The Chair is Netflix’s university drama-comedy starring Sandra Oh. Written by Amanda Peet and directed by Daniel Gray Longino, the six-episode show looks at the problematic politics that can develop and persist in a traditional workplace, with a particular focus on race and gender inequality.
When Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) is appointed chair of the English department at a major university, she immediately realises that it will not be a smooth ride. As the first female to occupy the prestigious position, she feels from the first moment that her choices will be closely scrutinised by her peers. The character is expected to modernise the struggling department and make it attractive for potential students, but she must first face a group of established lecturers who are unwilling to update their teaching methods and material.
As for her private life, the protagonist’s ongoing involvement with colleague and former chair, professor Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass), means that she is sometimes caught in unprofessional situations, especially when he starts behaving erratically following some upsetting personal events. Meanwhile, Ji-Yoon’s little daughter is going through a delicate phase and needs her attention.
The series works well as a fictionalised commentary on generational clashes, and it succeeds in highlighting the difficulty of establishing gender and race equality in conservative settings. As for its entertainment value, it leaves something to be desired, as it relies on unremarkable dialogues and an unoriginal storyline. The comedy is very tame and clearly not the focus of the series, but the drama is interesting in its representation of scenarios that doubtless occur in many a workplace and that need challenging.
The Chair is successful in its choice of setting and characters, but its commitment to flagging important social issues is not backed by an equally zealous attempt to bring brilliant stories to life or present witty dialogues.
The Chair is released on Netflix on 20th August 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Chair here: