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‘Abbott Elementary’ Review: A Strong Start for Season Two

Janelle James, Tyler James Williams, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Quinta Brunson, and Lisa Ann Walter star in ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” which returned for a second season on September 21.
Janelle James, Tyler James Williams, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Quinta Brunson, and Lisa Ann Walter star in ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” which returned for a second season on September 21. By Courtesy of ABC/Gilles Mingasson
By Brady M. Connolly, Crimson Staff Writer

School is back in session at “Abbott Elementary,” and everyone’s favorite teachers haven’t missed a beat since viewers last saw them. The sophomore season of the lovable, endlessly witty ABC sitcom premiered on Sept. 21 and had no trouble living up to the uncommonly high expectations that accompany multiple Emmy wins and internet virality. While network television may have struggled to produce a lasting, buzz-worthy sitcom in recent years, “Abbott Elementary” promises to reverse this trend by providing a story with mass appeal.

“Abbott” sets itself apart from the rest of the crowded television landscape in a quite obvious, yet rather remarkable manner: It tells genuinely funny jokes. By constantly shifting between biting sarcasm and heartfelt naivete, the show strikes an impressive tonal balance, leaving audiences consistently surprised and delighted by the next highly specific quip about the daily struggles of elementary school teachers.

These fresh jokes laced with references to current events are helped along by a cast of characters that covers a wide range of quirky personalities. Quinta Brunson, the show’s creator and star, has managed to mold every member of the “Abbott” team in a way that conforms to the sitcom archetypes that viewers know and love without feeling tired or derivative. Indeed, Brunson expertly demonstrates that there is still plenty of life left in the sitcom genre thanks to creators daring enough to approach it with a unique perspective and cohesive vision.

Two such characters that stand out in the premiere episode are Chris Perfetti’s Jacob and Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Barbara. Jacob’s well-intentioned, albeit slightly performative, progressivism carries over from last season and provides a sure-fire outlet for timely jokes about the latest trends viewers will recognize from their Twitter feeds. A joke about “CODA” inspiring Jacob to take American Sign Language lessons stands out as one of the best in the episode. Recent Emmy-winner Ralph proves her mettle as well, blending Barbara’s tight-laced professionalism and fiery wit to comedic perfection. When Barbara ends a conversation with Mr. Johnson, the janitor, by emphatically proclaiming “you are a fool” in a song-like voice, viewers will quickly remember what makes this show so special.

Returning viewers to “Abbott” will also surely be hoping for the continuation of Janine and Gregory’s “will they or won’t they” relationship following the Season One finale. Luckily, there are plenty of awkward flirting and sweet exchanges in the premiere, with Tyler James Williams acting as the quiet, overly rational foil to Janine’s extroverted quirkiness. Much like Jim and Pam’s relationship in “The Office,” Janine and Gregory’s budding romance is a delight to watch and hopefully their on-screen chemistry will only deepen over the course of “Abbott’” second season.

There’s no question that the general public has become deeply invested in “Abbott Elementary,” and the Season Two premiere will easily confirm to viewers that they have chosen a winner. The show exudes charm and heart, providing comedic insights on the nature of teaching in America and workplace relationships that are simultaneously profound, challenging, and touching. Never afraid to tackle bigger issues, “Abbott Elementary” thrives as an undeniably funny sitcom with something to say.

—Staff writer Brady M. Connolly can be reached at brady.connolly@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradyconnolly44.

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