Netflix’s ‘The Chair’ Doesn’t Pull the Seat Right from Under You

Greetings fellow English Majors and Professors! Are you tired of the jokes and misrepresentation of our beloved department? Well, Sandra Oh is here to provide laughs, uncomfortable realities, and show it off to the world. The Chair is a new Netflix dramedy about the first appointed woman to lead the English department at Pembroke University. When you’re seen as the “underdog” major that’s facing threats of downsizing, every move you make feels like it can domino effect into a tragedy.

I’d like to call to attention an important matter; academic hierarchies can create layers of trouble. In a predominantly white system that looks quick to cut out Black, Indigenous, and people of color, a seat at the head of the table can feel like a time of celebration and frustration. The Chair proves that even when you’re the head, you’re still seen as an appendix. Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) consistently having to fight for respect among her colleagues, while fighting for her voice to her superiors, and while trying to address love and accountability in her personal life gets exhausting to look at. There’s always something. Which makes Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim so believable.

Arrogant and Believable

The Chair
THE CHAIR (L to R) HOLLAND TAYLOR as JOAN in episode 103 of THE CHAIR Cr. ELIZA MORSE/NETFLIX © 2021

Overall, I really appreciated how accurate The Chair handled some characters. Honestly, I’ve seen each of these professors at my college. Whether it’s the professor that chooses not to build on their curriculum because they’re stuck in their ways, or the white professor with tenure that is too arrogant to admit their wrongs because they got tenure, there are recognizable entities, and the show doesn’t stray too far from showing their colors. Seeing each of their interactions and completely predictable actions really set the comedic tone, and for the most part the way the writers approached the characters and their turmoil, felt balanced.

Who is the True Enemy Here?

But when you think about pressure and position, it’s difficult to not think about how race, gender, and ageism comes into play. The Chair succeeds in bringing the conversation to the table but doesn’t put enough effort in the follow through. How are these white people getting away with wild stuff? The Chair succeeds in its comedic absurdity; these professors felt too comfortable to be out of hand with the students. However, I am concerned with how the writers handled the students of Pembrooke University. At times, it felt lazy, like I was meant to be frustrated with the students with valid concerns. A good chunk of the time I accept that folks be doing the most to try and slam dunk you, but the writing seemed to have been aimed at making the students the problem that needs to be solved.

Throughout the show, Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim had to fight for her own voice while defending others. She had to be the advocate for diversity and at the same time play politics in her own department. We’re able to see intersectionality at play, but the way they crafted the students’ role made the whole experience seem more invasive. At times, it felt like the writers revoked blame from the teachers and passing blame onto the ones experiencing their class. The power doesn’t shift from whiteness, rather the focus becomes how to deal with them while dealing with your own personal struggles. That doesn’t make the show any less accurate. It just makes it exhausting in its approach.

The Chair
THE CHAIR (L to R) RANDY KOVITZ as PROFESSOR REINHARDT, RICHARD R. APPLEGATE as PROFESSOR JIM, RON CRAWFORD as PROFESSOR MCHALE, and BOB BALABAN as RENTZ in episode 101 of THE CHAIR Cr. ELIZA MORSE/NETFLIX © 2021

WWE Smackdown: Everyone vs The Chair

Overall, if The Chair doesn’t make you call up your English major friends/professors and ask, “Aye yo, you good?” you don’t understand the vibes. The series successfully reveals the secrets of the English department, the good, the bad, and the tragedies. The Chair is most successful in its comedic approach, by utilizing the strengths of awkward silences and strong, memorable personality traits, but doesn’t follow through all the way in honesty. At times, as we traveled along the storyline, it felt like partnering with an unreliable narrator, but what I hope the show does is bring to the forefront the understanding of worth, perseverance, and what does love and accountability look like.

8.1 Tracks to Tenure out of 10

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The Chair

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  • Khadjiah Johnson is a Caribbean-American writer and humor advocate who uses poetry and comedy as a leverage to empathize and uplift. Her work has taken her to Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, Apollo Theater, BET, Off-Broadway and many more! She hopes to use her talents to sway her way into the writers room for a Late Night Comedy Show.

  • Show Comments

  • Akinyele Sadiq

    Binged the entire series last night. Mostly enjoyed it, except that it was lacking much “comedy”. The issues are real, but even as an elder (i’m 70–a radical Black “hippie”), for me the very weakest element was the unrealistically uniform silliness of the students. Again, the issues are real, but the young real world activists that i know would never believe that an obviously doctored 2-second video clip would be reason enough to start a “rebellion”. IMHO, it was an insult to actual progressive youth. As satire, it failed, and as drama it was not at all believable.

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