Review: ‘Abbott Elementary’ takes a ‘new-school’ approach to network television

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Photo credit: American Broadcasting Company Promotional Photo

Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson) engages with her students in the classroom. “Abbott Elementary” is a “mockumentary” that focuses on the trials and tribulations of a group of hard-working teachers at an underfunded public school.

By Cadence Callahan, Senior Reporter

In the age of streaming and web shows, network television has been on the decline, with people canceling cable subscriptions and opting for platforms such as Netflix and Hulu. Comedian and writer Quinta Brunson is stirring excitement for the comeback of network sitcoms with her new series “Abbott Elementary.” 

The show follows underpaid and overworked teachers at Abbott Elementary, an underfunded public school in Philadelphia. The main character, Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson) is a young, quirky and passionate second-grade teacher, who, despite working at the school for a little over a year, works to improve the environment whenever she can.

Working alongside Teagues, seasoned teachers Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Melissa Schemmenit (Lisa Ann Walter) provide Teagues with guidance and support. Despite its comedic and lighthearted nature, “Abbott Elementary” highlights the serious systemic issue of underfunded inner city schools. From the lack of funding to electrical issues and spoiled lunch, Teagues and her colleagues get creative with their solutions to these problems by starting community gardens and using personal connections to supply their students with much needed materials. 

The first season of the show consists of 13 episodes, each spanning roughly 22 minutes. Similar to shows such as “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” “Abbott Elementary” is a plucky “mockumentary” and relies on cutaway interviews with the characters to drive the plot forward. This format fully envelopes the viewers into the characters’ lives and makes the series more realistic.

A uniquely hilarious and frustrating character who we couldn’t help but love was the school’s absent-minded principal, Ava Coleman (Janelle James). When it’s revealed in the first episode that Ava gained her position in a less than honest way, it’s made abundantly clear throughout the series that she is not great at her job. James does a brilliant job portraying the character, and her jokes and comedic timing were perfect.

The show has received praise on both social media platforms and in other reviews, earning a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. In an interview with The New York Times, Brunson said she didn’t want the show to sound like a “Twitter timeline,” and instead wanted to focus on giving the audience “slice-of-life stories.”

“It’s a show about these people’s lives. There have been recent sitcoms — ‘Black-ish,’ ‘Fresh Off the Boat’— really good sitcoms, but my generation was starting to get tired of race as the only focal point,” Brunson said. “The white shows got to just be white, but a lot of the shows with people of color were about the color of the people and not about stories of the people. So ‘Abbott’ also feels like a shift in that way.”

Before airing its first season finale April 12, episodes were released weekly on Tuesdays and were available for streaming on Hulu the following day. Despite what I originally thought when beginning the show, I enjoyed waiting for the new episodes every week. And although platforms like Netflix and Hulu make watching television simple and convenient, I believe binge-watch culture has made people impatient, and waiting for a new episode of “Abbott Elementary” every Tuesday gave me something to look forward to.

Overall, this series was hilarious from start to finish and something fans will miss for the time being. This heartwarming and stirring depiction of passionate teachers provides viewers with an inside look at the profession and all that it entails. The show is perfect for fans of “The Office,” and those who seek a “new-school” approach to “old-school” network television.

  • Story
  • Acting
  • Technical Quality
  • Enjoyment
  • Impact
4.2

Summary

“Abbott Elementary” is a “mockumentary” that focuses on the victories and defeats of teachers at an underfunded public school in West Philadelphia. The main character, Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson) is a new and eager teacher who strives to improve the school whenever she can. With the help of her seasoned colleagues, Teagues come up with creative solutions for their school’s numerous problems by starting community gardens and personally funding school events. This is a heart warming, slice-of-life series that will entertain all viewers.