The acclaimed Canadian actor heads up the table on a biting new comedy

There’s an old joke in academia that asks why academic battles are so vicious. The punchline: Because the stakes are so small. That’s essentially the premise underlying The Chair, a Netflix comedy set in a distinguished New England college.

Oh1Canadian Sandra Oh stars as Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, who’s just been named chair of the English department at prestigious Pembroke College. Ji-Yoon is faced with a unique set of challenges in her new role, given that she’s the first female to head the department and one of the few professors of colour in a sea of elderly white men.

When viewers first meet Ji-Yoon, she enters her office for the first time, displaying her nameplate (“The f***er in charge of you f***ers,” it reads) and taking a seat behind her desk—only for the chair to collapse as soon as she sits in it, a fitting visual metaphor for what’s to come.

Before she can even settle in, she’s called to a meeting with the dean (David Morse), who tasks her with firing three faculty members to balance the budget. He offers suggestions, handing her a list indicating that the three highest-paid professors have the lowest enrolment numbers, in addition to being well into their golden years. Among them are one-time literary legend Elliot Rentz (Bob Balaban), who now struggles to attract students to his dusty old lectures, and Joan Hambling (Holland Taylor), who hasn’t bothered to check her student reviews since the 1980s because she refuses to pander to “consumers.”

Meanwhile, Ji-Yoon also has her hands full with former chair Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass), a once-celebrated author who’s now in full-on meltdown mode after the death of his wife and sending his daughter off to college.

There’s also a familiar face behind the camera, with actress Amanda Peet serving as writer, showrunner and exec producer.

The Chair streams Friday on Netflix