 2021. The six, 30 min. episodes pack subject matters that are relevant in academia and society today. So, if you feel it has not fully delved into such issues, I hope a second season would allow it to elaborate.

The most obvious one is the academic chair, the symbol of authority in academia. Professor Ji-Yoon Kim, aptly played by Sandra Oh in an astute mix of comedic and realistic fervour, is the first Asian American and woman of colour to chair the English Department of Pembroke University, a second tier liberal arts college striving to remain relevant. Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim’s obstacles are duly multiplied just because of who she is, a woman English professor of Korean ancestry.

When talking with Yaz (Nana Mensah), a young, black woman faculty whom Ji-Yoon wants to appoint as distinguished lecturer, Ji-Yoon says, “when I first started, it was like ‘why some Asian lady teaching Emily Dickinson?'”

Ji-Yoon’s troubles are manifold. Enrolment in the English Department has dropped more than 30%, budget has been chopped, and many of the 87% white male faculty have long passed the borderline of retirement. Ji-Yoon’s department is striving to recover its raison d’être. Her own daughter Ju Ju asks her, “Why are you a doctor? You never help anybody.” A question must have lodged in many a minds.

As for Ju Ju, a role superbly played by Everly Carganilla, she’s a heart-breaker. Ji-Yoon faces single-parenthood with added difficulties as Ju Ju is an adopted daughter of Hispanic heritage. Mother-daughter bond doesn’t come easily, especially with an intelligent and challenging child. Ji-Yoon has no other childminding support other than her reluctant, Korean father. The traditional Korean family event (E5) where a baby chooses her future career is interesting and adds spice to the academic scenes.

Characters are realistic, albeit in a comedy it’s expected to see overly dramatized ones like Bill (Jay Duplass), too stoned or drunk to remember he has a class to teach. His excuse, he’s still recovering from the loss of his wife, and a daughter who has just gone away for college and has no intention to return. The class he teaches, Death and Modernism, draws a full capacity all because of his popularity… but not for long.

As a comedy, the writing isn’t your LOL funny type. The humour, especially on the ripe old professors, tends towards cliché; nevertheless, the writing is interesting, especially when they try to include literary allusions into the dialogues. Knowing T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock just might enhance one’s enjoyment.

Overall, a subject matter that’s long due and a new series that deserves many more seasons to come.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

10 thoughts on “‘The Chair’ is a dramedy worthy of a second season: A Review of the new Netflix series”

  1. I watched this and although I’m not in any way connected to a university, I have close friends who are and watching this mirrored much of what I’ve been listening to in person, and recently read about in a statement by the award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones when she announced that she had declined an offer of tenure from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Her situation encapsulates so much of what this is all about, and it wouldn’t surprise me that her situation and others like it have inspired this series.

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    1. Thanks for the link, Claire! A sad but true, real life situation that I’m sure has some influence on the creation of this series. That’s what the character Yaz has gone through. The series indeed as you said mirrors real life situation. I’ve appreciated the subject matter it’s chosen, an academic environment and embedding literary allusions in its comedic treatment, an unlikely fusion, just like the racial mix within Ji-Yoon’s family. Sandra Oh has done it yet again… this time as executive producer as well.

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  2. As someone who works in academia, and in English departments, I thought this was interesting and parts of it are adjacent to the kinds of things that do happen. None of it is very true to life in my experience, though.

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    1. A Korean American woman being the Chair of an English Department in an American university is quite a fantasy scenario (let’s say, an almost dreamlike scenario), I’m sure some of its subsequent characterization and dramedic treatments are imaginary and not totally real. However, situations like a qualified black woman faculty not gaining tenure, or old timers with dwindling class enrolment but refusing to retire… etc. are relatively true (?), an example being the real-life happening described in the link in Claire’s comment above.

      I do have one query, though, and that’s my observation when I watched the series. The ‘F’ word is so common in the dialogues. Is it such a ubiquitous expression in the vernacular of academics, or that’s not a realistic depiction, but written just to appeal to the general Netflix audience? Just wondering… 🙂

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    1. As I mentioned, it’s not LOL funny but it touches on relevant issues. I applaud its choice of subject matters and my best wishes to Sandra Oh. Hope to see it developed further in the future. I think you’ll enjoy it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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