Midway through its second season, “Abbott Elementary” has consistently delivered viewers funny workplace hijinks while showing no signs of becoming stale.
ABC network’s hit mockumentary series portrays instructors at an inner-city Philadelphia elementary school attempting to provide their students a quality education with minimal resources at their disposal. Along the way, the faculty and staff members at Abbott Elementary School run into hilariously ridiculous roadblocks and are forced to resort to equally humorous measures to remedy various problems.
This is a very common plot setup, especially in other workplace mockumentaries such as “Parks and Recreation.” The two series admittedly share glaring similarities, which is unsurprising given both programs poke fun at systemic failures in America. However, “Abbott Elementary” never feels like it is copying shows such as “Parks and Recreation,” but instead borrowing effective tropes and making them unique to the series.
It is also worth noting when compared to most other mockumentary sitcoms, the series has never struggled to find its stride. In its debut season, the show garnered immediate acclaim, whereas other shows like “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office” were given a more negative reception, forcing major tweaks to central characters. Meanwhile, the writing staff for “Abbott Elementary” has made no critical changes to central characters’ traits. Instead, the cast’s chemistry has only grown over time.
Series creator and star Quinta Brunson has quickly become one of television’s most recognizable names. While her work behind the camera is critical for shaping what the show has become 30 episodes into its run, her commanding performance as optimistic but naive teacher Janine Teagues gives the rest of the cast a lot to play off.
There is not a weak link in the main ensemble. At the center of the show is the will-they-won’t-they chemistry between Janine and fellow instructor Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams).
Williams, arguably more so than any other actor in the series, has made an art of playing off his cast members. He is called upon to be the “straight man” in the other characters’ shenanigans. He has even perfected the camera glance that John Krasinski popularized in “The Office.”
Principal Ava Coleman (Janelle James) continues to act as a source of humorous conflict through her highly questionable leadership practices. Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter) operate as sources of wisdom for younger instructors, though their morals differ drastically.
Jacob Hill (Chris Perfetti) is the school’s hilariously tone-deaf instructor who never misses an opportunity to virtue signal about his awareness of social issues, making him an easy target for other characters to direct jokes toward. Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis), the school janitor, was elevated to the main cast for this season, where he is more frequently called upon to deliver some of the show’s most memorable one-liners.
Given the series’ unwaveringly high competence level, this season boasts several episodes that could be viewed as classics down the road. The Halloween episode, “Candy Zombies,” features students stealing a bag of candy and going on a sugar-induced rampage while paying subtle homage to horror movies such as “Jaws” and “The Shining.” The Christmas episode, “Holiday Hookah,” is one of the few episodes from the show mostly set outside of the school and further delves into the romantic tension between Janine and Gregory.
Impressively, the sense of community that exists between cast members is obvious just by watching the series, so it is unsurprising that other actors have taken notice. “Abbott Elementary” has already featured a handful of guest spots by various celebrities, from Oscar nominee Leslie Odom Jr. to rapper Vince Staples. The show is already putting itself in rare territory with other famous sitcoms that attracted big names to take up recurring roles.
“Abbott Elementary” has unarguably become one of the most important TV programs thanks to its ability to attain critical and commercial success in a network television landscape that regularly restricts creative freedom. The series has wasted no time collecting hardware to commemorate its success, nabbing three victories at this month’s Golden Globe Awards.
Over the past year, “Abbott Elementary” proved sitcoms that provide healthy amounts of social commentary are capable of drawing large audiences in a network TV setting, making it perhaps the quintessential comedy series of 2022.
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