We know, we know, we are late to jump on this Sandra Oh/The Chair praise bandwagon. But, her performance in the new Netflix series, The Chair - which premiered its six-episodes, rounding up at 30 minutes each, on 20 August - and the plot, deserve recognition and appreciation, regardless of our delay.
Sandra Oh, in her first solo lead role in a series, plays Ji-Yoon Kim, the 46-year-old first woman and also the first person of colour to chair the English department at an Ivy League-styled fictional university, Pembroke.
While this warrants fist-bumping celebration and joy, the show takes off after Kim's appointment, preceding all the very tumultuous realities of a gender-unequal society inside a (fictional) prestigious college campus. And the audience is quick to pick up on it.
Starting from the first dialogue in the first episode, Kim is met with challenges, each bigger than the last, in her academic-professional life - where she is having to deal with a dying English department (enrollment is "dangerously low"), mitigate issues based on ageism, sexism and racism (because of subordinates and a white male Dean) and Bill (her kryptonite, more on him later).
Too intense? Clunky even? Too much already? Well we barely scratched the surface. Because while Kim juggles insufferable problems at work in her new job role, her home life is a walk through a trainwreck, at first, at least.
Kim's family consists of her elderly widowed Korean father living five miles away from her (who opts to always speak in Korean), and her adopted Mexican daughter, Ju-Hee, living with Kim (who doesn't understand Korean, not well, anyway).
And like every woman ever appointed to a high professional rank, Kim is undercut, undermined and interrupted one too many times; but she strives and rises to the occasion - like every woman who is expected to do so in such positions.
But there's also good music and songs. The blatant gender favouritism reeks through an excellent soundtrack playing in the background such as Antonio Vivaldi's Gloria, Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood's Paris Summer, Vampire Weekend or "Brilliant Mistake" by Elvis Costello.
There's also the glaring wage gap based on gender among the oldest faculty members (amounting to a $10k difference in annual pay), among many, many other things.
This comedy-drama was co-created by Amanda Peet (yes, you read that right, it's the actress from A Lot Like Love; but hold your horses, she also has written and produced two plays earlier) and Annie Julia Wyman (the Harvard PhD holder in English turned screenwriter).
The script, enhanced by the brilliance of all-round acting performances, is deserving of praise. It blends in home life imperfections, adoption and cultural barriers, and the remnants of a male-dominated English department-work life all too well.
From JuJu's first bedtime scene, where she asks Kim "when you die, would you still remember me?" to Kim's work woes voiced as "I feel like someone handed me a ticking time bomb because they wanted to make sure a woman was holding it when it explodes" - this is a women-heavy, women-created stunning script that is bound to leave an aftertaste, begging for more.
And of course what you see in The Chair is not how universities function (state of affairs are usually even more dire than what's shown on Pembroke campus); and because the chemistry between English department Chair Ji-Yoon Kim and her friend and subordinate Professor Bill Dobson is stuff of fictional worlds.
Bill, played by Jay Duplass, is recently widowed and through him, we can see how grief upends lives; with him comes substance abuse, unacceptable behaviour in class and a whole lotta trouble.
Duplass is joined by an understated and stellar cast - you have Holland Taylor (from Two and a Half Men), David Morse (Shia LaBeouf's creepy neighbour in Disturbia), Bob Balaban (Phoebe's dad in Friends tv sitcom), the incredible Nana Mensah, Everly Carganilla playing JuJu, and more.
And not to forget Harry Styles makes a cameo, well… sort of. And there's Moulder. David Duchovny, who plays himself in the series; where his The Chair role comes closer to his previous fictional role in Californication than X-Files.
Although the script is heavy with good content and pressing 21st century issues (of a developed country), it may seem too loaded, and too much for the short time and space it's given in season one (six episodes, nearly 30 minutes each).
So if you are willing to dive in, do not binge-watch. Each episode ends in a well-orchestrated cliff-hanger, but do not be fooled. Take your time with it. Let the content sink in. One episode at a time would be wise.
The Chair scored 85% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.3 on IMDb. If that's too low for your consideration, we still highly recommend it.