Entertainment

Sandra Oh Is the Ideal Professor in Netflix's 'The Chair'

Campus drama is front and center in this highly bingeable new series.

Netflix
Netflix
Netflix

For as much as the word “academia” conjures images of fusty halls surrounded by gothic arches, it’s a world that’s consumed in drama. From the free speech battles that have made headlines in recent years to the unreasonable competition among scholars for tenure, it’s a profession that has a certain level of inherent conflict, even if it looks staid and stuffy to outsiders.

All of this and more is mined for Netflix’s new series The Chair, starring Sandra Oh as the first woman of color to ever chair the English department at the fictional Ivy Pembroke University. Created by actress-writer Amanda Peet and Harvard Ph.D candidate Annie Julia Wyman, the series will satisfy those who like Meville and Chaucer in-jokes, fans of family dramedies, and even Fox Mulder stans. (To that last point: I can’t really say more without spoiling, but just hang tight.)

Oh plays Ji-Yoon Kim, who has recently assumed the role of heading up the floundering English department. Most of her colleagues are, frankly, dinosaurs. Students are less interested in studying the works of great writers than they are in practical applications to help them fix their world. Enrollment is declining, and Ji-Yoon is tasked with not only fixing that, but appeasing the old guard while at the same time changing the largely old white face of her field.

This is to say she already has a lot on her plate-plus her elderly father and an adopted daughter with behavioral issues-when her colleague Bill (Jay Duplass), a widower still reeling from the death of his wife says “Heil Hilter” during a lecture about facism and absurdism and sets off a maelstrom on campus. Bill was joking, yes, to make a point, but he did so with an absolutely straight face which is read as implicit condoning.

Netflix
Netflix
Netflix

Thankfully, The Chair is not entirely focused on the sensitivity of Gen Z and anti-woke panic. Bill is not made out to be a hero. He’s a messed up dude who was a little too blithe with his hand gestures. He keeps digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole of his own making. Meanwhile, this is a problem for Ji-Yoon not simply because it’s a crisis that she is responsible for overseeing, but because she and Bill are close friends with undeniable sexual chemistry.

The Chair is part will-they-won’t-they as Ji-Yoon and Bill navigate a relationship that grows increasingly complicated with every episode, but it’s also about the impossible position that powerful institutions put someone like Ji-Yoon in. She’s supposed to be both a symbol of progress while towing a company line, and when she sticks her neck out for other women of color like Yaz (Nana Mensah), who is trying to get tenure but stuck co-teaching Moby Dick with a drag of a Melville scholar played by Bob Balaban, Ji-Yoon risks her own reputation.

The Chair tackles a lot of hot-button issues, but they never bog down the plot. It’s about how the characters react to these talking points; it doesn’t belabor the talking points itself. This is credit to showrunner Peet and her writing staff, but it also has a lot to do with Oh. From Grey’s Anatomy to Killing Eve, Oh is a wonder at playing women who are very good at their jobs even when work becomes overwhelming. The Chair allows her to amplify her comic timing, while deftly navigating the quasi romance with Duplass, who works the shaggy hangdog magic he had in Transparent.

The character actors assembled as the elder English professors shuffle around hilariously, specifically Holland Taylor, ranting about Chaucer. There’s another performance that I would feel bad about mentioning because it’s a cameo that deserves to be kept a secret, but it’s a great piece of self-referential work that ultimately yields a scene which gets to the heart of some of The Chair‘s biggest preoccupations.

Peet and Wyman have mined the type of stories about academia that make headlines to ask bigger questions like who gets the privilege of teaching and why do they do it. As played by Oh, you never doubt for a second that Ji-Yoon is a great professor. She just has to cut through all the other bullshit.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.

Entertainment

Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.

Victoria

Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.

Queensland

BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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