News

The Chair Star Sandra Oh and Creator Amanda Peet on Finding Humor in the Woes of Modern Academia

The new dramedy takes on cancel culture and "the struggle to actually make change."

by | August 20, 2021 | Comments

Is it possible that one of the year’s most scathing take-downs of cancel culture, inherent sexism, and generational inequality could be a Netflix comedy about the insular world of academia?

Actress-writer Amanda Peet and Annie Julia Wyman created six-episode dark comedy The Chair, which stars Sandra Oh as Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, the newly-appointed chair of an English department at a fictional liberal arts university.


Sandra Oh in The Chair season 1 key art

(Photo by Eliza Morse / Netflix)

Gifted with a desk placard that reads “F—cker in Charge of You F—cking F—cks,” Ji-Yoon is a single mom and the first woman to hold the position. She’s attempting to find a work-life balance while dealing with budget cuts, her colleagues’ complaints about the students, the students’ complaints about her colleagues, and a best friend reeling from the loss of his wife.

Peet told Rotten Tomatoes that, as an actress who is turning 50 next year, “I’m really interested in the idea of my own irrelevance.”

But, as far as subject matter for a series, Peet said she was interested in the fact that “everyone’s talking about the humanities are dead” as well as the “intergenerational tension” where “you have these young idealists and then you have middle-aged folks like me whose idealism has tempered a little bit.”

An example: Holland Taylor plays Joan Hambling, a tenured professor being passively aggressively pushed out of her job. Unlike her fellow senior academics who are male, her office has been moved to a dingy corner of the gym with no WiFi. When she goes to make a Title IX complaint, she dresses down the woman doing the intake form for wearing revealing shorts to a job where she has to take in very serious stories of assault and harassment.


(Photo by Eliza Morse / Netflix)

“I very much identified with her outrage,” Taylor said of playing Joan. “And I’m at an age where I would. As far as the sexism early in her career, she would never have been aware of it as that. That’s the point, kind of. It all snuck up on her with this realization while a younger character — a colleague, who is 30 — is well aware of that.”

The crossroads that the school’s English department finds itself in is particularly laid out in the relationship dynamic between Nana Mensah’s professor Yaz McKay and Bob Balaban’s professor Elliot Rentz. She’s a rising star — not just in the department, but in the profession as a whole — who teaches packed classes with titles like “Sex and the Novel” and encourages Hamilton-like interpretations of Moby Dick. His lectures echo through his empty auditorium to the few nearly comatose students who bother to show up for class. He’s also her tenure advisor.

Mensah consulted with two friends from this world — one a working academic; another who dropped out of her PhD program — and says she learned just how “political” and “cutthroat” this world is inside its ivy-coated towers.

When asked about finding the humor in a story that could be construed as an attack on ageism, Balaban said, “It is somewhat funny to be wedded to the past and not be able to see the future.

“It can be a tragic situation or it can be a slightly funny, odd situation, which I think is the is the pleasure of this particular series.,” he said, adding that “it’s wildly up-to-date and current with what’s going on and cancel culture is not a very popular subject, even though it’s everywhere to be seen … It’s not a boring idea. That is actually grounds for real excitement, because it pits so many people against each other.”


(Photo by Eliza Morse / Netflix)

An embodiment of so many of these things is English professor, Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass). A beloved professor at the university going through his own emotional turmoil, he makes the mistake of speaking off the cuff during a lecture and punctuating his rant with a Sieg Heil — definitely not the best move to do in a room full of kids with smartphones.

“I don’t want to give my interpretation, because I think that moment is up to a lot of interpretation in terms of what was running through his brain at that point in time,” Duplass said of the Nazi salute scene. “But I definitely think a certain dose of white male privilege is also involved.”

What the story of The Chair is not meant to be is a conversation on tokenism, Oh said. Ji-Yoon got the job based on her own merits and worked hard to achieve all she has done in her career.

“I don’t think that that’s what we’re doing,” Oh said. “I think, if anything, we’re examining the struggles to actually make change. And that is extremely relevant. And we’re doing it in a comedic way, where you’re just really going through the day-to-day life of someone who’s trying to make that change.”

There is no news of a second season of The Chair yet, but Mensah argued that there’s no shortage of material still to explore.

“It’s such a rich world with such crazy personalities,” she said. “We can turn the page on this particular chapter and keep going and keep exploring.”

The Chair is now streaming on Netflix.

