The Chair is a series of missed opportunities. If ever there was a time to lampoon campus activities, it is now. With a wonderful cast and a solid idea, The Chair comes up short. With all that’s going on in the world, the best you could come up with is to fire a bunch of aging professors? Pembroke University lives in the past, a white, male bastion in an increasingly rainbow world. Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim is their face of diversity, literally the “face” of change. But, as the new chair of the English department, she faces a “dire crisis.” Enrollment is down 30% and she receives “the list” from the Dean. Three underperforming professors, all well into their seventies, must go.
- Dr. John McHale – 7 students – salary $132, 239
- Dr. Elliot Rentz – 22 students salary – $132,210
- Dr. Joan Hambling – 18 students – $125,220
While The Chair tries to mix it up with a “misunderstood” Nazi salute and protesting students, a “disaffected white male professor cliche,” and a kid more worldly than ever thought possible, much is just too contrived. Who is the rising star in The English Department? Dr. Yaz McKay teaches Sex and the Novel. Or, would you prefer Dr. Hambling and Chaucer?
Notwithstanding its lack of reach, The Chair does have its moments. Any scene with the kid, Ju Ju Kim, or with the IT Guy are spot on. Still grieving from his wife’s death one year earlier, the part of Dr. Bill Gibson isn’t believable, even though he connects with Ju Ju better than her mom. Clearly, the critics and the audience enjoyed this six-part, thirty minute each, Netflix series more than I. The Chair gets 3.0 Gavels and it receives an 81% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 7.3/10 IMDb score.
As the new Chair, Dr. Kim will Reimagine the Humanities. To insure that Dr. McKay receives tenure, and improve Dr. Rentz’ numbers, she recommends they co-teach. Now, if only Dr. Dobson could “get his sh__ together.” Will she be able to get the older set to read their student evaluations, and get Dr. Hambling out of the basement? Will she lose funding if she doesn’t allow David Duchovny, the actor, to present the Distinguished Lecture? Nearing age fifty, is the alcoholic, pot-smoking Dr. Dobson her “last bus in town?”
From Grey’s Anatomy to Killing Eve, Sandra Oh is a class act. The exasperation with the circumstances given Dr. Kim is writ all over her face. From one crisis to the next, she never gets the chance to show any range. She is so much better than this series allows her to be. Would Dr. Kim really be interested in a Dr. Dobson, a professor who is “just phoning it in?” Effectively played by Jay Duplass, I don’t buy it. As Evelyn Harper in Two and a Half Men, Holland Taylor had a sharp tongue. The writers have taken all the wonderful sting out of her Dr. Hambling.
In The Chair, advising a teaching assistant to not talk to the press becomes a gag order. A relationship becomes an enabler, a co-conspirator. Support for a colleague becomes the face of totalitarianism. Dr. Dobson is self-destructive and Dr. Kim becomes a lackey of the Dean. Overembellished comes to mind.
“An exceptional cast mostly outshines the material, leaving what amounts to a mildly diverting binge with one inordinately amusing cameo baked into it.” CNN.com
“Sadly, this all-too-short dramedy tries to do too much, squandering its most promising characters and avenues of insight on the academic side in an attempt also to be a single-mum domestic drama and a semi-conventional romantic comedy to boot.” Sydney Morning Herald
Most of you will remember Amanda Peet from shows like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip or Brockmire. Here, she is the co-creator and writer. I give her points for the concept and hope that any Season Two brings out the daggers.