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Series / Abbott Elementary

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"I know this school is rough, but we make do."
Janine Teagues

Abbott Elementary is a ABC Mockumentary-style Work Com set in a West Philadelphia public elementary school. The show focuses on the school's teachers and faculty as they try to do their teaching jobs while dealing with funding challenges, apathetic parents, and a glory-hound principal.

Quinta Brunson (who is also creator and executive producer) stars as Janine Teagues, a passionate second-year second grade teacher that tries to leap over the red tape to be the best role model for her students. The show also stars Tyler James Williams as Gregory Eddie, a substitute first grade teacher trying to become principal at Abbott Elementary. The cast of characters also includes Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph), a stern Kindergarten teacher Janine (and, it seems, all of West Philadelphia) looks up to; Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter), a resourceful second grade teacher from South Philly who "knows a guy" for nearly everything the school needs; Jacob Hill (Chris Perfetti), as a progressive white second-year sixth-grade social studies teacher who tries to relate to his students and co-workers; and Ava Coleman (Janelle James), Abbott Elementary's self-centered principal who puts her image and reputation above the students and teachers' needs.

The series premiered on December 7, 2021. On March 14, 2022, it was announced that the series had been picked up for a second season. On January 11th 2023, it was announced that the series had been picked up for a third season.

Tropes used in this series include:

  • Aborted Arc: In Season 2, Melissa had her Combo Class Arc where she struggled to manage two grades in her class. But after "Candy Zombies", that problem seems to vanish as she manages her combo class pretty well. Especially after her Aide Ashely vamooses.
  • Accidental Passenger: The school field trip to the zoo has a slight hiccup when a student wanders off on his own. Janine ends up finding him in the basket of the hot air balloon but doesn't get off with him before it begins to fly, a terrible situation for her to be in as someone with a fear of heights.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Barbara thinks Ava's comment that Janine should be Mormon because she needs "more men" is clever enough to warrant a high five, much to Janine's dismay.
    Janine: Barbara!
    Barbara: I'm sorry, Janine, but that was actually very clever.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Barbara delivers a passionate speech when she learns that Gregory has been tending the garden behind her back.
    Barbara: "Gregory, why would you sow secretly? Why would you prune privately? Why would you cull clandestinely? Hidden hoe-ing and whatnot?"
  • Aside Glance: The show is a mockumentary, and Gregory takes full advantage of the In-Universe Camera. Whenever he's displeased or surprised, he'd rather turn or look towards it than comment.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: When Jacob vents about the dismal state of his relationship with Zach, he states "It's like a DC movie over here." Warner Bros. is half-owner of the series.
  • Call-Back:
    • The ending of "Juice" reveals that Ava has a secret (and extremely nice) bathroom in the basement behind a reinforced door. She makes a a casual reference to it in "Mural Arts" but quickly changes the subject to avoid letting the other teachers know.
  • Central Theme: Making the best with what you have despite the difficulties.
  • Christmas Episode: "Holiday Hookah" shows the Abbott staff enjoying their winter break with Janine and Greg winding up in the same night club while Jacob ruins Melissa and Barbara's dinner with his disdain for the holidays.
  • Class Trip: Each season finale revolves around Abbott Elementary going on a field trip. First was the Philadelphia Zoo and the second was the Franklin Institute.
  • Company Cross References: Some episodes contain references to Disney, the parent company of ABC and half-owner of the series, as well as Marvel and Star Wars, which Disney also owns.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The pilot ends with Melissa's connections helping the teachers get rugs for their classrooms. In "Ava vs. the Superintendent," she takes the rug back from Barbara in anger when she feels Barbara doesn't appreciate her.
    • In "Gifted Program," Melissa attempts to get some chicken eggs for Janine's class to hatch, only for them to turn out to be snake eggs. In "Egg Drop," Melissa assures other teachers that the eggs she's using are not from snakes.
  • Cool Teacher:
    • Jacob tries to be a hip young teacher, but he's so incredibly awkward that it just ends up being Cringe Comedy. Downplayed later as he gain more confidence, such as when he performs magic tricks for the students, delighting them (and Ava!)
    • Played straight with the much-loved Barbara and later on with Gregory after his students warm up to him.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Quickly played for laughs when Barbara complains that the zoo has retired her favorite tuatara to Melissa (who is heavily implied but never outright stated to come from a mob family):
    Melissa: Retired like my uncle Anthony, or retired [draws hand across throat] like my uncle Tony?
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Played for laughs. From Gregory's very first day Ava constantly hits on him despite his visible discomfort and the fact that if it were a man in Ava's position of power constantly hitting on a female employee it would not be acceptable. In an early Season 1 episode, he even turns to the film crew, frantically asking if they're seeing it, as though he feels alone as nobody but him is reacting to him being harassed. Yet, it's a 'running gag' on the show continued into its second season.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Invoked; in "Work Family" Tariq is enlisted to do a rap performance for an anti-drug program at the school.
