The Chair: Sandra Oh is Wonderful

(L to R) JAY DUPLASS as BILL and SANDRA OH as JI-YOON in episode 104 of THE CHAIR (ELIZA MORSE/NETFLIX) © 2021.

The Chair makes for a quick binge with a total run time of three hours and a wonderful leading performance from actress Sandra Oh.

Jin-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) is the first female to take on the role of Pembroke University’s English department chair. It comes at a time that has a lot going on. One, Professor Kim wants to see to it that Yaz McKay (Nana Mensah) makes tenure. Two, she also needs to work out her relationship with Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass). Bill is going through a lot. To say that Bill is a mess would not be an understatement. All this is going on while she needs to parent her adoptive daughter, Ju-Hee “Ju Ju” Kim (Everly Carginilla), and take care of her father, Habi (Ji Yong Lee). There’s a lot going on and everything needs to resolve itself in three hours.

It would not be a proper look at a college if there isn’t a scandal. I’ll expand on this in a few but it evolves around Bill Dobson after he is recorded on video making a Nazi salute. Students want him held accountable and when he later addresses them, he compares himself to Jewish professors who fled Nazi Germany. It gets worse from here on out because he doesn’t make a sincere apology. Instead, he apologizes for their feelings. Bill Dobson may be a beloved professor but he must he held accountable for his actions. One can make the argument that this is the underlying plotline of the season. How will Jin-Yoon Kim respond as chair or will her relationship cloud her ability to do her job?

Meanwhile, the staff doesn’t make it easy including Professors Elliot Renz (Bob Balaban), Joan Hambling (Holland Taylor), and Dean Paul Larson (David Morse). Rentz is unable to workout his issues with racism, which comes out when compared with the younger and popular Yaz McKay. Not only does Professor Kim come in as the first department chair of color but she wants to see to it that a Black professor makes tenure. Listen, the series has been out since August and in the event that you haven’t watched yet, I want to keep a few surprises in store.

The fictional Pembroke is no different than any other college in real life. Antisemitism plays a large role for a number of episodes. I was thinking that I could wind down for a few hours and be distracted by watching The Chair. Oy vey. This one hit rather close to home. I certainly was not expecting antisemitism to be a dominating plotline for a majority of this series. But again, would it be a depiction of a college if it weren’t? I mean, sure, I love to watch comedy for the escapism but accuracy goes a long way, too. There’s a reason why organizations such as Jewish on Campus exists. Last year was the most antisemitic year on record in a number of years. Coincidentally, the fictional campus has seen its highest number of antisemitic incidents.

Sandra Oh is definitely the best part of the series. She is wonderful and deserves all of her nominations during this television awards season. I love what she brings to her character and how she handles everything, for better or worse. It never happens if series co-creator Amanda Peet never saw her performing in Stop Kiss back in 1998.

If The Chair were a film, it would probably end up being a 90 minute romantic dramedy. Funny enough, the series as its roots as a movie idea about an widower becoming an empty nester. However, the series format allows for better character development. It is still surprising that this show is only six episodes long. I feel like it needs to be eight episodes minimum. That being said, the six half-hour episodes are what makes it a series that is easily digestible in a binge format. I should add that while The Chair has been submitted as a comedy, it’s more of a dramedy. You have some scenes here that are more serious than others but the cast is more than capable of doing the job.

I love how The Chair depicts the generational change. It allows for conversations that need to be had. They aren’t easy to discuss at times but we have to discuss them. There’s something in the news almost every day now about a college professor saying something that causes them to lose their job. Or something like that.

CREATORS: Amanda Peet & Annie Julia Wyman
DIRECTOR: Daniel Gray Longino
SCREENWRITERS: Amanda Peet & Annie Julia Wyman (101, 103), Amanda Peet & Richard E. Robbins (102), Richard E. Robbins (104), Jennifer Kim (105), Andrea Troyer (106)
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Amanda Peet, Sandra Oh, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Bernadette Caulfield, and Daniel Gray Longino
CAST: Sandra Oh, Jay Duplass, Bob Balaban, Nana Mensah, Everly Carginilla, with David Morse and Holland Taylor

Netflix launched The Chair on August 20, 2021. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.