‘Abbott Elementary’: a feel-good teacher appreciation show


Disney General Entertainment Content

Natalie Cardona

Tyler James Williams’ character, Gregory Eddie, said at the end of the first episode of the second season. It has been a momentous year for “Abbott Elementary.” The three-time Emmy award-winning show jumped out the gate in its premiere season, with its second underway.

“Abbott Elementary” dives into the everyday troubles of educators working in an underfunded public school. The show is proving sitcoms still have a purpose on broadcast television with an exceptional cast.

Although it stars a predominantly Black cast, the plot of the show is not driven by it. Season two proves in essence that it is about balancing the messiness of life with the messiness of being a teacher.

The first season established the characters but kept their personal lives in the background. It introduced the issues of America’s public-school systems while celebrating the dedicated teachers and administrators who give their all for their students.

Quinta Brunson, the creator, co-executive producer and writer of the show,  stars as Janine Teagues, a second-grade teacher at Abbott. Janine is a young, naive teacher still finding her way around the dysfunctional Philadelphia school system. She struggles to take control of situations as she tries to be effective in a system that works against her.

Gregory is Janine’s potential love interest. He enters the school as a substitute teacher but decides to become a permanent first-grade teacher for Abbott after realizing he could make a real impact.

Chris Perfetti plays Jacob, a quirky upper-grade history teacher. Supporting Janine in everything she does, he is as naive as Janine and takes the backseat to his more assertive counterparts. These three characters bring current references to the show as they are met with the harsh realities brought by veteran Abbott teachers, Barbara Howard and Melissa Schemmenti.

Barbara, played by Sheryl Lee Ralph, is the all-but-perfect kindergarten teacher who can do no wrong. She is an old-school teacher who has found the hack to teaching at Abbott and provides wisdom for the less experienced.

Melissa, played by Lisa Ann Walter, is a born and bred South Philly native. Delivering typical tough-guy one-liners, she is an advocate for tough love but has a sweet spot for her students and peers at Abbott.

The characters are completed with school principal Ava Coleman, perfectly portrayed by Janelle James, and the school’s custodian Mr. Johnson played by William Stanford Davis. Both characters cut the tension of any situation with their humorous interjections.

The stories of the characters are a powerful driving force in the show. Viewers cannot help but celebrate when Abbott’s teachers achieve the smallest milestones.

According to Daniel D’Addario of Variety, “The ensemble is so strong, in fact, that it can at times cover for moments when this network sitcom can feel a little, well, like a network sitcom.”

Season two places more emphasis on the characters’ complex and multidimensional personalities.

The first episode of the season begins with an optimistic Janine who is excited about change, both at school and in her social life. However, Janine’s personal problems begin to spill over into her work life as she is unable to acknowledge her hardships after a recent breakup. Halfway through the episode, Janine has a breakdown, proving that the innocently optimistic girl is human too, and she can have a bad day like anyone else.

Janine is not the only character with more layers added. Melissa’s tough-as-nails personality cracks as the show jumps into her familial conflicts with her sister, and struggles with teaching a combined second-third grade class with few resources. Gregory is forced to reflect on his father’s parenting while deciding how to discipline his students.

Season two subtly brings up political issues such as public versus charter schools, low school funding, and lack of resources for students with disabilities. Viewers are not obligated to read into the social conflicts as the characters’ personal lives are just as entertaining.

The show is comforting, focusing on the lives of true heroes who do not get enough credit.

“It all comes from us just trying to drive our characters, trying to bring the realism of the situation into [their stories],” Brunson said in an interview with Variety. “So, it’s amazing that in doing that, we get to highlight what teachers go through, what their issues are.”

A feel-good sitcom with outstanding chemistry between castmates, “Abbott Elementary” is an homage to all the teachers, educators and administrators who want nothing but the best for students who are failed by the system.