Have you seen Partner Track on Netflix? I had just finished Season 1 of Indian Matchmaking and was about to begin Season 2, when Netflix showed a preview of Partner Track. I thought I’d give the first episode a try, but I ended up watching the whole 10 episodes this weekend.
The show – developed by Georgia Lee – is based on Helen Wan’s book of the same name, where a young Asian American woman lawyer has to fight for her seat at the table at a law firm that has an unhealthy White male culture. In the book, Ingrid Yung, the main character, is Chinese American, but she is Korean American on the show. This change was made for Arden Cho, who is Korean American and plays Ingrid. From my perspective, this change in ancestry is not an issue because it was done correctly.
If the show is like the book, it must be amazing! I love the show because it accurately reflects the complexity of America from the perspectives of historically marginalized groups, has well-developed characters that are relatable, and the story is fast-paced.
Viewers get a front row seat to the complex lives of Ingrid and her work friends, Rachel (Caucasian woman) and Tyler (gay African American). All three are in their late twenties and early thirties, so they got an education and are climbing the corporate ladder.
Ingrid is a brilliant lawyer, finding solutions around obstacles while still following the law. Ingrid has to do this because that’s who she is, she has to prove herself as a woman of color, and because her goal is to be promoted as partner of Parsons, Valentine, & Hunt, the law firm where she works. Equally notable is Ingrid’s background – her parents immigrated to the U.S. so their children can have better futures. Sound familiar? Compared to some of her Caucasian male colleagues, viewers see time and time again that they don’t need to possess equal or greater intellect, dedication, and class than Ingrid to keep their jobs.
Rachel, played by Alexandra Turshen, is someone who’s also amazing at her job, employing different angles to give the firm’s clients what they want. For one client, she “bluffs,” while another, she plays into the client’s ex’s weakness for shortcuts/cheating to achieve the clients’ goals. As a character, Rachel is invested in her friendship with Ingrid and Tyler, is confident in her moral compass and managing difficult situations, and has significant personal growth after a client dies unexpectedly.
Tyler, played by Bradley Gibson, is also a superb lawyer, fashion-forward, and the only person who is better dressed than Ingrid on normal days. In the first season, he has one major client, Luxe, in which he was the only lawyer in the firm able to win the client and then solve its PR crisis. Tyler also goes through a lot of changes (more below), so don’t think that I cheated him out of space in this section.
Behaviors they Face at Work
Remember, Ingrid, Rachel, and Tyler are lawyers who have their own federally protected identities, work at a law firm, and most of the problematic characters are also lawyers. Dan is a lawyer who rubs each member of the trio the wrong way. Each of the trio also has issue with Parsons, Valentine, & Hunt.
In one of the first major scenes when Parsons, Valentine, & Hunt has Sun Corp. as a client, viewers are able to see Ingrid’s paralegal, a young Caucasian man and someone of junior rank to her, take the seat beside the client. The audience can infer that higher ranked and more important people sit closer to the client. Dan, the lawyer that she gets assigned with, is one who comes from privilege. So when the client leaves, Dan able to connect with the client on sports while Ingrid just watches. Additionally, when they come across a problem, she shared her ideas on how to resolve this and Dan steals her ideas at the meeting with the client. Ingrid would face additional moral dilemmas with Sun Corp., as well as when Marty (Ingrid’s boss, old White man) verbally dangles “partner” in their conversations to get Ingrid to do what he wants.
Similarly, Tyler, who is a homosexual African American in a traditional work environment, also faces manipulation from his boss, Raymond, who is also an old White man. Raymond gives his pitch to Luxe, a big fashion brand, but Luxe’s creator didn’t choose Parsons, Valentine, & Hunt. Tyler was there and saw the obvious reasons why, and leaves a folder with his pitch and strategies. The two connected and Luxe ultimately chose them because of Tyler’s competence and current knowledge and research about Luxe and fashion. Instead of congratulating Tyler for landing Luxe as the client, Tyler gets reprimanded, and Raymond added that the firm represents fashion brands in their portfolio but doesn’t want them. Soon, they learn that Luxe is in legal trouble, and Raymond is on Tyler’s behind to quickly and quietly resolve this PR nightmare, and one day is not fast enough. Tyler faces a moral dilemma here.
