Indiana Daily Student

COLUMN: “The Chair” expertly examines academia’s triumphs, failures

<p>Sandra Oh, Nana Mensah and Holland Taylor pose seated for their show, &quot;The Chair.&quot; The show  premiered to Netflix audiences Aug. 20, 2021.</p>

Sandra Oh, Nana Mensah and Holland Taylor pose seated for their show, "The Chair." The show premiered to Netflix audiences Aug. 20, 2021.

I have watched some iffy stuff in my life, but “The Chair” is not one of those iffy things.

I recently watched “The Kissing Booth 3,” a film that received a glorious 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. Even though indulging in guilty pleasures such as “The Kissing Booth” trilogy can be great fun, it sure as hell makes you realize just how good shows like “The Chair” are. 

“The Chair” makes you recognize that there really is such a thing as high quality and low quality. 

While we often want to treat ourselves to the addictive world of bad entertainment — which is OK to do every once in a while — thoughtful, well-acted shows and movies will always be more rewarding.

Enter “The Chair,” one of the honest-to-god best shows I have seen in my life.

I’m not going to give any spoilers; what I want you to do is watch it. It’s six episodes — at approximately 30 minutes each — and I watched all of it on one hot, muggy evening while sitting on my apartment balcony.

“The Chair” stars Sandra Oh as Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, the new English department chair at Pembroke University, a fictional school created for the series. 

Ji-Yoon becomes department chair at a difficult time. She has a lot to deal with, such as trying to ensure tenure for her colleague, Dr. Yaz McKay, played by Nana Mensah. She also deals with three older professors facing declining enrollment, but with salaries that are too high and don’t represent said enrollment. In addition to this, her friend-colleague-love interest, Dr. Bill Dobson, played by Jay Duplass, is fighting through personal loss and scandal.

When writing this, I did research and read an article from BuzzFeed News that I did not agree with. The writer behind the article – who did a great job, and I am not downplaying the work that went into it – claimed that “The Chair” is not quite as “biting” as some critics make it out to be.

On that note, I agree with them; the show is not biting. It’s not cruel. It’s not cutthroat. it’s not unnecessarily rude and mocking. In that same article, though, the writer says they believe it’s a “fun workplace dramedy,” which I believe is a bit of a slight. While it’s not entirely biting, it’s also not frivolous, which that begins to imply. 

There’s a gray area that exists. And it’s in that gray area of life, where answers aren’t clear, that empathy begins.

“The Chair” does not have to be viciously critical. And, on the other end of the spectrum, it does not have to be lighthearted and merry.

Like I said, entertainment can exist in the middle, in that gray area. This show lives there. Which is exactly the point.

The best part of the show is that Oh’s character, Ji-Yoon, finds that sweet spot of empathy, love and care every single time. Even when she isn’t in another character’s situation, she helps them. When she doesn’t even necessarily agree with another character, she helps them. When she sees someone who is in pain – for whatever reason, mind you, not just big, flashy problems – she helps them.

She always helps them. And she tries to understand where these people are coming from and why they feel the way they do.

So, no. “The Chair” isn’t biting. “The Chair” isn’t just another fun workplace show. “The Chair” captures humanity at its worst, its ugliest, its most vulnerable, its saddest, its most scared and its very, very best.

It captures humanity in its gray area, which is the area of life where it’s hard to tell who’s right, who’s wrong and why we get mad at each other in the first place.

Because, a lot of the time, we do the things we do because we all just feel a little bit sad. 

And that feeling should connect us more than it currently does.

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