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Abbott Elementary's first season was "perfect" and "cool"

  • "Who would have predicted that an ABC sitcom about teachers would be this exciting?" says Kevin Fallon. "Or that it would somehow become the buzziest comedy of the season? Not a Netflix dark comedy. Not a bingeable Hulu series starring some major movie star. It’s what we once thought was going extinct: a network comedy series that everyone is talking about." Abbott Elementary, Fallon adds, is "the rare The Office-inspired series to make the mockumentary earnestly work...But it’s not just that Abbott Elementary is good that made its first-season run feel remarkable. It’s the rare show that is 'cool' and 'buzzy' in online circles that typically prefer to obsess over line readings in Succession or theorize about plot points in Severance...This is a series that is not only incredibly popular—it’s the most-tweeted comedy of the year, and ABC’s biggest comedy hit since Modern Family—but also has the kind of online 'cred' that’s typically reserved for a Fleabag or Mad Men. This isn’t The Big Bang Theory being a smash and social media snobs rolling their eyes. It’s an earnest, heartwarming broadcast comedy watched by most of America, but also the coolest show on TV."


    • A real-life teacher says Abbott Elementary finally does right by America's most wrongly portrayed profession: "When it comes to screen portrayals, few professionals get as a raw deal as teachers," says Evan McGarvey. "In most American movies and TV shows, it’s a world of saints and losers. (Europe does better.) The list of impossibly noble teachers is long: Boy Meets World’s George Feeny, Friday Night Lights’ Tami Taylor, Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver. And the list of bunglers and monsters might be longer: Mrs. Tingle, the eponymous Bad Teacher, Matthew Broderick in Election, Ross on Friends, all the teachers on Glee, every teacher on every CW show ever. That’s partly why the arrival of ABC’s Abbott Elementary... feels like such a brand-new horizon." McGarvey adds: "Abbott is not only the best network sitcom in ages, but also feels like the most refreshing, especially for people who have suffered through so many dumber depictions of faculty life...Here is a show that reflects the life of a Title 1 public school with neither the cudgel of an 'urban decay' narrative nor an end-of-The Breakfast Club fist pump. (Quinta) Brunson resists the way some white filmmakers worship a white lady who condescends to teach poor Black and brown kids (think Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds) and, even within the necessary conventions of a sitcom, finds a lot more truth."
    • An ex-teacher who left her job during the pandemic can't decide "whether watching Abbott Elementary is therapeutic or triggering": "The difficulty of revisiting the past hurts — I want to find peace with leaving education. However, I don't think I'll find solace until I know my students are alright," says Rachel Harmon. "But Abbott Elementary also reminds me that my impressions of the poor state of the U.S. education system weren't all in my head. The sitcom's creators have made a show that celebrates everyday superheroes, engages an American audience with a pressing issue, and makes us smile — all while validating teachers and not sidling away from the harder truths. Running a classroom is hard, and even a TV show can't make it look easy."
    • Abbott Elementary is the rare show you have to watch live because there are too many spoilers on social media: "Because I am a cord cutter, I can’t really watch the show live," says Meghan O'Keefe. "And even if I had cable, I probably wouldn’t tune in live, because what am I? A boomer who watches broadcast network comedies when they air on TV? (Insert a Janelle James hair toss here.) No, I wait to watch it the next night on Hulu or later during the weekend. Sometimes I even save a few episodes to binge on a lazy Sunday afternoon. This was fine until the show blew up. Now it’s impossible to not see my Twitter timeline littered with Abbott Elementary spoilers, clips, reveals, and memes before a new episode has even ended. People are live-tweeting this sitcom like it’s an awards show! For the love of god, stop spoiling Abbott Elementary for me!!!" She adds: "For some reason I’m utterly furious that people seem to be going out of their way to spoil socialize their immediate reactions to a sweet little show like Abbott Elementary as if it’s the final season of Game of Thrones. I thought sitcoms were safe from spoilers! I thought wrong!"
    • Quinta Brunson breaks down Abbott Elementary's season finale: "Janine is growing up. And I think that for us, that’s been the theme of Jeanine’s journey this whole time. She’s growing as a teacher, growing as a human being, growing in this relationship — or growing out of this relationship. So I feel like when we finally got to the end, our finale, she finally knows that it’s time to grow, and it’s only the first step in her, we hope, very long journey as a young person." 