Another relic of the traditional work environment is the racism and microaggression that Tyler experiences. We see it in how Raymond treats him, and from from Dan on multiple occasions. When Tyler corrects and teaches Dan in the break room, it will come back and hit Tyler in the face in a later incident. Isn’t it awful that some perpetrators don’t care and don’t need to correct themselves, because they have privilege, connections, and job security?
Rachel, on the other hand, like so many women, experience unwanted advances in the workplace. She is repeatedly, annoyingly, and unflatteringly hit on by Dan. She also informs Justin, Ingrid’s young paralegal, of the double-standard of having romantic relationships with people at work (power dynamic or not).
Rachel enjoys her time being unattached. I hope her family makes an appearance, and I’m pretty confident that there will be conflicts that need to be resolved, and things will be unpacked.
Although Ingrid is brilliant at work, her love life is an entertaining mess. Her decisions in her romantic relationships are in conflict with how she functions at work, and that is what makes her character human. Her sister is in an identity-work crisis and is working through it. Viewers see the family dynamic.
Tyler is in an amazingly supportive relationship with a Black politician, who is also is incredibly supportive. Watch the last two episodes of Season 1, but it’s necessary to watch the previous episodes to understand why those two episodes are significant. Also love that his parents are so supportive of him.
Other Things to Spotlight
Partner Track is set in New York in very recent years. Characters have new phones and no one is awestruck about a Tesla. Therefore, I expected diversity and the show didn’t disappoint. Again, Ingrid, Tyler, and Rachel belong in protected classes, while the supporting characters are primarily Caucasian men.
I was impressed with Min Enterprises, an energy company owned by an Asian family, to be merged with Sun Corp. as a solution to the leak. The Min family is also dynamic and colorful, and doesn’t fit the perfect Asian family mold, like Ingrid’s family. Additionally, Zi Min, the ambitious forward-thinker of Min Enterprises, has an explicit racial connection with Ingrid when she made a quick exit at the Diversity event, and I think that this exchange was so quick while being genuine and relatable. Furthermore, it’s so heartfelt when Ingrid went to Zi’s dad to convince him about the newly cooked plans for the merger with Sun Corp. (Sounds familiar, right?)
Equally poignant was the scene where partners were announced. What Ellen said to Ingrid shows that the leadership and culture at Parsons, Valentine, & Hunt haven’t changed, and the audience has compassion toward Ellen and understands why acts the way she does.
Interestingly, Turshen’s appearance is ambiguous, since I’m uncertain if she is supposed to present Rachel as a Caucasian woman or a fair-skinned Latina, which also shows the complexity of race in America and how we shouldn’t (and sometimes can’t) put people in a box because of the way they look.
I love seeing Black joy and it should be portrayed more. Tyler relationship with his partner shows Black joy, intimacy, and love that aren’t shown enough. I love the on-screen make-outs and they’re so tasteful and intense!
I have mixed feelings about Ingrid’s sexual appetite. Her romantic relationships with White men, who may value her exotic and beauty more than her brilliance. On the other hand, I don’t want Ingrid to be closeted and not enjoy herself, like it’s not OK to express her emotions, urges, and humanity. I like that she feels comfortable in her skin, that she is confident, and secure. I still have mixed feelings even after writing this, so maybe future episodes will help me determine my stance on this.
I also like that there are older people sprinkled with the young. Aside from Marty and Raymond, we have Margo and Ellen.
Yes, last one. I like that Ingrid and her family speak Korean. Authenticity matters.
I have two criticisms. First criticism of the show is that I can predict what’s coming.
The other one is of all the characters, there hasn’t been a character who is differently able. Though, there’s still time to change since more is coming.
Season 1 ended on a very precarious cliff-hanger, so I’m very excited for Season 2. Have you seen or heard Partner Track? What are your thoughts on it?