Laughing with Teachers on the frontlines at ‘Abbott Elementary’ on ABC

Abbott Elementary on ABC

 Teachers were cheering about the realistic classroom comedy Abbott Elementary when ABC viewers got a sneak peek before the New Year. Now it’s back starting January 4, 2022 settling into its Tuesday 9 pm time-slot as the workplace mockumentary-styled (think The Office) series puts the spotlight on dedicated teachers on the frontlines of educating children.

 The sharp sitcom goes to the head of the class as it follows a group of elementary school teachers in Philadelphia who, despite the odds stacked against them, are determined to help their students succeed in life. It explores the humor that naturally presents itself in this environment, from unruly students to the lengths that teachers will go for school supplies.

 It is full of laughter and inspiration thanks to Creator/Executive Producer Quinta Brunson, who stars as Janine, a young teacher doing her best in tough conditions. The creative Philly-born lady was inspired by her mother who was a public school teacher for more than 40 years.

 What is the biggest challenge for Brunson to create a contemporary school comedy that’s also true to our times with all its problems?

 To promote the show at ABC’s virtual interview session Brunson (outstanding with her comedy in HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show) spoke to the Television Critics Association (TCA) and was heartfelt with her answer. Quinta explained, “With the state of our schools right now, not only do we have things like shootings which are going on, COVID, the gun crises, …there’s so many to name. The root of it, you know, is underfunding and lack of care for our teachers and students. It means that we have to be special about the kind of stories that we want to tell, and I think we did that in this show.”

Quinta Brunson

 Does that meant they are laughing at these problems? Hell, no! Brunson told the TCA she wants to laugh with the people who do the job regardless. “I think there’s a huge difference. We don’t want to create an environment where we say, hey, these issues are okay and shouldn’t be fixed. That’s not what we’re going to do. What we want to do is say, look at these people who do the job anyway. How can we support them further? How can we take a look at our school system and say it shouldn’t be this way anymore?”  

 Brunson added, “Like my mother, who was a teacher, these people are going to do the job. Nothing can stop them. They know all the systemic issues that are there, but, at the end of the day, they have to teach your kid how to read. What was really important about this show is giving people a behind-the-scenes look at what teachers really do— through humor and heart, and straight-up comedy. I think we’ve made a funny show because we want people to be at Abbott with our teachers.”

 The supporting cast for Brunson’s classroom novice Janine includes Sheryl Lee Ralph as veteran teacher Barbara Howard (based on Brunson’s mother); Lisa Ann Walter as Melissa Schemmenti, a powerful force who knows how to get whatever she wants; Chris Perfetti as the history teacher Jacob Hill who is fresh to the teaching world; Janelle James as the less-than-helpful principal Ava Coleman; and Tyler James Williams as Gregory Eddie who helps Janine with her dreams. All are well-crafted characters that let the stars shine.

Teachers at Abbott Elementary from left: Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter), Miss Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph), Jacob (Chris Perfetti), and Janine (Quinta Brunson). All photos courtesy of ABC

  Abbott Elementary, Tuesdays 9 pm on ABC. Tune in. 

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.