Abbott Elementary

woman staring at the camera in Abbott Elementary series





Emily Tsiao

TV Series Review

Janine Teagues is a lot of things: naïve, a bit clingy and too cheerful among them. But she’s also a passionate and capable teacher, one of several at Philadelphia’s Abbott Elementary School.

Things aren’t great at Abbott. The school is underfunded and understaffed. The kids are crazy, and the teachers are overwhelmed. The toilets don’t work, and the cafeteria food is toxic. And there’s an unidentifiable odor on the walls that you can never quite get used to.

The principal, Ava is a mess. She got the job by blackmailing the superintendent. Even worse, she’s out to get Janine (one of the few teachers willing to stick it out for the benefit of the kids) because Janine tried to report her for misusing school funds.

Luckily, in her fight to help the kids of Abbott get an actual education, Janine isn’t alone.

Some Average But Not Mean Teachers

First, there’s Jacob. While perhaps a bit overtalkative, he started working the same year as Janine, and they “trauma bonded” over their horrific experience.

Then there’s Melissa. While it might look like she doesn’t care, she hasn’t stayed at Abbott all these years for the money. She stays for the kids. And she has her own unique (and slightly illegal) way of procuring some much-needed school supplies.

Veteran teacher Barbara Howard calls herself a woman of God. She loves teaching, and she’s good at it. But while she commands the respect of students and teachers alike, she’s also a bit cynical when it comes to the capabilities of her fellow instructors.

Finally, there’s Gregory. He’s working as a substitute (for now) but he just might be Abbott’s greatest hope since he originally interviewed for the principal position and got it (you know, until Ava blackmailed her way into the job).

But despite getting no help from the higher-ups and no money from the city, Janine is confident that with the help of her friends, she can make a difference in the lives of her students.

Elementary, My Dear Viewers

Abbott Elementary is a mockumentary in the style of The Office and Parks and Recreation. Only this time, we get a peek at the functions (and dysfunctions) of an inner-city school.

The school and its staff are a bit of a mess, but they’re also full of heart. The teachers recognize that unlike schools with more money, they have to be instructors, administrators, social workers, therapists, second parents and sometimes even first parents to these kids.

And while they’re understandably frustrated by the lack of support they receive, they won’t let anyone tell them that wanting to help children is somehow a bad thing.

There’s some mild language. (A crude hand gesture is blurred out, indicating that any harsher words would probably get bleeped as well.) We see a few budding romances (though it’s unclear how these will play out at this early juncture), and the school’s principal repeatedly objectifies an attractive substitute teacher. There’s also toilet humor. (The first episode shows us a regurgitating toilet and vomiting child. Meanwhile two other children use the bathroom but don’t quite make it to the bathroom.)

All-in-all, Abbott Elementary runs in the same vein as other TV mockumentaries. And while its humor will find appeal with fans of The Office or Parks and Rec, it’ll be a non-starter for many others.

Episode Reviews

Dec. 7, 2021: “Pilot”

After a child ruins the classroom rug, Janine goes to extreme lengths to get a new one for her pupils.

Ava brags that she caught a man from her church cheating on his wife with a deaconess and blackmailed him to get a job. She repeatedly objectifies another man by calling him pet names and insinuating that he might be a stripper. When Janine sees a man holding a child’s pants in the bathroom, she is suspicious of his actions until he explains he is helping a child who didn’t make it to the toilet in time. A woman says big feet are a sign of fertility. Someone insults a woman’s undergarment (it’s not visible). A woman jokes she could make more money as a prostitute.

A teacher is fired after kicking a student. (She claims he hit her first.) Kids hit each other. Teachers condone threatening their students and the parents of their students. Kids throw something heavy at a computer, breaking it. Several teachers and students cry and scream at each other. One teacher has to put out a trash can fire in his classroom.

A child urinates on a rug. Another urinates in his pants. A girl vomits on her desk. Teachers trying to help these students get the bodily fluids on their hands. A few teachers are sprayed by a toilet while trying to fix it.

Janine and the other teachers are constantly told the city has no money for schools even though the city is paying for a multi-million-dollar football stadium renovation. Several teachers make a deal to have a man steal school supplies for them. Ava lies to make herself look good and spends important school funds on something useless. (And she tries to humiliate Janine when Janine tries to report her.)

We learn that a young boy sleeps over his lunch break on the classroom rug because it’s softer than his bed at home, and he doesn’t sleep a lot at home because he has many siblings and an absent father (who fights with his mom when he is home). Janine is critical of a parent who allowed her daughter to watch “American Gangster.” Students are generally disrespectful to teachers. We hear one teacher is losing her hair and another takes frequent smoke breaks (though he says he switched to a vape). A teacher compares her classroom rug to Xanax because of its calming properties.

We hear uses of “h—” and “a–.” We also hear the term “freaking.” God’s name is abused. A crude hand gesture is blurred out. Someone says she is a “woman of God.” Someone tells the kids about the Illuminati. A woman mentions astrology. A man worries about “white fragility.”

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Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

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