I feel like someone handed me a ticking time-bomb because they wanted to make sure a woman was holding it when it explodes. –Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim
I wasn’t sure what to expect as I started watching this show over the weekend, but within just a couple of episodes I was hooked — and eventually bingewatched all six episodes in less than 5 hours.
From the very start, as Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim (played by the incredible Sandra Oh) unwraps a gift of a desk nameplate that reads FUCKER IN CHARGE OF YOU FUCKING FUCKS, The Chair distinguishes itself from a typical dramedy. It never takes itself too seriously, while still tackling heavy subjects and modern-day “cancel culture” here and there. It’s bold and funny and unapologetic. And it’s amazing.
Created by Amanda Peet and Annie Wyman, the show revolves around Ji-Yoon, the new chair of the English department of the fictional Pembroke university, who is trying desperately to put out fires. Tasked with fixing the issue of enrollments going significantly down, Ji-Yoon must do so in an industry that has severely awarded older, white men for years even though she knows that change is necessary.
Oh’s performance, if you haven’t been blessed by her Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy, is nothing short of extraordinary. She tackles every interaction with every character with so much nuance — whether she is confronting her somewhat lover/somewhat friend Bill (Jay Duplass) for “not getting his shit together” after losing his wife and acting out in class, or trying to connect with her young daughter, I found myself emotionally attached to Kim’s story and constantly wondering when she is going to catch a break.
Another reason to fall in love with this show is Holland Taylor and Nana Mensah, who play Yaz and Joan, respectively. Taylor has some of the show’s most iconic lines (“fanny”) even as she is stranded with what I believed was the weakest subplot — fighting over how she got stuck with a tiny closet for an office in a push to get her to retire. Mensah, a Ghanaian-American actor, writer and director, on the other hand, is given some hefty material. In one of my favorite arcs of the season, Yaz finds herself forced to share a classroom with Elliot (played by Bob Balaban), a white, older, tenured professor. The clash of Millennials and Boomers across the show’s six episodes goes about as well as you’d expect, but the writing elevates these scenes with witty dialogue and multi-dimensional storytelling. I wouldn’t mind spending another season or two with scripts like this.
The Chair ultimately does leave room for potentially more episodes to come. While the finale is satisfying in its own way, there is an open ending of some sort to Bill’s controversial storyline (much of which I would rather leave unspoiled). Overall, the show is both a hilarious and tragic insight into the academic environment, with powerhouse performances and a tight script from start to finish, no doubt making it a strong contender for next year’s Emmy’s.