    Tariq: ♪ I'm a sober guy, I don't get high ♪
    ♪ If you take drugs, then you might die ♪
    Let's go! Come on! Bounce, bounce, yeah!
  • Enthusiastic Newbie Teacher: Much of the humor stems from the contrast between idealistic and perky young 20-somethings Janine and Jacob, who have only been teaching at the titular underfunded public school for a couple years, and the more cynical and experienced older teachers Melissa and Barbara, who know from years of disappointment that the public school system will do them no favors. However, all the teachers love their students and teaching, and do their best with the resources they have.
  • Everyone Can See It: Almost all of the regular characters know Janine and Gregory like each other; Janine revealed that Gregory likes her in "Valentine's Day", to no one's surprise.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Barbara and Melissa both find Janine to be annoying, but they both vehemently disapproved of Ava trying to get the entire faculty to bully her.
    • While Jacob can be exhausting, the other teachers glare at Ava when she expresses shock at seeing Zach, his boyfriend, for the first time.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • Janine is heavily implied to have had a neglectful mother, which is why she emotionally latched onto Barbara.
    • Gregory's own father was an extremely strict disciplinarian, to the point where Gregory was punished for the "misbehavior" of making noise, running, or having fun (you know, things little kids naturally do). As such, Gregory's grown into The Comically Serious, although he's slowly begun to loosen up as he continues to work at Abbott.
    • It isn't specified on but Ava mentions growing up in poverty which is why she insists on teaching her students how to make money for themselves so they don't have to suffer as much.
  • Halloween Episode: Season 2 gives us "Candy Zombies" which features all the Abbott kids turning into hyperactive monsters thanks to a villain named Baby Thanos giving them free candy.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: While the show has a theme of making do even in sub-optimal situations, it is also very unsubtle about telling the viewer that, in America, public schools are in dire situations and require more funding to take care of the children, especially in underprivileged neighborhoods.
  • Inner City School: Abbott Elementary is a rare K-8 example. It's located in inner-city Philadelphia, has a High Turnover Rate of teachers, serves a mostly Black student body, and its funding is always at the mercy of the district. However, the teachers who do stay are earnest and hardworking, and they have students who are willing to learn.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: The B-plot of "Art Teacher" is about Jacob and Barbara (who are around 30 years apart in age) bonding over gardening, bossa nova, and old movies.
  • Internal Reveal: Gregory finds out about Ava committing blackmail to get the principal job he tried to get in "Open House", which the viewers had known since the first episode. He does not take it well.
  • It's Been Done: A recurring theme on the show is that the younger teachers like Janine and Jacob frequently attempt to implement some new, innovative idea for the school to improve the experience for the students that the experienced staff members like Barbara and Melissa disapprove of because they've seen similar ideas attempted in the past and know from experience they don't work.
  • Mocking Music: When Ava finds out that the Superintendent married the woman he had an affair with and thus her blackmail on him is useless and she needs to shape up and be an actual principal, she plays Mary J. Blige 's "I'm Goin' Down".
  • Mockumentary: The teachers are indeed being followed around by a documentary crew documenting the struggles of teachers in the public school system.
  • Namesake Institution: Quinta Brunson named the school in the show after one of her own favorite elementary school teachers.
  • Newscaster Cameo: One from Philly's legendary news anchor Jim Gardner (not coincidentally, the anchor at the ABC station in town, WPVI-TV). Quinta Brunson later made an appearance during WPVI's Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage (not long before Gardner officially retired in December of 2022), and both geeked out over each other.
  • Not So Above It All: Despite his best efforts, Gregory eventually gets sucked into caring about his students, his job, and Abbott Elementary.
  • Now Allowed to Hug: From the start of the series, the emotive and enthusiastic Jacob attempts to befriend the more serious and reserved Gregory, with Gregory being reluctant partially out of professionalism and partially due to finding Jacob weird. However, over the course of the series, after getting to know each other better and working together the two get genuinely closer. In the season two finale, after Gregory talks to Jacob about his feelings for Janine and confides the fact they kissed at Pexa weekend, with Jacob encouraging him to tell her how he feels, the two share a brief "bro hug" as a sign of how far they've come.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Ava realizes that the superintendent got remarried to the deaconess, making her blackmail material useless.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Barbara finally gives up on trying to get through to Draemond. The swear itself is quite mild, but considering it's coming from prim and proper Barbara who's consistently been the most forgiving towards him it stands out.
    Barbara: But at the end of the day, [the students] have to decide who they want to be. And this one chose to be a jackass.
  • Queer Establishing Moment: Jacob mentions his boyfriend of two years in "Work Family", though his sexuality was hinted at in a previous episode.
