Entertainment | January 29th, 2022
‘Abbott Elementary’ Is The Latest Episodic Phenom
By: Ashlei Norton
It is the end of the day, and you are right on schedule for your relaxation time. As you aimlessly scroll through Hulu, you may see the latest episodic phenom: “Abbott Elementary.”
The hit ABC show is the latest mockumentary that is produced by none other than Quinta Brunson — whose nascent fame started from her viral skit “The girl who’s never been on a nice date.” In “Abbott Elementary,” Brunson (a Philadelphia native) plays Janine Teagues, a more than eager teacher who’s been teaching second grade for two years. Teagues’ life as a teacher is highlighted through her students and coworkers who are caught right in the middle of the disadvantages of the Philadelphia public school system.
“I immediately felt like Abbott Elementary is like the black version of ‘The Office’”
The captivating Sheryl Lee Ralph also co-stars with Brunson in Abbott Elementary, as Barbara Howard, a 20 year Philadelphia public school system veteran and kindergarten teacher. Brunson portrays a school system saddled with inequities in a mockumentary style using ambitious teachers enduring a lack of support, a handsome substitute teacher (courtesy of Tyler James Williams), a chaotic principal and hilarious close up shots of the staff breaking the fourth wall with hilarity.
“I immediately felt like Abbott Elementary is like the black version of ‘The Office,’” Zaniya Pierre, a third-year FAMU student and huge fan of the show, said. Abbott Elementary’s emergence has spiked some critiques relating its humor to flippant scenes of “The Office” — the hit nine-season sitcom that depicts the everyday work lives of office employees at the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper. “Abbott’s camera antics are similar to ‘The Office’ and I like that it shows how teachers make a way to keep their classrooms functioning despite not being given the resources.”
Bruce Miller, an editor of the Sioux City Journal who covers entertainment, loves the cohesion of the show’s characters but also wishes they had more space to develop.“Brunson does a great job of pulling characters together, I just knew when I saw Sheryl Lee Ralph in the cast, it would be good, but her characters need a space to actually be,” Miller said. “‘The Office’ didn’t need to find types for these characters and were able to let them live. Brunson is working with like seven characters, so there needs to be more guidance when it comes to showing who her characters really are.”
Across the internet, Ava Coleman — the school’s principal played by Janelle James — has been a hotly-contested character. Some believe she’s an offhanded portrayal of Black principals in the field while others believe the fictional character should be allowed to exist without the pressures of representation.
“I believe that Ava does not show how a principal of a school like that would be, so Brunson can use her maybe as a higher up if she wants to show her carelessness and tone deaf attitude,” Miller said, noting that the character is both “very misread” and “too self-involved.”
Miller continued, “[Brunson] should definitely redo Ava and have a character that is more understanding of these teachers as the role of a principal because Ava is too self involved.”
“I remember having to sell candy bars for school trips and my teachers having donation drives because my school didn’t get enough funding”
However, most of all, Miller believes that Brunson is a big and new voice, and that her production could be a source of education for viewers who may not know about these public school disparities.
For many, “Abbott Elementary” perfectly displays shared experiences of struggling school systems across the nation. Rodrigo Isaza, a second-year student at Tallahassee Community College and a fan of Brunson’s comedic work, sees the show through a lens of relatability. “I remember having to sell candy bars for school trips and my teachers having donation drives because my school didn’t get enough funding,” Isaza said. The show embodies a sense of relativity, because many of its viewers are able to relate to the disparities of matriculating through an underfunded school system.
“I like that the show’s main character is a quirky Black woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously”
In an industry where Black women are often relegated to “trauma porn” roles, Brunson’s character can feel like a refreshing palate cleanser. “I like that the show’s main character is a quirky Black woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously,” Masani Bailey, the creator of the digital show “Culture Unfiltered,” said.
Nina Metz, a television and film critic for the Chicago Tribune, recognizes the show’s importance for Black representation. “Aside from UPN’s heyday, Black shows, meaning shows created by and starring Black ensembles, have been few and far between on broadcast network television over the last 30 years,” Metz said. “A hit tends to create new opportunities, so it’s possible that ‘Abbott Elementary’ will help encourage decision-makers to seek out other Black writers and producers looking to make sitcoms.”
Moreover, Metz feels the jarring contrast in the show’s setting and its comedy is a perfect glimpse of reality. “As a setting for a workplace comedy, it’s pretty ingenious: This is what it looks like when your job feels absurd but also deeply meaningful,” Metz said.
“Abbott Elementary” has just made history as the first comedy debut to hit quadruple ratings and the largest viewer percentage growth for any new comedy on ABC. It is a delightful reminder of why educators stay through the tumultuous times. Most of all, its slapstick comedic approach helps viewers find the humor and sincerity in these teachers’ lives on television — and in school systems around the world.