I can’t talk about the gospel of Abbott Elementary without telling this story first. Before heading to college, I went back to visit two teachers at Nellie K. Parker elementary. I saw Mrs. Park my 5th grade teacher first, then my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Martin. Mrs. Martin was the first Black teacher I ever had (coincidentally teaching in a school named after the first Black teacher in Bergen County, NJ). I walked in seeing my old classmates who had the exact same idea.
After her surprise of seeing me, another of her students came to visit. She said, “Omar, I remember you hated math so much. Whenever it was math time you always asked to go to the bathroom. Every single day without fail. What was that about?” Laughing, I answered, “Oh, I used to look in the mirror to talk and psych myself up to get through math period. I wouldn’t even go to the bathroom, it was to mentally prepare.” Mrs. Martin, now with grays in her hair, laughed her same dignified distinct laugh that I recalled from childhood. She remembered that little tidbit about me for eight years among many of me and others across all her students.
I say that slightly embarrassing story (fuck numbers all day) to say this, watching Quinta Brunson’s Abbott Elementary feels like I’m paying homage to the teachers I had growing up. Abbott Elementary is the perfect balance of comedy and touching moments. The school shows that were popular when I was growing up were Boston Public, The Steve Harvey Show, and (see if you remember this one) Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher. These shows were at opposite ends of one another. The Steve Harvey Show and Nick Freno were great in that sitcom vibe for comedy and some serious moments then you had Boston Public which was great too but more dramatic in dealing with serious topics of race, sex, and —- Man, Boston Public was wild as fuck.
Teachers were decking each other and remember the episode when the dungeon students (at-risk kids) weren’t respecting Harry Senate as a teacher, so he brought the burner to class and licked off a shot at fucking 8:30am?! The wildest shit of that wasn’t that he got to keep his job but that his students fucked with him heavy after that shit and later on he dissed the NRA to their face! This show was fucking wild! Anyway, the sitcoms focused on elements of teaching and WB focused on the social issues that affected teachers. Abbott Elementary differs with balance and the sole focus being on teachers.
It’s really timely that we get a show like Abbott Elementary that gets to put a spotlight on education. Fam, not only are we getting a focus on teaching but it’s a focus on a majority of Black teachers, in a Black school in a documentary format. It’s easy to compare the format to The Office since they originated it, but real talk…to me; The Office made it a hot line, while Abbott Elementary made it a hot song. That shit hits different with Black creators behind it, and I love it. Especially, when we look at the cast! Come on, man. Quinta Brunson as Janine, the teacher that’s the overachiever and overcarer. Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Barbara Howard and Lisa Anne Walters’ Melissa Schemmenti are the veteran teachers. They are polar opposites but are a wonderful team. They know how to get things done for their students when there isn’t enough money to do so. They are the epitome of making the best with what you have. Then you got the squirrely eccentric teacher Jacob Hill played by Chris Perfetti. He’s the “stand on the desk to teach / Dead Poets Society” type of guy. You need an eclectic teacher like that. Tyler James Williams’ Greggory Eddie as the substitute teacher deciding if he is going to become a full-time teacher is perfect. He’s just doing his job but didn’t realize he’s so good at it that his kids imitate his attitude toward things. This cast represents a whole spectrum of teachers. You can recognize the teacher you had within this cast.
Now, Janelle James’ portrayal of the selfish principal Ava Coleman? Perfection! I gotta give her a separate paragraph cause my god, she just out her with the best lines and quips each episode. There’s a lot of parallel gif comparisons on Tumblr between Abbott Elementary characters and characters from Parks and Rec or The Office. There’s an easy comparison to be made between Ava and Michael Scott, but they really are so different. Michael wants everyone to like him. Ava does not give a fuck. However, we’ve seen where her flakiness stems from. The character is layered and when she made that “Charles Xavier with legs” X-Men reference I knew she was my instant fave. Also, Janelle James’ stand up game is immaculate. Fam, her episode on The Stand Ups is my favorite set. She’s fucking brilliant, out there, and raw as fuck with it. She is the perfect choice for Ava and an incredible comedian.
Man, Abbott Elementary is doing no wrong whatsoever. I look at the show, and I like how they show the other side of teaching. That being teachers having to spend their own money and off hours for the sake of helping their students. I think of Mr. Rhymer from my high school making a video game club for us to go to after school to game. Walking with Mr. Ryan to his car after spending an hour after school talking about comic books. Abbott Elementary evokes all those memories out of me each time I turn it on. That’s the sign of not only an amazing cast but amazing writing and directing as well.
Want to get Black Nerd Problems updates sent directly to you? Sign up here! Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram!