Abbott Elementary is Bringing Realness On All Fronts


Aviva V. Maxon ’24
Staff Writer

I love sitcoms, probably more than the next person. Growing up watching Parks and Rec, The Office, and Arrested Development, my standards are pretty high. When I saw a new ABC sitcom, I was hesitant at first. The sitcoms of the last few years have often fallen short, both in laughs and compelling storylines, but Abbott Elementary blew away all of my expectations.

One of my favorite aspects of Abbott Elementary is its realness. Unlike the dramedies and goofier sitcoms on TV currently, the situations and struggles are real and probable.

From complicated family relations, missed opportunities, and workplace romance to kids needing to use the bathroom all the time and teachers filling in so many other roles, Abbott portrays stories that feel real because they are. This is your official spoiler warning for seasons one and two of Abbott Elementary.

At the beginning of season one, we meet Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson), a second grade teacher starting her second year at Abbott Elementary. Alongside Janine, Jacob Hill (Chris Perfetti) is the only teacher returning for a second year at the school. Substitute teacher Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams) is also introduced to the main cast after a teacher is fired in the first episode. From the start, the show addresses the stresses and pressures on new teachers, particularly in underfunded public schools.

Janine and Jacob are optimistic and hopeful in ways that long-time teachers Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter) are not. They want to make changes in the school and ask for more from the district while Barbara and Melissa hunker down and make do with what they have.

From the first episode, the cast had chemistry and felt comfortable together, which has taken other sitcoms multiple seasons to do. The jokes, laughs, and scenarios hit immediately out of the gate.

The relationship between Barbara and Melissa, who have both been teaching for at least 20 years, is particularly poignant. Barbara is an older Black woman who loves G-d, church, and her family. Melissa is an Italian-American with mob-esque connections, a baseball bat under her desk, and who knows how to hold a grudge. Both women are respected and valued by the students and other teachers.

Janine latches onto Barbara as a role model and mentor. Abbott is successful in showing the relationships and care between the characters from the beginning and the relationships only get stronger.

Another relationship the show spends a lot of time on is between Janine and her boyfriend, Tariq (Zack Fox). The two have been together since middle school, and break up in the season one finale. It is obvious to everyone else that Tariq is completely dependent on Janine, and the relationship is on Tariq’s terms, even though Janine pays 80 percent of the bills. Tariq did not grow up, and Janine accepted it.

Throughout the first season, we continuously see Tariq dropping the ball and Janine making up for it. In the end, when they break up after Janine decides to choose herself over him, the rest of the Abbott community supports her. Coming back for season two, Janine is still struggling from the breakup and the others support her, even helping pay her rent.

The breakup also makes room for the subtle romance between Janine and Gregory Eddie to bloom. They date other people, but still flirt and subtly move towards each other until they kiss halfway through season two. Their relationship pauses there, but everyone knows it is going on; Janine and Gregory just do not know what to do yet.

This tension comes to the forefront in the season finale, where Janine decides she is not ready to be with Gregory yet. As a fan and a shipper, this was devastating, but also shows the depth of character. These characters are real people with real issues and are working to become better.

Beyond the excellent chemistry and storylines, Abbott Elementary portrays diversity and racial justice issues incredibly well. The majority of the main cast, students, and background characters are Black. The show deals with race and inequity but is not about either of those things.

Abbott is about a school — a school in a predominantly Black area that is underfunded. Abbott is just about Black people existing. The show does not demand anything of its characters, other than to be themselves, which is a departure from so many other shows with BIPOC main casts.

Jacob, one of the few white teachers in the school, is the character who explicitly talks about race the most. He believes deeply in the work they are doing and in educating young minds. Jacob is corny, goofy, and hyper aware of being a white teacher in a Black school. He wants to use his position to improve the lives of his students and work towards a more equitable world.

The use of Jacob to talk about race is well done and allows the other characters to just exist as Black people, which inverts the traditional story narrative. Unlike shows starring Black people before Abbott that were targeted at Black people, Abbott is a show for everyone. That distinction from the network is a huge win for representation and media that actually shows all people.

Abbott Elementary is a comedy that gives you a whole range of emotions. It is funny, serious, and real. Abbott is one of the best shows currently airing and is making so much progress for representation and diversity in media. If you have not already, go watch Abbott Elementary. You will not be sorry. 12/10 gold stars.

Image Source: Variety

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