  • Running Gag:
    • Janine's breathing problems after running as well as her almost complete lack of style.
    • Ava will often be shown doing some activity in her office completely unrelated to her job, such as trimming a Chia Pet or whittling a shark out of a piece of wood.
    • If Ava shows up in the teacher's lounge, chances are she will spend the entire scene pouring sugar into her coffee without stopping.
    • Barbara has a tendency to mix up white actors with similarly named black men (Michael J. Fox and Michael B. Jordan, Colin Farrell and Colin Powell etc.).
    • Ava being unable to remember Jacob's name.
  • Same Race Means Related: In the twelfth episode Jacob (the young, earnest, but clueless white teacher) expresses admiration for a Black teacher, Mrs. Davis, and says that the only way she could be any cooler was if she was related to Angela Davis. He then backtracks, claiming that it's not because he thinks all Black people are related.
    Gregorynote : Well, maybe you do. Maybe that's your subconscious speaking.
    [makes a knowing Aside Glance, indicating that he's messing with Jacob]
  • Self-Care Epiphany: The aesop of "Light Bulb"; Janine is so determined to support her boyfriend's music career, fix the lighting in the school, and prove herself that she ends up fainting because she skips both breakfast and lunch.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Oh my God, we lost Kenny!" in the last episode of Season 1.
    • "The Principal's Office":
      • The central plot is about Gregory's student becoming obsessed with Bluey and making references to it so much that even the other students are annoyed by it.
      • After Gregory is returning to his class from Ava's office, Mr. Johnson walks behind him ringing a bell and declaring "Shame!". This is similar to the scene of Cersei's Walk of Shame in Game of Thrones.
  • Significant Name Overlap: invokedUsed for a gag in "Wrong Delivery". Barbara has a habit of mixing up white and Black celebrities (eg. saying Carrie Underwood instead of Kerry Washington, or Michael B. Jordan instead of Michael J. Fox). When she praises "Michelle Williams" as a "diva" her coworkers are gleeful because she actually correctly referred to a Black celebrity...only for her to loop back around and praise Michelle Williams's Oscar nominations.
    Janine: So close.
  • Silver Vixen: Both Melissa and Barbara are visibly older than the other teachers, but that doesn't stop them from being gorgeous, something that the work points out repeatedly, especially in regards to Melissa, with multiple outfits designed to show off her curves.
    Melissa (to Barbara): My opinion - you've gotten better with age, like good wine and Stanley Tucci.
  • Sitcom Archnemesis:
    • Played with in "Egg Drop." Jacob spends the whole episode talking about how much Mr. Morton apparently hates him, but as Gregory points out, we never see any actual evidence of this...until the very end, when Morton confirms that he does, indeed, hate Jacob.
    • Played for Laughs in "Holiday Hookah". Ava considers Janine to be her "work nemesis".
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: On the idealism side, there's Janine and Jacob, who are still passionate about teaching and find various ways to work outside the system for their jobs. Barbara and Melissa are are on the cynicism side: they're both competent teachers, but far more jaded after spending years in the public school system dealing with low funding and apathetic faculty and parents.
  • Stern Teacher: Downplayed; Barbara keeps her students extremely well-behaved, but she's not cruel or menacing, and she has the respect of her students and the other teachers.
  • Story Arc:
    • In Season 1, we have the New Teacher Arc which focuses on Gregory adjusting to being a teacher while contemplating his original goal of being principal.
    • In Season 2, we have the Self Improvement Arc that focuses on Janine trying to improve her personal life after breaking up with Tariq. And later on, we have the Legendary Charter Arc that focuses on the Abbott staff trying to keep their school from being a charter one.
    • In Season 3, we have the "Administrator" Arc which details how Janine is managing working for the school board and Abbott.
  • Sucky School: Downplayed; the teachers of Abbott Elementary are generally skilled and passionate about teaching, but they're stymied by their principal, the district, and their general lack of funding. The school itself is also falling apart, with many things needing repair.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Many of the episodes are about a teacher (usually Janine) trying some new, groundbreaking, innovative idea for teaching, only to hit the cruel ceiling of reality and have to settle for something tried-and-true.
    • For example, in "Art Teacher," Barbara and Jacob try to grow vegetables for the school cafeteria, only to come up with a single skinny zucchini. Jacob goes to the farmer's market and buys a huge amount of zucchini, which he cooks for the cafeteria to serve. The lunch supervisor compliments Jacob on his forethought and cooking skills, and then dumps the entire platter into the garbage. After all, he can't serve food from outside the school—that's a health code violation!
    • Ava only has her job because she caught the superintendent cheating on his wife and threatened to tell her. But she didn’t realize that the superintendent would divorce his wife and marry his mistress, meaning he no longer has anything to lose. And he’s very much willing to fire her due to her incompetence.