    • Why did Brunson wrap up Season 1 on a trip to the zoo?: "I wanted the whole first season to take place in the school for the most part," she says. "A workplace comedy should take place at the workplace — that's what makes people fall in love with the workplace. It's what makes people want to go to Abbott, want to work at Abbott, or be a student there. To reward our audience enduring us being in this school for 12 episodes straight, we all get to go on a field trip, you know? It's not just us that is going, it's the audience that is going. Also, that's what you do at the end of a school year in Philadelphia. You go to the Philadelphia Zoo. So it was another opportunity for us to bring the beauty of Philadelphia into the landscape of our show."
    • Comedian Janelle James had no desire to be a TV actress before reading the Abbott Elementary script: Turns out, it was easy for James to star in a TV comedy because of her background as a standup. “Half of being a comedian is knowing how to pace a joke, how to say it, so someone else could be given the same lines, and it won’t be as funny,” she says. What about the script appealed to her? "It was funny," she says. "I’m a comedian, so that appeals to me, and if I were to act, I didn’t necessarily want my first role to be a dramatic crying role. So I was like, ‘Oh, comedy, I can do that.’ And it was hilarious, which is which is hard for a script to be." How would James describe Ava? "Ava is controlled chaos," says James. "Basically, she is someone who’s fashionable; she is an opportunist. She lives in a moment. This sounds like my dating profile or something. But she is funny; she’s unaware; she’s dedicated to Ava."
    • Tyler James Williams, who at age 29 has been acting for more than two decades, knew based on his years of experience Abbott would be something special: "We have a bunch of seasoned actors who've all done comedy really well and know how not to (crack up), and yet I look around (and) no one can keep it together," he says. Brunson, he adds, is "the best boss I've ever had, the best person I've ever worked for."
    • Williams ascertained based on his "industry IQ" that Abbott Elementary looked like it would succeed on paper: "I hate to sound cocky, but we were all pretty clear from the moment we shot the pilot that we had something very unique," he says. "If you applied your industry IQ by way of casting and network placement, it looked on paper like it would work. I looked at Sheryl Lee Ralph, because she was the only one I could look to (who had also led a network series). I was like, 'I know you’ve had this feeling before, because I’ve had it before. Do you feel what I feel?' She was like, 'Yeah, this one’s special, and I think we may be here for a while.' But officially, I have a message somewhere in my text thread with Quinta. When the January 4 episode aired, I said, 'I’m calling it a hit now.' Because of the way it was trending, and the way we were holding numbers, when +3s came in …"
    • Sheryl Lee Ralph couldn't be prouder to see the show shine a spotlight on the importance of Black female creatives and artists in Hollywood: "It's a lot of busting rocks and busting dirt and pushing through doors that were closed, telling you you're 'too dark' or 'too this,' (they) don't know what to do with you," she says. "And then, to come to a moment that is perfectly created by this young Black woman with vision, I can only look at her and say, 'Thank you god for this moment' because, I know everything I went through and those who came up with me and before me. I know they're like, 'See, there you go. It was all worth it."
    • When did Chris Perfetti realize how special Abbott was?: "The first time I read it," he says. "I have this litmus test when I’m approaching a new project. If it makes me laugh out loud, particularly in a public place, that’s a really good sign — and if it brings up jealousy when I picture somebody else doing the part. Abbott definitely passed both of those tests. I knew the show was brilliant way before I got to meet Quinta and audition with her."
    • Costume designer Susan Michalek and Brunson worked together to ensure the teachers' costumes fit a teacher's budget: H&M, Zara, Target and Old Navy became Michalek’s go-to stores, with occasional splurges at Anthropologie. “We really want to keep it at what these people could afford, as much as we possibly can,” Michalek tells Variety. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and through the eras, it’s all Gucci and Prada. This is the first show I came in under budget on, and that’s (out of) 40 shows.”

    TOPICS: Abbott Elementary, ABC, Chris Perfetti, Janelle James, Quinta Brunson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Susan Michalek, Tyler James Williams, Costume Design