Tag Cloud

CBS All Access Legendary Hulu Travel Channel monster movies Tarantino Ovation comics Film legend adaptation superhero Best and Worst nfl vs. foreign Trophy Talk Cosplay Hallmark Christmas movies pirates of the caribbean sitcom adenture Creative Arts Emmys kids die hard Sundance Now A24 PaleyFest AMC Plus Musicals WGN ratings period drama Election Pirates Star Wars Grammys biopic composers comiccon screenings 1990s criterion dceu Crackle Animation italian Country witnail Certified Fresh YouTube lord of the rings police drama richard e. Grant BET new star wars movies Wes Anderson psycho Trivia Pacific Islander marvel comics NYCC E3 renewed TV shows Lifetime art house San Diego Comic-Con justice league 71st Emmy Awards Oscars halloween sequel Neflix Holiday Sundance TV streaming movies halloween tv Drama Classic Film sopranos women jamie lee curtis 24 frames Tubi Spring TV TCA Awards Tomatazos spinoff VICE BET Awards prank discovery japanese a nightmare on elm street Universal TV One GLAAD screen actors guild basketball directors zombies hollywood green book scary movies SundanceTV Film Festival DC Universe Family Set visit movie 72 Emmy Awards worst series SXSW TV movies king kong technology Rock CNN dc Netflix Christmas movies rt labs critics edition comic book movies singing competition Comic-Con@Home 2021 supernatural crime drama Mary Poppins Returns Disney streaming service teaser Disney+ Disney Plus comic Reality Competition Television Critics Association international comedies Esquire FOX Disney Channel harry potter The Arrangement Nickelodeon First Reviews TCM book video on demand young adult documentaries E! mcc godzilla Chernobyl HBO kong ABC Arrowverse olympics Anna Paquin aliens GoT romantic comedy 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards BBC 20th Century Fox Mindy Kaling YouTube Red mission: impossible telelvision Extras south america El Rey Mary poppins Paramount Plus Shudder TLC The Academy Discovery Channel ID ITV Winter TV Hallmark MSNBC TruTV cinemax james bond 2021 Martial Arts Music stop motion Mudbound Comics on TV Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt IMDb TV cops 45 politics cats Premiere Dates dreamworks The Walking Dead Alien latino Baby Yoda mob NBC transformers medical drama obituary satire X-Men ABC Family Christmas hist Television Academy TIFF trailers golden globe awards 2015 Winners Syfy unscripted news science fiction rotten movies we love critic resources stoner twilight Western Pop TV jurassic park festival Peacock Valentine's Day Song of Ice and Fire Brie Larson book adaptation Binge Guide A&E Video Games based on movie robots Year in Review Marvel Television what to watch Photos miniseries scorecard Calendar disaster indiana jones Disney New York Comic Con Cartoon Network 2018 Spectrum Originals Horror Black Mirror TV revenge BAFTA Dark Horse Comics animated genre MCU Columbia Pictures Sony Pictures archives best ViacomCBS award winner HBO Go Character Guide critics Elton John popular Turner Netflix 99% quibi target Pixar 90s TCA dark debate SDCC ESPN Lifetime Christmas movies Academy Awards The CW MTV Star Trek slasher diversity Amazon American Society of Cinematographers Amazon Prime Video Freeform PlayStation Women's History Month dexter video adventure sequels Awards 4/20 2017 TNT Shondaland black comedy crime thriller finale History Warner Bros. heist movie spanish blockbusters National Geographic hispanic strong female leads Apple TV+ Pet Sematary Countdown GIFs scary asian-american Biopics spider-man kaiju Nominations Musical cancelled TV shows President Mystery worst movies cults doctor who Endgame Kids & Family spy thriller Emmys Comedy BBC One Marvel Studios DC Comics Epix Apple TV Plus rotten Instagram Live documentary high school WarnerMedia natural history christmas movies Nat Geo Rocky The Purge Amazon Studios VOD Super Bowl Vudu cartoon free movies Marvel posters DC streaming service Captain marvel Funimation biography cancelled TV series Turner Classic Movies live event breaking bad cancelled comic book movie mutant Ellie Kemper all-time FX on Hulu Heroines binge universal monsters TBS know your critic nature superman hispanic heritage month name the review king arthur Stephen King Comic Book golden globes Teen USA razzies Avengers toronto LGBT japan joker classics 2019 Action rt archives Walt Disney Pictures french 2020 cooking Fox Searchlight true crime Holidays Tumblr canceled tv talk reviews saw anthology YA political drama mockumentary RT21 Quiz sports franchise OWN Paramount Network Awards Tour 2016 CMT indie cars Disney Plus television Logo Opinion Crunchyroll NBA The Walt Disney Company Interview thriller zero dark thirty royal family Food Network films Pop boxing Universal Pictures cancelled television facebook 93rd Oscars 73rd Emmy Awards Podcast werewolf stand-up comedy dramedy FX RT History crossover Chilling Adventures of Sabrina See It Skip It LGBTQ talk show APB IFC Masterpiece AMC Lucasfilm new zealand CW Seed wonder woman Adult Swim Bravo space festivals live action DirecTV game show new york Exclusive Video dogs elevated horror serial killer scene in color rt labs marvel cinematic universe Broadway toy story spain Black History Month canceled TV shows Comedy Central HBO Max Polls and Games Cannes docudrama Showtime Red Carpet Hear Us Out Watching Series slashers independent docuseries First Look TCA Winter 2020 war Starz chucky FXX Thanksgiving Lionsgate comic books ghosts venice black Trailer Reality sag awards Tokyo Olympics Ghostbusters laika boxoffice reboot psychological thriller 007 YouTube Premium streaming Writers Guild of America children's TV OneApp romance remakes hidden camera gangster rom-coms The Witch blockbuster fast and furious action-comedy Image Comics child's play Superheroes Spike travel casting PBS emmy awards spanish language Box Office zombie Sci-Fi fresh anime Emmy Nominations 21st Century Fox historical drama Britbox DGA Pride Month ABC Signature Rom-Com TV renewals football aapi dragons movies Marathons crime game of thrones Infographic batman Toys IFC Films spider-verse VH1 blaxploitation Fantasy USA Network Paramount Sundance theme song concert vampires Schedule Rocketman feel good Acorn TV Mary Tyler Moore TV Land social media versus nbcuniversal australia Apple Summer Superheroe Fox News deadpool Fall TV Amazon Prime suspense Sneak Peek BBC America parents TCA 2017 CBS