Abbott Elementary: The sweet season
Most of us have heard of the hit ABC show “Abbott Elementary.” For those of you who haven’t, the series is a fresh take on American sitcoms and the mockumentary television style that rose to prominence with shows like “The Office” and “Parks & Recreation”. Created by Quinta Brunson and set in Philadelphia, the series explores the world of public school through the lens of passionate and hardworking teachers and a dubious yet hilarious principal. What is most heartwarming is the focus on Black joy and Black womanhood through the series despite the setting being a poor, Black neighborhood in Philly. With 15 nominations and three Emmys, including Quinta Brunson’s Outstanding Writing for Comedy Series and Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Outstanding Supporting Actress, “Abbott Elementary” is doing quite well for itself.
For me as a young Black woman with an avid interest in the film and animation industry, watch ing Brunson become the second Black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing I was in awe. The entire cast of “Abbott Elementary” is extremely talented, and I was thrilled to see the series and its cast receiving recognition. When thinking about directors, producers, writers, and all the people who work behind the camera and behind the scenes to create a beautiful product, there is often is very little minority representation. The series exposes an important visibility of representation at work that allows me to envision my own possibilities when entering the film and media industry.
While season one introduced the audience to the world of the teachers, season two did a wonderful job of delving into the characters and further developing their spunky personalities. Audiences get the chance to observe these iconic characters outside of the classroom, from Melissa’s (Lisa Ann Walter) home, to meeting Janine’s (Quinta Brunson) sister (Ayo Edebiri) and mother (Taraji P. Henson) and so much more. In this season, the drama lies in the charter movement called Legendary Charter led by Draemond (Leslie Odham Jr.), who is planning to take over Abbott Elementary. Its neighbor Addington Elementary, with functional restrooms and access to top-quality technology, is viewed as a threat.
Season two introduces important commentary on charter schools as Abbott tries to fight against the expansion. The sad reality is that as public schools become charter schools, both students and teachers can be negatively impacted. From limiting student diversity due to admissions being filtered by academic performances to extending teacher’s hours and not providing tenure, becoming a charter school can have detrimental effects on the school as well as the community. Throughout this season it is clear that this group of teachers never ceases to make certain every child is accommodated and supported. As new teachers Janine, Gregory, and Jacob are trying to prove themselves even more to their much older and wiser counterparts.
We, at least all of us fans, know that Janine aspires to be like Barbara Howard and views her work relationship as filling the void of her mother, which makes it very interesting when Janine’s mother actually visits the school. Unfortunately for Janine, her mother Vanetta is not proud of her daughter’s success, and is not there to celebrate the milestones she has made in life. Instead, she needs help paying a bill. Through one of the last episodes of the season, the viewer can sense the manipulation and constant toxic gaslighting Janine had to grow up with. Luckily, while she is in the midst of trying to remedy her family crises, the honorable Mrs. Barbara Howard attempts to step in. At the conclusion of the episode, Janine learns to set boundaries and take care of herself instead of constantly putting everyone else first. It was an amazing moment to see Janine grow in maturity and confidence, and of course eventually win over Barbara’s respect.
One of my favorite episodes has to be episode nine from the second season, when Janine calls in sick and the principal, Ava (Janelle James), must navigate substituting. If anyone knows Ava, they know she likes to do the least amount of work while also getting the most attention and appreciation.
For once, she is actually experiencing all of the challenges her teachers face and beginning to understand them. Unfortunately, she does not learn much. The entire time she is trying to use the school’s printer paper to make a flier for her business of selling skin masks. The rest of the episode follows her attempts at following Janine’s preparations, including an organized binder and a video for her students warning, “If you are watching this, it means it’s too late for me … to come in today.” Luckily, with a little help from Gregory, it seems Ava is finally realizing how important it is to have a routine and to have empathy — who knew Ava had a heart? But the change is temporary because Ava is definitely going to always be Ava.