The Wesleyan Argus | Quinta Brunson’s ‘Abbott Elementary’ elevates the workplace comedy genre


I first heard of “Abbott Elementary” creator Quinta Brunson’s name in 2017, when she was making videos for BuzzFeed. Like most of my peers at the time, BuzzFeed was my main source of information: instead of reading headlines from the New York Times, I spent hours browsing through relationship quizzes, celebrity news and animal content on Snapchat.

Brunson was a regular on the platform, and I particularly remember seeing his video “If I came in second place at the Winter Olympics”. In the skit, Brunson has just won a medal in some kind of alpine skiing event, and while the interviewer is determined to comment on her disappointment at not winning gold, Brunson is hilariously pleased with her victoire.

“Oh, I didn’t expect to land that jump,” Brunson said, goggles on his head, looking at the camera. “I was taking a chance, so it’s crazy that I’m alive right now.”

In what has since become his signature style, Brunson is bubbly and assertive, stepping away from the camera to celebrate his win before stepping back into frame to grab the mic and ask the interviewer what place he got at the Games. Olympics today. He fumbles and she laughs. It’s classic satire and relevant to every Olympic season.

Brunson has come a long way since his one-minute BuzzFeed parodies. Since then, she’s starred on “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” and now she’s back on the scene as the director and star of the hit new sitcom “Abbott Elementary.” Much like in his BuzzFeed videos, Brunson’s sense of comedic timing and lovable goofiness are on full display in the series.

Like “The Office,” which is arguably the touchstone of workplace comedy, “Abbott Elementary” is shot in a mockumentary style and revolves around an entire cast of characters. Unlike other sitcoms, however, the show follows various teachers and staff members at a fictional school in downtown Philadelphia. The characters aren’t shy about responding to the documentary crew and glancing into the camera after questionable interactions.

It’s really the characters that make “Abbott Elementary” so special. Brunson plays Janine Teagues, a talented but insecure young teacher who appears to be a proxy for Brunson herself. Janelle James shines as Ava Coleman, the school’s incredibly misguided headmistress who, it is later revealed, only got into the job because she caught the superintendent cheating on his wife. Lisa Ann Walter and Sheryl Lee Ralph play seasoned pros Melissa Schemmenti and Barbara Howard, respectively, who always have their classes under perfect control. Chris Perfetti is Jacob Hill, a young white teacher, delighted to share his love of history with his students but deeply misinformed when it comes to black culture. William Stanford Davis delivers the occasional zinger as trash-obsessed janitor Mr. Johnson. Then there’s Tyler James Williams as substitute teacher, lead prospect and eventually full-time teacher Gregory Eddie. As the show progresses, each character comes across as well-crafted and individual, ready to interact with their fellow characters in increasingly weird and fun scenarios.

The series spends the early episodes developing its characters and their particular agendas. Janine, affectionately known as Mrs. Teagues, is determined to make the school day as enjoyable as possible for the students, although she struggles with severe budget cuts as well as a failing relationship with her immature rapper boyfriend, Tariq (Zack Fox). She seeks validation and support from Melissa and Barbara, who eventually help her in her endeavors but never miss an opportunity to poke fun at her naivety.

Principal Coleman is mostly interested in getting her hair done and flirting with Gregory, who is deeply uncomfortable with such explicit (and hilarious) objectification. Jacob stars as the awkward, aloof white teacher who won’t shut up about his time in Africa, but eventually develops a heartwarming character arc and friendship with Barbara when they start a community garden together. It turns out the plants are just growing, as Gregory sneaks in to take care of them.

“Jacob and Barbara have no idea what they’re doing,” Gregory admits impassively to the camera. “He was trying to plant a coconut in West Philadelphia in soil with a sub-6.3.” He angrily shakes the fertilizer on the plants. “Bruh! »

The series starts to gain momentum after a few episodes and never looks back. In the 1st episode, “Desking”, almost all the scenes are funny to laugh at. In a memorable moment, Jacob brings in his boyfriend (Larry Owens) to help identify the shoe prints of kids who have participated in the trend of running across as many desks as possible. Jacob is thrilled to introduce Zach to his co-workers, who find it hard to believe anyone would want to live full-time with their clumsy colleague.

“So he knew you, and he was like…more?” Ava jokes. Zach walks into the room and Ava immediately reacts, “Black?” Zach quickly responds, “It’s actually pronounced ‘Zach.’ You must be Ava.

Amidst the funny scenes, “Abbott Elementary” develops heartfelt stories between various teachers and staff members. Brimming with mommy issues, Janine eventually wins over Barbara, who takes her out to dinner after a difficult conversation with a relative. Mr. Johnson advises Gregory on exploring different career options. Most compelling is the budding romance between Gregory and Janine, which sows the seeds of an original romance in seasons to come.

The show’s social commentary is also unmistakable, which Brunson deftly weaves throughout the season. Abbott Elementary is a hugely underfunded public school, which pressures teachers to provide their own materials and do their own fundraising alongside already demanding teaching obligations. But the series refuses to present its subjects as worthy of pity – an undercurrent that Brunson points out from the pilot as teachers mock the fictional film crew for wanting to come and make a documentary about a sad and poor school. . In fact, as viewers see throughout the season, Abbott Elementary is full of life, energy and humor. The show, in which most teachers and all students are black, is a story told by and for the people it centers.

The first season culminates in a class trip to the zoo before summer vacation, which brings the cast together for some great comedy and sees the relationship dynamics build. Lucky for fans of the show, and how could you not be among them? ABC has already renewed “Abbott Elementary” for a second season. As I begin my own teaching job in Madrid after graduation, I look forward to more laughs as Brunson continues to develop her characters.

Emma Smith can be contacted at [email protected].


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