Think of a mockumentary-style comedy with a Black cast and based in Philadelphia. Welcome, Abbott Elementary, and insert the fan base similar to those developed around Parks and Recreation and The Office. The sitcom about a group of Philadelphia public school teachers striving for their students to succeed has caught our attention as our favorite new comfort show. The show resonates with our inner child and the adult teacher in us.
It follows the classic storyline centered on Quinta Brunson, the ABC comedy creator, executive producer, writer, and star. Brunson’s character, Janine Teagues, is a second-grade teacher trying to do her best as we’re all watching and rooting for her. Without giving too much away, Brunson has a classic “will they or won’t they work” relationship with her new co-worker, but not to be overlooked; the overall plot tackles the genuine problem of underfunded public schools. The characters’ antics to secure classroom supplies mimics a struggle familiar to many real-life educators. Coming out of the pandemic, Americans have more appreciation towards teachers and caregivers, and this show makes us laugh and remember what public school teachers have to do to get their jobs done.
The critique of the American education system comes from a unique view as Brunson named the show after her former real-life teacher, Joyce Abbott, and her experience watching her mother’s real-life struggles as a teacher. Quinta says as a guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show, “When you’re the child of a teacher, you get to see teachers in a different light — like a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look,” she said. “It’s just getting such a different view, and I really credit my mom’s experience for helping me create the show.”
The show reminds us that Black teachers do much more than teach – they change lives. Abbott Elementary provides examples of how Black teachers leverage culturally relevant practices to impact the lives of their students—both socially and academically. Americans are reminded again that teachers are driven more by mission than by money, and for 30-minutes we watch while remembering the teachers that made a mark on our lives.
The teachers in Abbott Elementary, particularly the young, Black, idealistic ones, show us what is at stake as we tighten limitations on teachers. They remind us that these are not pawns in a political game but real people, often the kindest of people, doing the best they can with too little and not being applauded nearly enough.
Though there is innocence with the show, it comes with sexuality as commonplace and anxiety habits, and being on the verge of burnout is actually relatable. There’s no shortage of characters in the show. Brunson’s colleagues bring color as they include Sheryl Lee Ralph, the Tony nominee and original Broadway member of Dreamgirls, who plays the stern mother figure, and Chessie from The Parent Trap, who plays Lisa Ann Walter. Fans may recognize Tyler James Williams, who is all grown up from sitcom favorite Everybody Hates Chris.
Featured photo: Abbott Elementary/Los Angeles Times
Her work has been published in Refinery29, Elite Daily, the Copenhagen Post, and more. She studies public relations and corporate relations at NYU. She loves reading, cheese plates, reality TV, and event planning. She lives in Williamsburg, but Miami is her second home. Follow her on Instagram @alyssa_s_ashley.