Thanks to the dual industry strikes, Abbott Elementary’s summer vacation extended into fall and most of winter.
The ABC comedy finally returned for its much anticipated Season 3 this Wednesday. In the hourlong, double episode entitled “Career Day Part 1 and 2,” the show’s long absence is explained by the fact that the documentary crew had their cameras stolen after a night out with the Abbott staff. It took them five months to replace their equipment. “Because that’s how long it takes three people with art degrees to save up for new cameras,” Ava (Janelle James) says. It’s a fun way to explain Abbott’s delayed start and also sets up the show to basically stay in sync with the school year calendar as it did in its first two seasons.
Janine (Quinta Brunson) drops a shocker before the opening credits roll. “I work for the school district now. You guys missed a lot,” she says. The episode then flashes back to the staff development day at the beginning of the school year (before the cameras were stolen). Ava (Janelle James) spent the summer getting a degree from Harvard University, by which she means she sat on the campus, used their free wi-fi, and got an online degree from Education Connection.
The degree has gone to her head. Suddenly Ava understands what a principal should be doing. She’s using words like “collaboration,” not making suggestive comments about Gregory’s (Tyler James Williams) physique, and, in the most shocking turn of events, telling the teachers they can’t have lunch off campus because it’s against school policy. They decide they need to reset Ava. “We looked for a button. There wasn’t one,” Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter) deadpans. They try to tempt her with things they know Ava loves. Tickets to an Usher concert. Money. And even Gregory taking off his sweater and “tastefully” welcoming her “to the gun show.” What finally breaks Ava’s serious demeanor is playing “Back That Azz Up” by Juvenile over the school intercom which, surprisingly is Barbara’s (Sheryl Lee Ralph) idea. “It turns out the only thing worse than Ava being an awful principal is Ava being a good one,” Gregory says.
The season premiere also introduces a trio of new characters. Staff from the district — Manny (Josh Segarra), Emily (Kimia Behpoornia) and Simon (Benjamin Norris)— come to Abbott Elementary promising change. Everyone has heard that before. Barbara is the least impressed. ”I’ve seen many versions of you walk through that door. All with nice smiles appearing to care,” she tells Manny before warming up to him once she learns his mom was a teacher. These new characters already bring a different energy to the series. Janine doesn’t even know what to do when they react positively to her idea of painting her classroom blue. Manny is impressed with Janine and offers her a fellowship. At first, she’s reluctant to leave her classroom but after Jacob tells her how impressive the fellowship is, Barbara encourages her, and she hears about the pay raise (it’s a whole $2!), she’s in.
The action picks back up in the present day. Janine returns to Abbott to oversee Career Day, an initiative she spearheaded. The last time the school had a career day the only jobs for women were “typists, moms, and wet nurses.” Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles zooms into Melissa’s classroom. Unfortunately for Melissa’s boyfriend Gary (Bruno Amato), he seizes the opportunity to have Hurts help him propose to Melissa. But, as Abbott Elementary is so good at doing, the show flips viewers’ expectations. On this topic Melissa has been exceedingly clear: She doesn’t want to get married again. Her answer remains “no,” and not even the star quarterback of her favorite team is going to change her mind. “Damn, they usually say yes,” Hurts says before he’s joined by his teammates Brandon Graham and Jason Kelce (who dons a shirt for the occasion). “Another proposal? You got to say ‘no’ to this kind of stuff. Boundaries,” Graham tells Hurts.
In last season’s finale, Janine and Gregory agreed to be just friends. Janine wanted to take some time for herself. She even tries out cursing (“Feels forced,” Melissa tells her). But now things are super awkward between Gregory and Janine. Ava’s hidden camera catches one of their conversations. Janine tells Gregory she realized she still has feelings for him and wants to explore that. But Gregory tells her that after their conversation at the Franklin Institute, he put “a period” on any thoughts he had about them having a relationship. “It seemed like that was kind of the right thing to do, so I did,” the ever-practical Gregory says.
How long can Abbott Elementary keep these two apart? The ensemble cast is so strong that the series could definitely creatively handle Janine and Gregory beginning a romance. The Office was certainly fine after Pam and Jim got together, got married, and had kids. The obstacles to Janine and Gregory becoming involved are no longer there. Janine is out of her “multi-presidential-term relationship.” Gregory isn’t dating a student's mother. Anyone who has ever been on a dating app knows how challenging it is to find someone you are compatible with. At a certain point it’s going to seem beyond silly for Janine and Gregory not to act on the feelings they so clearly have for each other.
Abbott Elementary was such a surprise hit when it debuted two years ago. Expectations for the Emmy-winning series are sky high, but the Season 3 opener is as charming and funny as ever. The jokes still came fast, with the highlights being Ava referring to Gregory as “Jeremy Allen Black,” and Jacob and Melissa’s quick translation of Barbara terminology (“Walkman” means “phone,” “Napster” is “Spotify”).
It’s great to have Abbott Elementary back in session.
New episodes of Abbott Elementary air 9:00 PM ET on ABC. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Amy Amatangelo is a writer and editor. In addition to Primetimer, her work can be found in Paste Magazine, Emmy Magazine and the LA Times. She also is the Treasurer of the Television Critics Association.