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Abbott Elementary

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What it’s about:

Taking stylistic cues from The Office and Parks and Recreation, this is a single-camera, mockumentary-style comedy about an underfunded public school in Philadelphia. It centers on Janine Teagues, a second-grade teacher in her second year, brimming with idealism, struggling against the realities of the system she’s in and the experts who know better.

Names you might know:

If you don’t know writer/actress/comedian/producer Quinta Brunson (one of the stars of A Black Lady Sketch Show), who plays Janine, you will soon; she created the show, writes it, and stars in it…and apparently had it all mapped out from her very first pitch, inspired by her mother’s career as a teacher in the Philadelphia public school system and her sixth-grade teacher, whose last name gave the show its title.

Tyler James Williams plays substitute teacher Gregory, and if he looks familiar but you just can’t place him, it’s because he’s changed a little: He rose to fame as Chris in Everybody Hates Chris when he was 13.

Sheryl Lee Ralph, who plays Barbara, is a Broadway star who was in the original production of Dreamgirls.

Behind the scenes, you’ll find a slew of Office vets, including Randall Einhorn (director and EP), and directors Matt Sohn and Jennifer Celotta. (If you listen to the Office Ladies podcast, these names come up a LOT.) A comb through the show’s cast and crew list on IMDb will also uncover camera operators, writers, and production staff who worked on Parks and Recreation, Black-ish, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Superstore, and A Black Lady Sketch Show, among others.

Why it’s worth your time:
ABC

Abbott Elementary is FUNNY. The first glimmers start in the opening episode, and from there the show picks up steam and really takes up as we get to know the rest of the staff.

Janine is surrounded by memorable, quirky characters: Barbara, the no-nonsense kindergarten teacher she idolizes, who isn’t interested in becoming her mentor OR her best friend; Melissa, the Philly-tough South Side teacher who always “knows a guy”; Jacob, the well-meaning, awkwardly woke white teacher who shares Janine’s idealism but constantly puts his foot in his mouth; Gregory, the uptight substitute teacher (and principal wannabe) with a crush on Janine who has a lot to learn when it comes to reaching kids on their level (and provides some of the funniest moments with his deadpan delivery); and Ava, the utterly incompetent, camera-loving principal who got her job thanks to some successful blackmail and is more interested in counting her TikTok followers than coming up with ways to help the kids—hence the documentary crew that’s now inside the school.

The first episode makes it clear they’re not shying away from the education crisis in this country, showing how they can’t replace horribly outdated textbooks, but the city’s building a new sport stadium. The situations are milked for comedy but real-life truths are the backbone. All of these teachers, no matter their approach, are dedicated to giving their students the best they can, even when faced with supply shortages, technology nobody understands, soiled rugs, annoying volunteers, and yes, a documentary crew getting in their way.

The takeaway:

Abbott Elementary will catch you off guard and surprise you. Rooted in reality, it’s also full of jokes, asides and visual gags, and often squeezes in one final, loudest laugh in each episode’s final moments. The show captures the balance between comedy and heart, much like its mockumentary predecessors—but with a new spin, because the work these characters are doing truly matters.

Watch it with:

Anyone in your family, any friend, anyone who’s ever been a teacher or a student. Hopefully, that’s everyone!

Worth noting:

The kids at the school are especially entertaining; whoever’s casting them is doing a great job. They’re 100% believable and hold their own with the talented cast.

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