    • Despite a stellar presentation put together by Gregory and a surprisingly heartfelt plea from Ava Abbott still doesn't get discretionary funding from the district, simply because there isn't enough to go around and they had to make cuts somewhere.
    • In "The Principal's Office":
      • We see the effects of Ava's lackadaisical approach to her job first-hand with the students. She refuses to discipline any child who acts up in class, instead giving them toys and candy while letting them play games in her office. As such, the teachers have learned not to rely on her for anything, with Jacob remarking that the only reason to send a kid to Ava's office is to get the rest of the class back on track until the misbehaving student returns.
      • In the same episode, Janine tries to mend the broken relationship between Melissa and her sister Kristin Marie, especially after learning that they apparently became estranged after Kristin Marie brought a poorly-prepared version of a family recipe to the grandmother's wake. Instead of the heartwarming reunion Janine expected, she witnesses the two snap insults at each other for three minutes before Kristin Marie storms out again. Melissa also reveals that the real reason for their argument was that Kristin Marie refused to help the family at all when Nana Schemmenti was sick and dying. Family squabbles are often deeper than people let on or feel comfortable about sharing, and trying to fix a relationship when you don't know all of the details often leads to more trouble rather than solutions.
    • In "Egg Drop" when Janine, going against all advice, insists her second-graders take part in the 8th graders' egg drop experiment, every single one of them fails and splatters, because kids that young simply aren't ready to understand the physics behind it, and Janine made no attempt to even teach it instead treating it as an arts-and-crafts project.
  • Take a Third Option: In "The Principal's Office," Gregory has a hard time with Micah, a student in his class who can't pay attenton and repeatedly derails the lesson plan. After numerous attempts to solve the problem, Gregory feels like he can either ignore Micah entirely (to the detriment of the rest of the class, who are also annoyed by his antics) or send him the principal's office (which doesn't help him at all). Eventually, though, Gregory finds a different way to solve the problem: he integrates Micah's favorite TV show into the lessons, which calms him down enough to focus while still providing genuine educational content.
  • Take That!: The show takes the time to criticize different elements that contribute to the hardships of not just teachers but also their students. From self-serving school boards, lack of funding to the charter school system.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: The teachers will often have conversations during or even in front of their classes without the students seeming to care (unless it's important to the plot).
  • Time Skip: "Career Day" takes place five months after the school year started, due to the documentary crew having their equipment stolen. This is to justify the late start of the season due to the WGA/SAG strikes the previous summer.
  • Token White: Melissa and Jacob, the only two white members in the predominantly Black cast. In the case of Jacob, he's very aware of this, as he is one of the few white teachers in the school and tries to show off how progressive he is.
  • Umbrella of Togetherness: After the others make fun of Janine for only dating one guy her entire life, she takes off and leaves the building. Gregory, who has been implied to have a crush on her, goes after her, grabs an umbrella from the hallway, and briefly comforts her as they stand under it in the rain.
  • Valentine's Day Episode: The titular episode shows each of the Abbott staff facing different tribulations making the day a success with their special somebodies.
  • Volleying Insults: Discussed in one episode in which Jacob, the Token White teacher, struggles to participate in games of the Dozens with his students due to having no cultural context for it (and being a Nice Guy). This results in him being clowned by a group of children. The best insults he can come up with are pointing out that his opponent is wearing school uniform and sneakers, same as every other kid, which only gets him roasted harder. Gregory attempts to help him out. At the end of the episode Gregory, too, refers to Jacob as "Ol' Siskel & Ebert two-thumbs-up-lookin'-ass boy" behind his back.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: In "Career Day", Ava took a Harvard education program online to become a more responsible principal. At first the teachers are happy, but then Ava institutes changes like changing the seating on Barb's classroom and prohibiting outside lunches. They decide to "deprogram" Ava back to her former self by playing "Back that Azz Up" on the gym, to which she can't help but dance to.
  • "Well Done, Daughter!" Girl:
    • Janine yearns for Barbara's approval and mentorship; Janine has mentioned that Barbara is the reason why she wanted to be a teacher and indicated that she thinks of her as a mother figure. Barbara tries to keep their relationship professional, but she can't help but be endeared by Janine's efforts to get closer to her.
    • The Season Two premiere reveals that Gregory is a Well Done Son, Guy—to the point where he still refers to his father by his military title. He was also apparently punished for doing anything remotely childlike as a kid, so his attempts to be collected and controlled at all times are a desperate attempt to please his dad.
  • Wham Line: The Stinger for "Read-A-Thon":
    Janine: So, what questions do you little reporters have for me today?
    Clarence: My mama said she saw you at the club grinding all up on Producer Mr. Eddie.
  • Wham Shot: "Career Day", the sesason 3 opener, starts with a visit from a fellowship dedicated to helping schools, and one of them is Janine.