Written by Rosie Alaraj
“Comedy is so important to me. Comedy brings people together. Comedy gives us all the same laugh. We make this show because we love comedy and we love TV.”
-Quinta Brunson, accepting the award for Best Musical or Comedy Series at the 2023 Golden Globes
I, like most of us, have fallen in love with Abbott Elementary, and Bruson’s acceptance speech perfectly encapsulates why.
One thing about me: I love TV. I grew up in a family that worked constantly, had no hobbies, and rarely went on any vacations, so our bonding time was spent in the family room watching sitcoms, game shows, soap operas, talk shows, dramas; basically, any type of show you could think of, we were watching it. I would often joke that while some kids needed a blanket or a stuffed animal to feel safe, all I needed was the Nick At Nite lineup. Each rerun we would watch or each new show we fell in love with meant my family and I got to spend at least one more episode in the same room together: eating, sharing stories, or just laughing at the same bit over and over again. This made TV feel like home to me. It may sound cheesy, but no matter where I am as long as I have a show that I love in the background, I just know I will be okay, and I never want to stop having this feeling. So, my hope when starting Abbott Elementary was just another chance to have a show that made me feel like everything was going to be okay, that made me feel at home.
Being a child of the internet, I did know of Quinta Brunson, the creator of Abbott Elementary, and I liked all of her skits and multiple memes from her previous projects, so I did have high hopes for the show. To no one’s surprise, I loved the show, my family loved the show, and we all need more episodes immediately. The sitcom world on television has been running a bit dry, but there was something different about Abbott Elementary; it was a show that filled a void that was missing for quite a few years. The show is a mockumentary style sitcom centered around five amazing, passionate teachers, a principal with unconventional methods, and a janitor that knows the school and conspiracy theories like the back of his hand. Together, they work tirelessly to maintain and support an underfunded, predominantly Black school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After the Pilot episode, it was apparent that this show was personal, and I needed to know more about the story behind the show. So, as any TV lover would do, I watched every single interview the cast members did and read every single article written about the show to learn what made Abbott Elementary so special.
What I learned is Abbott Elementary is so special because it is Quinta Brunson’s love letter to comedy, her role models, and her community. Brunson is the daughter of a beloved Kindergartan teacher and is a product of the Philidelphia Public School System herself. She explains that the idea of Abbott Elemantary had been brewing for a few years, but she finally decided to create the show after a parent/teacher conference she attended with her mother. At the time, Brunson was unhappy about how stressed and overworked her mom was and had been pressuring her to retire. The night of the parent/teacher conferences, she was also upset that her mom had to work so late, so she was even more frustrated when a student’s mother arrived two minutes before the parent/teacher conferences were supposed to end. The parent/teacher conference took place, and during the meeting, Brunson and her mother learned that the student’s mother was a nurse stuck in the hospital and arrived to the meeting as soon as she could. Brunson says that this night is what solidified the creation of Abbott Elementary.
The show is named after Brunson’s sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Joyce Abbott, who was the first teacher she had after Brunson moved onto a grade level where her mother could not be her teacher and her guide at school anymore. Brunson attributes part of the foundation of her confidence and success to Mrs. Abbott. Every character on the show exudes the same energy, dedication, and passion that Mrs. Abbott had during her 30 years of teaching. The name of the show is so fitting because schools like Abbott Elementary don’t succeed without teachers like Mrs. Abbott. With limited resources, underpaid teachers, and underprivileged students, there are extensive barriers to the success of the students and the school. In the first episode of the show, Janine Teagues, a second grade teacher, says that her and Jacob Hill, a history teacher, had “trauma bonded” because they started working at the school with 30 teachers, but by the start of their second year, it was only her, Jacob, and one other teacher left. Melissa Schemmenti, a veteran teacher, explained that working at schools like Abbott Elementary is a calling that only a small, special group of people choose to answer. It takes hard work, passion, dedication, and loads of patience to work at these schools let alone enable them to succeed.
The intention of uplifting and celebrating schools like Abbott Elementary is showcased with every beloved character, every detail on the set, and every line in the show. The show doesn’t shy away from the difficulties and the stress that comes from teaching, but it does demonstrate the beauty in the madness. It always highlights the kindness and the hilarity that comes with chaos. Barbara Howard, the Kindergarten teacher based on Brunson’s mother, was stressed out about securing a bigger desk for her student in a wheelchair and Gregory Eddie, a new first grade teacher, was able to find her one before the first day of school. Melissa highlighted the text in a book for her student that was mixing up the words on the page; a trick that Melissa had picked up when she had difficulty learning how to read growing up. Janine borrowed potatoes from the cafeteria to give a visual representation of the math lesson for her student that was struggling with the material. Even with these heartwarming moments, Jacob is still always getting roasted by his students, Mr. Johnson, the janitor, is used as a substitute teacher who loves teaching the kids about the Illuminati, and Ava Coleman, the principal, uses a Kindergartener instead of an Audible subscription to get through Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. These situations are meant to be a unique look into a Philadelphia Public School, but the more learned about the school, the faculty and staff, and the students, the more connected audiences are to the characters and the story.
The show’s attention to detail doesn’t only make it TV you have to pay attention to, it also shines a light on the beauty of people living their daily lives. At its core, the relatability behind every line and character is what makes it so funny and lovable. We have all had a beloved teacher like Mrs. Howard, a friend who can never get their foot out of their mouth like Jacob, and an “eccentric” boss like Ava. You don’t need to be a teacher to appreciate the characters of Abbott Elementary, you just need to be someone that sees the good in each character and their story. Who doesn’t love watching a slow-burn romance like Janine and Gregory? Who doesn’t love seeing what shenanigans Mr. Johnson is up to every week? Who doesn’t love seeing Melissa and Barabara being the funniest work besties ever? Who doesn’t love falling in love with the mundanity and fun of everyday life?Abbott Elementary is a show full of so much love and gratitude, and it is such a phenomenal tribute to the life’s work of Quinta Brunson’s mother and the millions of passionate and beloved teachers across the country. It is doing exactly what Bruson intended: bringing people together through laughter. It is uplifting iconic actors/actresses, kick-starting the careers of young, actors/actresses of color, and bringing so much joy and connection to millions of families just like mine. Wednesday nights have officially become Abbott Elementary nights in my household. From looking forward to the hilarious memes Brunson tweets to promote the episode each week to the laughs and references my family and I gain from every episode, Abbott Elementary has definitely been added to the shows that bring me as much comfort as George Lopez and The Nanny did when I was 8 years old. The cast and crew deserve their flowers, and as an avid fan, it’s truly been an incredible experience to witness all of their wins this award season. I am so grateful that this show has graced our television screens, and I cannot wait to see what lessons we’ll learn on each week’s episode of Abbott Elementary!