The Chair Makes Comedy Out of College’s Absurd Status Quo
The Chair. Available now on Netflix.
Henry Kissinger once said that academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. (Kissinger being Kissinger, naturally he stole the line from somebody else.) That, alas, was before modern cancel-culture got academia by the throat. There’s nothing trivial about the professional fires blazing through Netflix’s uproarious but terrifying campus comedy The Chair.
Sandra Oh stars as Ji-Yoon Kim, the new chairman of the English department at Pembroke University, a small school at the lower end of the Ivy League gene pool. Even before the chair at her desk collapses—literally, symbolically and hilariously; slapstick physical comedy is a staple of the show—she realizes she’s inherited a mess. Enrollment is shrinking, budgets are being gutted and her department’s racial demographics defy the laws of wokeness: 87 percent of the professors are white, and way too many of them have penises. “I feel like someone handed me a ticking time bomb,” broods Kim, “because they wanted to make sure a woman was holding it when it explodes.”
It doesn’t take long for tick-tick to go boom-boom. As Kim conducts her first departmental meeting, one professor is delayed while he drinks himself senseless in an airport bar, loses his car and pees on somebody else’s, then steals and wrecks a security officer’s golf cart. It’s all part of a downhill slalom of drunkenness and absenteeism for one-time department star Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass, Transparent), who’s been systematically demolishing his life since his wife died a year ago.
To make matters worse—a phrase that can be used about every 90 seconds in The Chair—Bill is the long-time best friend and maybe almost-boyfriend of Kim, which leaves her open to charges of favoritism, especially when he actually shows up
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