Star student ‘Abbott Elementary’ is the next great workplace comedy
Genevieve Coleman | Wednesday, March 8, 2023
As many of my friends know, I have successfully made student teaching my entire personality. Even though I am perpetually exhausted from what I do, my experience being in the classroom every day has been amazing.
Growing up, I learned what it meant to be an educator from watching my mom be an amazing kindergarten teacher. Now, creator, executive producer, writer and star Quinta Brunson has shown the world a glimpse into the lives of hard-working public school teachers in “Abbott Elementary.” Inspired by the life of her own mother, Brunson highlights the many joys and struggles of being a teacher, cracking smiles and warming hearts the whole way.
From the first trailer I saw of the show back in 2021, I knew I had fallen in love with Abbott, even if it never entered into the mainstream. To this day, I have never been disappointed — or more wrong about how people would take the show. “Abbott” immediately received rave reviews and continues to sweep every award show.
The plot follows Philadelphia elementary school teachers Janine Teagues (Brunson), Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams), Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter), Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph), Jacob Hill (Chris Perfetti), their principal Ava Coleman (Janelle James) and the school custodian Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis). Each week, this ensemble cast returns to school, taking on issues in education while caring for their students. Filmed in a mockumentary style, “Abbott” gives an honest assessment of being a new teacher, teaching underserved students and being a young professional. There’s also a running subplot of between Janine and Gregory — a great will-they-won’t-they — that has already created a relationship that will fuel the show for many seasons to come.
“Abbott” is incredibly successful at all its relationship building between characters. Melissa and Barbara have a teacher-friend relationship I envy and only hope to achieve by the time I’m a veteran teacher. On the flip side, Janine, Gregory and Jacob navigate the politics of being young teachers, relying on each other and their older mentors to successfully teach their students. Principal Coleman adds another layer of chaos by being an underqualified and unprofessional, yet truly caring supervisor. Mr. Johnson fills any hole by appearing at the best moments and being an excellent member of the school’s supporting staff.
While the writing of the show is hilarious and the cast has the best chemistry I’ve seen in years, there are so many touching moments for viewers to enjoy. One that immediately comes to mind is when Melissa sits down with a student struggling with reading and tells her own story as a young student who couldn’t keep up as a reader. Walter encouraging this student to persevere through her challenges brings me to tears every time I watch the episode.
In season two, viewers become aware of charter schools attempting to take control of the neighborhood, including Abbott itself. Brunson and her team of writers deftly addresses the issues charter schools create, especially the immediate impact if Abbott was converted into one. Unafraid to highlight topics not well understood outside the educational community, “Abbott” subtly informs the viewer of problems in real-world teaching.
“Abbott Elementary” has become my comfort show and makes me feel seen as a young educator. It is the only show I know of that gives a realistic depiction of teaching in a public school and building quality relationships with students. The cast is brilliant at portraying real-life teachers and issues in the educational community. Carrying forward in its second season with a huge following and popular fan pages to match, I’m confident “Abbott” will be the show that lifts me up when I’m making my own way in education.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said “Abbott Elementary” was set in Pittsburgh, not Philadelphia. The Observer regrets this error.
Show: “Abbott Elementary”
Favorite episodes: “Teacher Conference,” “Juice,” “Read-a-thon”
If you like: “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation”
Where to watch: Hulu
Shamrocks: 5 out of 5