It’s trite to say that “timing is everything”, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Abbott Elementary School, airing Tuesdays on ABC, is having a moment. After just three episodes, the show, a workplace mockumentary crafted by internet comedy and skit sensation Quinta Brunson about a group of elementary school teachers, has emerged as an overly focused look at obstacles that teachers face just as real schools are collapsing. around us.
I usually give shows a full season before I assess their long-term prospects. It takes at least as long for characters and writers’ rooms to find their place. As big as blackish became, for example, his first season had growing pains as he tried to establish his voice ahead of his stellar second season. Abbott Elementary School, however, delivered one of the best pilot episodes I can remember and already achieved the goals usually reserved for a second or third season. Each character and their motivations were immediately apparent: Brunson’s Janine Teagues is the hopeful and naive young teacher whose ambition gets her into trouble; Jacob Hill by Chris Perfetti is the liberal white ally whose performative gestures turn into parody; Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Barbara Howard is the near-retirement vet who doesn’t care to hope for better leadership. It only took half an episode to feel like I knew these characters. Maybe because we grew up going to school with them.
But above all, the pilot and the following two episodes were hilarious. Cutaways featuring the surly janitor will have you laughing out loud. The main sleazy is nonsense. And the way the show takes us to a world where those in charge care least about the kids in need stings because it’s true.
Abbott Elementary School will draw comparisons with Office as it grows in popularity, and rightly so. Along with a similar mockumentary style and powerful pilots, the shows are tied together by how they tackle a pressing issue of their time. So many Office’The early seasons focused on the anxiety of Dunder Mifflin employees over budget cuts, office consolidation, and being stuck in dead-end jobs during the worst economic downturn in a generation. I watched these seasons while looking for a job, feeling the same anxieties as Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and the gang. The actors struggled with bills, asking for raises, looking for new jobs and the desperation of wondering if this was the best life they had to offer. Abbott Elementary School shares this aspect of going beyond relatability in the realm of universal experience.
The night after watching the Abbott Elementary School pilot I listened to a suburban Atlanta school board meeting where a board that had banned critical race theory appointed a vice president who once called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” and, during the meeting, confused two black council members. At that same meeting, the superintendent — who has refused to mandate masks in schools — said the district would scale back contact tracing amid an omicron variant that has spread like wildfire. This situation is not unique. Schools ravaged by COVID-19 are allowing sick teachers to come in to work, asking parents to replace sick teachers, and trying to implement a mix of virtual and in-person learning. And the people who suffer the most are the children.
This is what makes the moment of Abbott Elementary School so perfect. As we watch Teagues almost get electrocuted trying to change the light bulb in the school hallway because the paperwork to get an electrician is too much, or see teachers scrambling to raise money for basic supplies or trying to scrounge up enough money for a carpeted floor for a weary student to nap on, we see how we’ve let down the kids and the people who spend their lives supporting them.
Abbott Elementary School does all of this without tackling COVID-19 or sounding too blunt. It just reminds us that the problems plaguing schools have always been there, ignored until we become what we are: a society that views teachers and children as disposable.
The show doesn’t wallow in that sense of futility. Like Office, Abbott Elementary School instills enough hope and charm not to feel cynical. Teachers’ love for children is a light, allowing the viewer to reminisce about the mentors who held their heads up to us and feel a little better about the places we send our children to for eight hours a day.