Review: Academia, English, Ageism, and Alcoholism in Amanda Peet's 'The Chair'

by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday August 20, 2021

'The Chair'
'The Chair'  (Source:Netflix)

Amanda Peet has created and written a delightful look at academia and English, ageism and alcoholism, in the new six-part Netflix series "The Chair."

Equally delightful Sandra Oh executive produces and stars as Pembroke University's newly-minted English Department Chair Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, as inevitable budget cuts and faculty culling are demanded. She is the first woman of color head, and is charged with bringing the staid institution into the 21st century as her department is hemorrhaging students.

"I will not allow this department to be ransacked," says Dr. Kim in the first 30-minute episode, as she grapples with her mostly aging, white, and old-school (yet unruly) professors across the snow-covered campus (the series was filmed in Pittsburgh). Friend, acclaimed author, and perennial student draw Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass) is a recent widower and empty nester who drinks to excess. Professor Yaz McKay (Nana Mensah) is the African-American up-and-comer teaching "Sex and the Novel" and asking her students to tweet their favorite lines from classic literature as a way "to mobilize the skills of close reading." She is most at odds with dinosaur Elliot Rentz (the always droll Bob Balaban), who still relies on this 30-year-old syllabus for "Survey of American Letters Through 1918."

Amanda Peet created and wrote this delightful collegiate comedy.

Fellow oldster Joan Hambling (Holland Taylor) has been relegated to an office in the basement of the gym building, so she and Dr. Kim attempt to file a Title IX complaint.

Peet is also showrunner and producer of this vibrant series, and co-wrote the first episode. The script is funny, bright and fast-paced, and deftly echoes the glacial pace in which academia responds to societal issues and change of any sort. This refreshing insider take on collegiate life is a must-watch rising from a sea of unremarkable content.


Season 1 of "The Chair" premieres August 20 on Netflix.

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at KarinMcKie.com