The new season of Emmy award-winning series “Abbott Elementary” sheds light on familial and workplace dynamics and poignantly pays homage to the countless teachers who give it their all to educate today’s youth.
Mirroring the style of mockumentary classics like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” ABC’s hit show follows a group of teachers working in an underfunded elementary school in West Philadelphia. As the second season comes to a close, look back on the series’ best moments and find out just how “Abbott Elementary” had us on the edge of our seats every week until its finale.
The show delivers its telltale delightful comedy as the “Abbott Elementary” ensemble continues to poke fun and riff off each other just like they did in their award-winning first season. In a viral cold open, teacher Barbara Howard, played by award-winning multihyphenate Sheryl Lee Ralph, hilariously misidentifies Black celebrities by white celebrities’ names, including confusing GW alum Kerry Washington with Carrie Underwood, as the rest of the teachers interpret which Black celebrity she’s actually referencing.
Since its first season, the show has provided insight into the world of passionate, impactful educators, from second grade teacher Janine Teague’s can-do attitude pushing her to persevere through the toughest of parent-teacher conferences to Barbara’s steadfast leadership in helping younger teachers survive the minefield of staying creative in an underfunded school.
The 22-episode season picks up with our favorite elementary school teachers preparing for the next school year a week before school ramps up. In the first episode, Janine struggles to mask her post-break-up sadness by throwing herself into fix-it mode at work while newbie first grade educator Gregory Eddie tries to micromanage his lesson plans to the dismay of Abbott’s wise, most tenured teacher Barbara Howard.
Quinta Brunson, the show’s creator who also plays Janine, said she drew inspiration for “Abbott Elementary” after watching her mother teach in Philadelphia for 40 years.
“Despite it getting harder, despite teachers not having all the support they need, despite kids growing even more unruly than they’ve been in recent time … she still loved the job,” Brunson said in an NPR interview. “The beauty is someone being so resilient for a job that is so underpaid and so underappreciated because it makes them feel fulfilled.”
Season 2 expands on this portrayal of caring educators by humanizing the typically insensitive Principal Ava Coleman. In its first season, Ava was an overwhelming disappointment to Abbott teachers and students as she blackmailed the superintendent to obtain the principal job, where she misappropriated school funds and frequently belittled the teachers. In Episode 13, Ava gives a student who has gone through a major growth spurt a free pair of pants after his peers bullied him for his poorly fitting clothes. True to her jokester nature, she also asks him, “Ever think about introducing your pants to your shoes?” But the tender-heartedness of the gesture still rings in a new era of Ava caring about her students.
The teachers of Abbott also spend much of the season grappling with the threat of being forced into the charter school system by the season’s antagonist Draemond Winding, an Abbott alum who comes with his own disturbingly catchy theme song. In an effort to prevent Abbott from going charter, the teachers commit to a Fyre Festival-like scheme, falsely promising a performance from a local celebrity to entice parents to sign a petition to save Abbott. Despite realizing they were bamboozled, the parents banded together and signed a petition to prevent Abbott from entering charter status and express their objections to the school board.
The second season also explores the relationships between sisters, with multiple characters sifting through sororal strife. In Episode 12, Janine projects her own issues with her sister onto a set of feuding second-graders before having to break up a fight between the two students’ older sisters. In Episode 18, Janine’s sister Ayesha visits her, and after an extremely tense game night dredges up Janine’s feelings of abandonment, they find themselves on a street corner hashing out old beef as Janine confronts Ayesha for leaving her alone to take care of their flighty mother. Together they work through pent-up resentment to resolve a conflict that’s created distance between them for years.
Throughout the season, viewers endured the slow-burn build up of a long-awaited romance between Janine and first grade teacher Gregory. Over the course of the series, we watch the two characters develop feelings for each other. One’s in a relationship and one’s not, then one’s dating the other’s best friend and one’s going through a breakup. It’s the show’s perpetual “will they, won’t they” that gets fans hooked. This budding romance with Gregory and Janine hits its peak with a jaw-dropping first kiss in Episode 16 where the two share the romantic moment surrounded by the flowery spring haven of a “living classroom” – an exhibit of a schoolroom built entirely out of blooming flowers and plant life. But it’s not until the finale that viewers finally see what the future holds – or doesn’t – for the two.
This article appeared in the April 27, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.