At the prestigious Pembroke University, Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) becomes the chair of the English department. She is the first woman, and woman of colour, to take the position. But soon the demands and expectations of the role become overwhelming. She struggles to balance family and romance as well as introducing more diversity into the department.
Sandra Oh continues world domination, leaving Shondaland and 'Grey's Anatomy' far behind. She's made a killing thanks to 'Killing Eve'. In animation, she loaned her voice to 'Raya and the Last Dragon', and will collaborate with Disney again in the upcoming 'Turning Red'; and also featured in the hit Amazon animation 'Invincible'. There's nothing more to say about her role in 'The Chair' other than she is yet again flawless.
There are two major things going for this latest series from Netflix. Firstly, its sense of humour, which takes you by surprise and has you clutching your stomach with laughter with its fabulous one liners. The second thing that really works is its solid characterisation, with a fantastic cast in Jay Duplass, Nana Mensah, David Morse, Bob Balaban and Holland Taylor behind the neurotic personalities.
Duplass' Bill Dobson, a successful writer-turned-lecturer, is a mess, drinking and arriving late for class, in mourning for his wife and distressed after his daughter has left for college. Duplass maintains a witty charm in his performance so it's easy to see why Ji-Yoon can't help but be drawn to him. The two share a cute, playful bond, which soon extends to Ji-Yoon's adopted daughter too. Elsewhere, Balaban does well as the stubborn and subtly insecure Elliot Rentz while Nana Mensah makes her character Yaz McKay easy to like. The lecturer proves popular with students, giving courses on sex in literature, and incorporating Twitter and rap assignments into her classes.
The standout character of 'The Chair', however, has to be Joan Hambling, played fantastically by Holland Taylor, who played Professor Stromwell in 'Legally Blonde' a couple of decades prior. She adores Chaucer and is sick to death of these young people and their ways. Unafraid to cuss and speak her mind, don't be surprised if Taylor has given us another iconic teacher in Hambling.
As for the likenesses of 'The Chair' to Trinity's School of English, obviously the Netflix series leans towards extremes for the sake of comedy. But there will be a lot of familiar sights for college grads including eccentric lecturers, the incorporation of celebrities as guest lecturers to make a connection with "the youths", sucking up to authoritative figures, and the scandals which demand for censorship. Of course the tug-of-war between classical topics and modern ones isn't limited to the English department. Elsewhere cultural clashes and conversations around race and gender provide points of interest to the series, while never quite feeling groundbreaking.
Overall, in the course of its six 30 minute-long episodes, 'The Chair' is zippy and entertaining, if a little too on the nose at times. You're sure to come away with a favourite teacher, and even be willing to return to the uni for another class.