The Dropout, Inventing Anna and WeCrashed "present a narrow perspective, focusing on relatively wealthy white women who exploit gender inequity for their own gain," says Shirley Li. "Together they generate a sense that, for those who reach the top, disaster is inevitable, idealism is a trait to be pitied, and preaching empowerment is a path to flaming out. Watching them back-to-back—as I have, given their debuts within weeks of one another—gave me whiplash...Must anything about female leaders result in either fervent applause or fierce condemnation? Can a Goldilocks-style medium be achieved without making Goldilocks herself the next pop-feminist hero or source of schadenfreude? As it turns out, two new half-hour comedies are proving themselves observant where the prestige dramas are not. HBO Max’s Minx, about the founding of a Playgirl-like porn magazine for women, and ABC’s Abbott Elementary, about the staff at an underfunded public school in Philadelphia, depict the trials of being a woman who’s driven, idealistic, and empowered. But these shows also maintain a warmth and sincerity that are missing from the sensational retellings of major scandals. Both emphasize the satisfaction that can come with cooperation and negotiation, not just the thrill of winning over a room of naysayers. Both consider the sexism and misogyny that can sway a woman’s principles, without turning such challenges into the only obstacles their leads face. The two series offer reminders that female leadership isn’t just about having enough conviction to win over skeptics; it’s also about women confronting where their distrust comes from while looking out for one another and for solutions that lead to meaningful change." Li adds: "Shows like The Dropout aren’t wholly focused on examining female leaders, but they do wring tension from the way their real-life subjects bought into a misguided ideology. Minx and Abbott Elementary may follow fictional protagonists, but they’re similarly informed by the girlboss concept’s recent reckoning."
Abbott Elementary isn't a political show, but it is engaging in a political act: "Schools and school boards have become battlegrounds," says Philip McKenzie. "Conservatives have channeled their unfounded hysteria over critical race theory and mask mandates into a new culture war. Pushback against the most minimal of diversity initiatives after the murder of George Floyd has become the source of white parental grievance aimed at schools. Under the guise of freedom and parental rights, teachers are under siege merely for doing their jobs. Mainstream media distorts this as the actions of concerned parents. A more critical examination reveals that the concerns of Black and brown parents are excluded from the discourse. Articles and think pieces that reference “parents” are often merely using shorthand for the circumstances of white parents. Abbott Elementary is not a political show, but by showing the children of Black and brown parents not embroiled in the culture wars, Brunson and her team are performing a political act. Some communities want the best education for their children, and they are rarely seen or heard from. Abbott Elementary centers their stories rather than those fighting against justice and safety."
Quinta Brunson's goal with Abbott Elementary was to make "easy television": “I wanted to make a show that was easy television,” Brunson says. “A lot of our television now is super long plot lines where you need to be there for every episode and every season to even understand what's going on. And I think maybe a lot of us really were just missing the feeling of pop in, pop out television.” Brunson seems obsessed with creating a sense of intimacy and community between the characters and their viewers. Lamenting the way that network sitcoms are moving away from “the inside joke,” she explains: “I think the best comedies of all time have a line in them that means nothing to anyone who didn't see the show.”
Principal Ava gets to have her own lane -- a fully formed Black character in the mockumentary age: "Minority TV characters often face the burden of representing the entire group they depict," says Ashley Ray. "If Leslie was as bad at her job as Michael Scott, was Parks and Recreation trying to say something about women in government? Even if that wasn’t the show’s intent, it was still a characteristic used in bad faith against the show. It’s also an unfair burden to minorities in comedy, placing respectability politics above realistic depictions of what can be funny for minority characters. Characters across the spectrum should be allowed to have bad traits; being terrible crosses boundaries of race, gender, and anything else. It’s also rarely as simple as one character being only good or evil. If there’s any evidence that audiences have widely begun to realize this, it’s in Ava Coleman, Abbott Elementary’s principal. Played by Janelle James, Coleman is selfish, rude, and politically incorrect. The character is a standout—the subject of online odes. It had seemed like Abbott Elementary had done the impossible with Coleman: bringing the female Michael Scott to life. While there were some early whispers on Twitter about Coleman being 'bad representation' for Black educators, the character quickly became a fan favorite."
Lisa Ann Walter quickly knew Abbott Elementary would resonate: "People, first and foremost, said it’s funny AF," she says. " And the second thing is, there’s a recognition of subject matters being tackled that are maybe not discussed elsewhere — but Quinta and her writing staff are doing it in not a ham-fisted way. I’ve seen her on set saying she doesn’t want anything cloying where the message gets wrapped up neatly in a bow. It’s slid in there, and you go, Whoa, did they just do something about the school-to-prison pipeline? Is this about how we pick kids to be the 'smart kids' and how that might affect kids throughout their entire lives? What we saw is people recognizing all of that and talking about it with each other. It was really after the first episode. Personally, I saw in the execution of the pilot exactly what I envisioned when I read the script, which made me laugh and cry. It’s not usual for a network sitcom to do that. I’ll usually read something and go, I don’t know how they’re getting this made, but okay, God bless."
Chris Perfetti says Jacob is totally different from the dark roles he usually plays: "He was described to me by Quinta as the best friend, or the sibling that you wish you had," he says. "He shares a lot of qualities with Janine (Brunson’s character) just in terms of being ferociously loyal and well-intentioned — often to a fault — and kind of early on, I realized that he is a social puppy. He’s an overachiever and a bit of a nervous wreck. And certainly to me he is a Shakespearean clown, that’s how I see him. I typically find myself playing darker, brooding, troubled and tragic characters. And Jacob is definitely a rocket launch in another direction."