For many, the new year has lacked sufficient enthusiasm, void of that usual ‘fresh start’ optimism a normal January would, or should, provide. As we’re all too aware, however, the COVID-19 pandemic we must navigate has pulled any normalcy out from under our feet for the past two-plus years.
That’s why ABC’s new sitcom Abbott Elementary is a welcome introduction to our television screens. The show follows the teachers and inept principal of Abbott Elementary—a struggling public school in the inner city of Philadelphia—who are trying their best to rectify the systematic failures of the school. But perhaps none are trying harder to salvage the goodness of the elementary school than the idealist second-grade teacher Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson).
Frankly, we all need a good laugh at the absurdity surrounding an institution with flimsy infrastructure and a lack of effective leadership. As it feels all too familiar. Abbott Elementary is especially timely considering the way teachers and students have been neglected during the pandemic. From growing fatigue to low salaries, many teachers have considered quitting the field entirely according to an article in The Washington Post.
But Abbott Elementary is as funny as it is pointed. A review of the show for The Oregonian states, “While [the mockumentary] approach [can] seem a bit dusty… it feels reinvigorated here.” And reinvigorated it is. Quinta Brunson said in an interview that she wanted to utilize the mockumentary style to integrate the audience into the comedy and humor of the show.
She says, “I wanted to make the audience fall in love with the workplace, and I wanted the comedy to feel like you, the audience member, were working at Abbott, too… Especially with subject matter like this, I think it’s important for the audience to feel like they’re in on an inside joke with our show.”
The format the creators chose for the sitcom was perfect as it seeks to invoke empathy from the audience in service of the Abbott staff who are simply trying to uphold an underfunded school. A difficult task but their efforts are for the sake of the students, and many of us know the struggle teachers and staff endure first hand.
Thus, with the mockumentary style, the teachers of Abbott Elementary become the teachers we have worked with, the ones we’ve had in our classrooms growing up, or even the teachers we root for on Teacher TikTok. This realness reflected back onto the audience provides so much meaning to the show.
Additionally, there’s lots of talent to go around amongst the cast. There’s Everybody Hates Chris alum Tyler James Williams who plays substitute Gregory Eddie; Tony award-nominated actress Sheryl Lee Ralph who plays kindergarten teacher Barabara Howard; And, of course, Brunson, former Buzzfeed employee and A Black Lady Sketch Show alum who’s an executive producer and co-writer of the series.
In fact, part of the accuracy of Abbott Elementary’s highs and lows is a result of Brunson’s own upbringing as her mother was a Philadelphia public school teacher. Brunson also inspired the show after one of her own teachers, named Ms. Abbott, who had a significant impact on her growing up.
All in all, Abbott Elementary excels in its optimism of what a great school environment can look like without leaning on toxic positivity á la Ted Lasso. The show mirrors the harsh reality regarding some of the failures of the public school system, especially highlighting how those failures affect Black students and students of color.
However, the saving grace in the show and IRL is the teachers and staff. The ones who have their feet on the ground, sacrificing inordinate amounts of time, energy, and resources to make schooling the kind of positive experience students deserve.
Hopefully, Abbott Elementary encourages people to laugh, to think, and ultimately to recognize the important role teachers play in children’s lives as well as society at large. We know teachers give so much of themselves to their job; therefore, they deserve at least a little appreciation back from us.
Abbott Elementary airs on ABC every Tuesday and will be available to stream the next day on Hulu where there are currently three episodes for streaming.
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Ebony Purks is a graduate student at the University of Incarnate Word working toward getting her Master’s degree in communications. She is also a freelance writer, interested in writing about pop culture, social justice, and health; especially examining the many intersections between those subjects.