Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Joan From The Chair Looks So Familiar

"The Chair" is the latest Netflix series that's been blowing up the Internet since it premiered on August 20, 2021. In it, Sandra Oh stars as Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, a former English professor who gets promoted to department chair at the fictional Pembroke University and soon finds herself navigating both the challenges of running an institute of higher learning in 2021, as well as managing her colleagues' quirky personalities. Currently, "The Chair" enjoys an 85% fresh critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes, and an 81% rating among the fans. The Atlantic called it the best Netflix drama in years. 

One of the first season's strongest characters is Dr. Joan Hambling. She's a Chaucer scholar more than 30 years into her career, and almost immediately, Dr. Kim is pressured to push Dr. Hambling out. Like Dr. Kim, Dr. Hambling faces constant sexism in her career. But Dr. Hambling is long past the point of playing nice — and instead starts to fight back.

Joan is played by actress Holland Taylor. Born in 1943, Taylor began her acting career on Broadway in the 60s and 70s, landing her first TV role in 1969. Since her Hollywood career kicked off in 1980, she's received more than 120 acting credits, and she's one of those actresses who's seemingly been in everything (via The Famous People). Traditionally, she's most well-known for playing domineering alpha-types, so Dr. Hambling is a bit of a departure from her usual roles. 

Here's where you may know her from.

She was a sitcom mainstay in the 80s and 90s

Holland Taylor has appeared in many comedies and dramas over her career. But she first made her mark on sitcoms in the 1980s and 1990s. Taylor had pursued TV and film opportunities for about 15 years before being cast on the ABC sitcom "Bosom Buddies" as Ruth Dunbar, the sassy boss to leads Kip (Tom Hanks) and Henry (Peter Scolari), via CBS News. The show ran from 1980 to 1982.

"Bosom Buddies" led to several more sitcom appearances for Taylor, including many starring roles. In 1990, she was one of the series leads on "Going Places," the ABC series about four young writers who get jobs working for a nightmare of a producer, played by Taylor. From 1992-93, she was a co-lead on Norman Lear's political satire "The Powers That Be" alongside John Forsyth and David Hyde Pierce.

Taylor's other earlier sitcom work includes appearances on "Perfect Strangers," "Harry," and "Saved by the Bell: The College Years."

She won an Emmy for playing Judge Roberta Kittleson on The Practice

It's impressive any time an actor parlays a one-off guest appearance into a recurring role on a TV series. It's even more impressive when the actor goes on to win an Emmy for the performance. And that's exactly what Holland Taylor did when she landed the role of Judge Roberta Kittleson on "The Practice," David E. Kelley and Bill D'Elia's legal drama that ran from 1997 to 2004.

It was also a groundbreaking role in terms of representation onscreen. At the time, it was practically unheard of for a television series to acknowledge that "women of a certain age" are sexually active, much less fully formed and complex individuals. "I think we've gone through a 20-year backlash against portraying women who are humans and fully viable sexually and psychologically, intelligent and capable," Holland said in 1999, describing the role to the Los Angeles Times.

Taylor won the 1999 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series for the role, her first career nomination and only win to date. Taylor has been nominated for 8 Emmy Awards overall (via The Emmys).

She was Charlie and Alan's domineering mother on Two and a Half Men

Holland Taylor's performance as Evelyn Harper in "Two and a Half Men" is arguably both her most well-known comedic role, as well as the role that best defines her career. As a character, Evelyn is the quintessential Holland Taylor role — overbearing, financially successful, and used to getting what she wants.

"As an actor, I do have a certain authority," Ms. Taylor told the New York Times in 2008. "I can't be in a subservient or an obsequious part. I'm really not good at it. But in my life I've often been very much on my back foot and very timid. So I don't know where that sense of maturity and strength came from, because I didn't really have those strengths." Taylor appeared on all 12 of the show's seasons from 2003 to 2015, receiving four Emmy nominations for the role.

Legally Blonde is just one of her many comedy films on her resume

If she had just acted on television, Holland Taylor would already have a long and distinguished career. However, she has also appeared in dozens of film roles over her four-plus decades of acting onscreen.

In 2001, Taylor memorably played Harvard Law Professor Elspeth Stromwell in "Legally Blonde," another demanding professional type, but also someone who was honest about how the world really works. One particular line, which she delivers to Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is still quotable 20 years later: "If you're going to let one stupid p—- ruin your life, you're not the girl I thought you were." 

According to Taylor herself, (via Vulture), Professor Stromwell of is one of the parts she's most recognized for, and she says that this very line is something that she continues seeing quoted to this day. "I can't tell you how I see this constantly in social media referred to, all the time. It's that thing about the elder female wise person that will give you the bottom line about how to behave in your society, about how not to take any bull—- from anybody. And so that was an iconic moment for me. What is it? Twenty years? It's more than 20 years."