At the prestigious American university of (fictional) Pembroke, has the first female Chair of English (Sandra Oh) been appointed to carry the blame for a failing department? Or does it reflect forward thinking by Dean Paul Larson (David Morse)?
The six-part dramedy should be a celebration for Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim. Instead, it’s a battle of putting out fires both in the faculty and at home. Single mom Kim is dealing with a precocious adopted daughter who is also non-Korean, much to the chagrin of Kim’s father. And then there’s the brilliant but wayward Bill (Jay Duplass), erstwhile lover and acclaimed English lecturer who finds himself at the centre of a student body tailspin in relation to fascism and pro-Nazi sympathies. Not the best baptism for a new Chair who looks to promoting diversity within the department.
There’s a great deal of charm to The Chair with the immensely likeable Sandra Oh at its centre as she looks to bring in the new (tenure for the hugely popular Nana Mensah) and deal with the old (Bob Balaban – a professor who hasn’t changed content or delivery of his lectures in 30 years). It’s also, with its snappy dialogue, at times very funny. But, within its six 30 minute episodes, The Chair is overly stretched and outstays its welcome. An indecisive Kim deals with nothing: if anything, she adds to the problems facing her. The result is a somewhat superficial and shallow, if breezy and readily accessible, entertainment.