Abbott Elementary, one of the most recent sitcoms to find its place in the cultural zeitgeist, has a deceptively simple premise: It’s a workplace mockumentary set in a Philadelphia public school. That’s the starting point, but it’s all the smaller details series creator and star Quinta Brunson adds to the premise that elevates Abbott above most other network sitcoms.
The world is probably one of the most important aspects to television series, and the one in Abbott feels especially lived in. The school isn’t just a regular school, but it’s an underfunded, mismanaged one. From there, the show builds out its cast. They all live in and contend with the realities of that world, and many of the show’s conflicts stem from the fact that they want to do what’s best for the students but don’t have the resources to give them everything they deserve or need. Despite all that, Brunson and the rest of the writing staff manage to find the humor even within the potentially more serious aspects. Abbott doesn’t shy away from the realities of America’s public education system, but it remains a hilarious show through and through.
What really makes the comedy work is the characters. There’s a certain brilliance to them, particularly in their traits and how they interact with one another. Their personalities exist on different spectrums, from optimistic to cynical and weary, from motivated to apathetic, from cheery to stoic, from insecure to confidant, from competent to… less so, and they’re written in such a way that each character can serve as an perfect comedic foil to any other. At times, it’s a marvel to watch the comedic gears turning. Take this quick joke for example: Brunson’s sweetly optimistic Janine Teagues understates the principal’s ineptitude by saying, “Ava has a unique take on her job,” while fellow teacher Melissa Schemmenti, a South Philly Italian with considerably less tact, simply says, “She’s bad at her job. What’s unique is that she’s bad at her job.” It feels like an easy joke, but the editing, delivery, and the general wordsmithing of the dialogue align in such away that that “easy joke” becomes laugh-out-loud funny.
But for any comedy writer looked to bring their scripts to the next level, Abbott Elementary is worth checking out. It’s a masterclass on building a comedic world and finding compelling characters to inhabit it.