for decades, television has been relentless in its efforts to refresh the lens through which we see doctors, lawyers and cops. But the concept of making a comedy about underfunded schools in America? Virtually unheard of. That was until the breakout mockumentary’s debut in 2021, Abbott Elementarymade by and starring the cheerful Quinta Brunson.
Returning to UKTN for its second season tonight, the hilariously endearing sitcom follows a motley crew of determined Philadelphian educators whose primary goal—despite a terrible lack of resources—is to provide dedicated support and a decent education to their elementary school students. Or, as Brunson’s young and cheerful Mrs. Janine Teagues puts it, “To make sure students come out alive”.
All this remains an unfortunate reality for teachers in the US public school system, which is on a par with the government-run state schools in the UK. So to finally see the terrifying underbelly of the American education system at the center of an Emmy-nominated comedy is a long-awaited blessing. Not just for the 90 percent of Americans who attended public school, but especially for the dwindling two percent (estimated by UnitedStatesNow) who chose the demanding profession, which I like to call America’s true heroes.
The daughter of a retired public school instructor, the sitcom beautifully tackles issues I experienced during my childhood, including the local government’s decision to put money into unnecessary projects instead of spending them on Abbott Elementary’s parched budget. to lock. “I would say the biggest problem in the school district, yes, is no money,” Ms. Teagues informs the documentary film crew that follows her and her fellow teachers. “The city says there isn’t one, but they’re doing a multi-million dollar renovation to the Eagles” [football] stadium down the street from here. But we just do it,” she admits.
From having to collect old clippings from the barbershop down the street for craft days to pasting new information into incredibly outdated textbooks, these teachers who “do it” might be the biggest understatement of the year.
“Okay, guys. So there have been three other presidents since then,” Teagues explains to her students, pointing to a portrait of former US President George W Bush. ‘It’s an old book. So here’s the other one,’ she adds, flipping to the next page featuring former President Barack Obama. A scandalous scene indeed, but nevertheless real transvestisms like these are hitting real American schools right now.
Meanwhile, the teachers’ pleas for more money are cast aside in favor of the personal impulses of incompetent principal Ava Coleman (played by the effortlessly funny Janelle James). “The school district approved their emergency budget and sent us the money right away. We could have hired assistants, we could have had rugs, but then I thought no, we need something more urgent,” she announces, before unveiling a shiny new sign with an animated photo of her next to the school’s name. “Repair the exterior. Inside takes care of itself.”
Using a format popularized by Parks and Recreation, The office, and Modern familyAbbott Elementary provides an essential commentary on an increasingly sinister set of American values. That we care more about the commercialization of sports than we do about educating our youth; that teachers should also serve as substitute therapists, nannies and social workers for our children; and that it has become commonplace for educators to turn to community members for classroom supplies once provided by the government.
“It’s so rarely the case that something that has beautiful elements doesn’t also take darkness into account,” Brunson recently told me UKTN. “Abbott was born out of the darkness of underfunded Philadelphia public schools.”
And while the source material may not seem relevant to everyone, as Brunson went on to explain, “People have Abbott Elementary because it is a real workplace comedy”. Anyone who has worked for a company with poorly managed funds and a bad boss can tell.
Although, more importantly, it is essentially a love letter to teachers, to reassure them that their dedication will not go unnoticed.
‘Abbott Elementary’ Season Two Premieres September 21 on UKTN