David Duchovny in The Chair Is the Best Celebrity Cameo of 2021 - VRGyani News and Media

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Saturday, August 21, 2021

David Duchovny in The Chair Is the Best Celebrity Cameo of 2021

[Editor's note: The following contains spoilers for The Chair, Season 1, Episode 5, "The Last Bus in Town."]

The new Netflix comedy The Chair, created by Amanda Peet & Annie Julia Wyman and starring Sandra Oh as the newly-appointed chairperson of a fictional university's English department, is chock full of charms, from how well it captures the ruthless infighting that occurs in academia to the tender yet complicated relationship between Ji-Yoon (Oh) and her fellow professor Bill (Jay Duplass). But one unexpected curveball Ji-Yoon faces over the course of the first season made me laugh harder than anything else in 2021 has. Admittedly, it hasn't been the most amusing of years, but that just means I really needed the laugh — and thank you, David Duchovny, for delivering it.

Key to the drama of the season is that the university is very nervous about declining student enrollments, so in Episode 3, "The Town Hall," Dean Paul Larsen (David Morse) proposes to Ji-Yoon that the upcoming Distinguished Lecture be delivered by a nice man that the board trustee Mrs. Whittenden (Cynthia Mace) had met at the local farmer's market. That man? New York Times bestselling author, musician, father, and oh yeah, occasional star of television shows David Duchovny.

Ji-Yoon is understandably skeptical about handing off this prestigious academic honor to the X-Files star, but agrees to meet with him at his home to discuss the opportunity. What ensues in Episode 5, "The Last Bus In Town," is flat-out one of the most eviscerating self-portraits ever filmed, and also the funniest.

The brilliance of the way this cameo is constructed is that for anyone unfamiliar with the details of Duchovny's life, it totally plays as a light satirization of any celebrity with more pretentious ambitions than the typical actor. But if you're the kind of X-Files fan who was obsessed enough in high school to read every profile of the actor ever written, then the show didn't even have to remind you that it is actually true: Before getting cast in the Showtime drama Red Shoe Diaries, the 1991 film Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, and other early roles, Duchovny had been pursuing a doctorate in English Literature at Princeton. Plus anyone who's kept up with his post-X-Files career knows that he's taken a cue from his role on Californication to write multiple novels, including Holy Cow, Bucky F*cking Dent, and Miss Subways — books which are actually seen on screen in The Chair. And also, yeah, David does have a band. That tours.

RELATED: 'Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead' Remake in the Works (Wouldn't Mom Notice By Now?)

The references made even include some deeper cuts: When Ji-Yoon arrives at David's house, she walks in to find him swimming laps in his indoor pool, emerging to reveal his swimsuit of choice: a red Speedo. It's not the same red Speedo that Duchovny famously wore in the X-Files episode "Duane Barry" (according to Duchovny in interviews, that one's in the Smithsonian). But it's still a goddamn red Speedo.

Even after getting dressed, Duchovny leans hard into invoking both his authentic past and the whole concept of how the famous-actor-turned-writer is perceived within the academic world. One perfect beat includes him asking what other celebrity authors have previously been considered as speakers, with Ji-Yoon admitting that James Franco and Ethan Hawke were previous candidates. Another includes him casually flicking at his jacket while mentioning that he's recently been busy, touring with his band. Underneath the jacket, of course, is the band's T-shirt.

Underneath the layers of pretension and ignorance of the current state of academic study is a very relatable human drive, as really, all David wants is what still eludes him: a doctorate (even if he's worried that Dr. David Duchovny is too much alliteration). And that's how Ji-Yoon's able to buy him off and reserve the Distinguished Lectureship for someone else: by promising him an honorary doctorate. The deal marks the end of Duchovny's time on the show, and while it's of course a relief for Ji-Yoon, frankly his absence is missed, just a bit.

It's not the first time Duchovny has satirized himself and/or his persona on screen — for one classic example of this, look no further than his Emmy-nominated appearances on The Larry Sanders Show. But, well, it's been a while, especially since this new post-post-post-X-Files phase of his career began, and The Chair deploys his talents for this particular sort of comedy to perfection. The show ends its first season on a less-than-final note when it comes to the issues being faced by Ji-Yoon and Bill, but the strongest argument for a second season is the possibility that Duchovny might return.

The Chair Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.

KEEP READING: 'The Chair' Trailer: Sandra Oh Reveals the Messy Side of Academic Life in New Netflix Comedy Series



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