This ‘Back to School’ month is the perfect time for Netflix’s new college-set series The Chair, starring Sandra Oh (Killing Eve, Grey’s Anatomy) as Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, the first female head of the English department at (fictional) Pembroke University.
A prestigious “lower-tier Ivy,” Pembroke has always favored its rich, white students and faculty, so the newly elected Chair faces not only gender prejudice but also racial bias. A single mother, she’s raising an adopted daughter, Ju-Ju (Everly Carganilla), with the help of her widowed, Korean-speaking father (Lee Ji-Yong).
Kim has a budding romance with smugly popular professor Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass), who gives a Nazi salute while discussing fascism and absurdism, an incident that results in a viral scandal.
In addition, she faces a difficult decision since the inscrutable Dean (David Morse) is determined to cull the entrenched faculty. Unable to fire anyone with tenure, he urges her to nudge certain senior professors, her mentors, toward early retirement.
Instead, she tries to help them boost their enrollment numbers. That includes Elliot Rentz (Bob Balaban), a Melville expert, and Joan Hambling (Holland Taylor), a salty medievalist, devoted to Chaucer.
Plus, there’s the dilemma of a Distinguished Lecturer, David Duchovny (X-Files, parodying himself, wearing a red Speedo), and Dr. Yasmin McKay (Nana Mensah), fighting for tenure.
Created by actress Amanda Peet and Annie Julia Wyman, it’s a workplace drama set in a profession that’s obsessed with status and prestige. Wyman earned a PhD in English from Harvard; producers David Nenioff and D.B. Weiss met at Trinity College, Dublin, while pursuing Master’s degrees in Irish literature; and David Duchovny earned a Master’s from Yale in English, starting (but never completing) a Phd there.
The series was filmed in Pennsylvania at Washington & Jefferson College and Chatham University’s Shadyside campus. And if you spot a photo of Dr. Kim’s ‘ex,’ yes, it’s Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii-Five-O).
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Chair is a wryly satirical 7, skewering resistance to diversity and inclusion in contemporary academia. Its six, half-our episodes stream on Netflix.