“Abbott Elementary” Teaches a Class on Comedy

By Katlynn Rossignol

When you walk through the halls of Abbott Elementary School, expect to find flickering lights, terrible school food, low budgets, and most importantly, quirky and hardworking teachers. “Abbott Elementary” offers a hilarious view of the public school system from the eyes of its teachers, as they fight to provide the best education for their students. With the show’s second season starting to release, it’s a good time to look back and review what we learned from season one.

Presentation and Style:

One of the first things you’ll notice when watching “Abbott Elementary” is its familiar mockumentary format. This format is best known from “Modern Family” and “The Office” where the characters are being filmed by a documentary film crew and will do short asides to them, describing their thoughts and feelings on the situation. 

While incredibly similar in format to “Modern Family” and “The Office”, “Abbott Elementary” reflects the values of today. The show embraces the world of public school, for its good, and especially for its bad. It often exaggerates some of the negative aspects of underfunded public schools, rather than trying to gloss over them. Compare the bleak brick halls of Abbott Elementary to that of a Disney Channel show, and you will be sure to see the stark contrast. 

Janine Teagues smiles for the documentary camera crew 

Plot and Characters: 

The plot of “Abbott Elementary” consists of following the teachers’ crazy lives throughout the school year. As with many sitcoms, an overarching plot is not the show’s central focus. The characters are the lifeblood of the show and are the real reason the humor succeeds.

The main character of the series is Janine Teagues, played by Quinta Brunson, a relatively new 2nd-grade teacher at Abbott Elementary. She is shown constantly trying to bring a positive attitude to her classroom and is viewed by the rest of the staff to be well-meaning, but naïve. Her efforts to improve the school often end in disaster, with her knocking out the school’s power, getting everyone’s desks confiscated, or accidentally hatching endangered snakes in her classroom. While these events are absurd, the episodes gradually build up to them by having simple problems grow into massive catastrophes. 

Of course, a school needs more than one teacher to function. Chris Perfetti plays Jacob Hills, another young teacher who teaches history at Abbott Elementary. He is Janine’s awkward work friend who is known to chatter about historical facts and be desperate to befriend the rest of his co-workers. On one occasion, he teams up with Barbara Howard, played by Sheryl Lee Ralph, to try and improve the school lunches. 

Barbara is the experienced mother figure of the school. She has taught there for many years and is often shown trying to temper Janine’s hopeful expectations, and guide her to more realistic goals. Barbara is close with her coworker Melissa Schemmenti, played by Lisa Ann Walter, who is proud of her Philly upbringing and often provides for the school’s teachers by utilizing her shady “connections” from around the area. The school also features a helpful janitor, a crazy principal, and Gregory, the substitute teacher. Each of these characters has a unique and critical role in the show and removing any one of them would be a loss. 

Jacob, Barbara, and Melissa at a school event


Even comedies can have something insightful to say about the world, and “Abbott Elementary” is no exception. Shown through the tireless efforts of the teachers, “Abbott Elementary” reveals its theme of persistence in face of opposition and embraces the possibility of positive change. 

These public school teachers are used to being told that they can’t have nice things. Budgets are tight and the school can’t even afford to buy the essentials for the classrooms. Despite all of these setbacks and inconveniences, the teachers continue to teach their students and encourage the next generations to succeed.  Not only are the teachers persisting, but they are also having beneficial impacts on their school. Without spoiling too much, the teachers at Abbott Elementary work hard and produce some positive changes, not to mention they accomplish smaller successes throughout the series. 

Janine is the character that embodies many of these themes and is shown to mature as a person and harness her excited energy to make a real difference at Abbott Elementary School. 

Barbara and Janine during class


“Abbott Elementary” reminds us to appreciate our teachers for all the difficult things they go through to provide their students with the best learning experience possible. It provides a hilarious view of the public school system from the eyes of its teachers, as they fight to best prepare their students for the years ahead. 

I enjoyed the humor and execution of “Abbott Elementary”, and found it almost realistic in its presentation of the American public school system. While the show undoubtedly exaggerates its scenarios, it consistently reminds me of how bizarre schools can be in the real world. Many schools are run down and underfunded, which only accentuates the incredible work that teachers accomplish while being given so little in return.

If “Abbott Elementary” accomplishes anything, it reminds its audience that teachers are real people who strive to effectively teach every one of their students and that they should be appreciated for the tireless work they carry out every year. 

I would recommend “Abbott Elementary” to those who enjoy sitcoms and “The Office”.

“Abbott Elementary” Season 1 is available to watch on Hulu.

Season 2 episodes are currently released weekly on Hulu.

Katlynn Rossignol is a Freshman Communications Major and A&E writer for Cedars. She loves 2D animation, superhero movies, and the color pink.

Images courtesy of ABC

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