Regularly scheduled programming: ‘Abbott Elementary’ is bringing back the network sitcom

A group of of teachers pose for the camera.
“Abbott Elementary,” created by Quinta Brunson, follows the teachers and administrators at the fictional Abbott Elementary public school. (Courtesy: Pamela Littky/ABC)

In the past few years, the TV shows I’ve watched have mainly been dominated by what is released by streaming services. Whether I watch the episodes all at once or week-to-week as they get released, most of the shows I watch are originals from streaming services, like Hulu, HBO, Amazon or Netflix. That was, until I started watching “Abbott Elementary,” a network sitcom on ABC. 

“Abbott Elementary” was created by comedian and actress Quinta Brunson, whom you might recognize from her time as a mainstay in BuzzFeed’s videos. Brunson also stars in the show, along with Tyler James Williams, Janelle James, Lisa Ann Walter, Chris Perfetti and Sheryl Lee Ralph. The show follows teachers and administrators at Abbott Elementary, a public school that is often overlooked and underfunded. 

“Abbott Elementary” has all of the qualities of the network shows I’ve loved in the past, like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” It is filmed in a mockumentary style, where the characters look to the camera in the middle of scenes and give confessionals talking straight to the camera. Tyler James Williams, playing Gregory Eddie, a substitute teacher at Abbott, reminded me almost immediately of Jim Halpert from “The Office,” with his looks to the camera. 

Since the premiere of “Abbott Elementary” in December, the show has enjoyed popularity and an increase in ratings. According to Deadline, it was the first premiere on the network to quadruple ratings since it originally aired. Recently, it was renewed for a second season, to much celebration on Twitter.

When I first saw a lot of conversation around “Abbott Elementary,” I was at first surprised because it had been so long since I had noticed a network comedy being praised so much. Usually, the shows I saw people talking about were the shows I had been watching, mainly originals on streaming services. 

After seeing so many social media posts and articles (including when Brunson’s sixth grade teacher, who inspired the show, surprised her on Jimmy Kimmel) about the show, I finally started watching on Hulu, where all of the episodes are available. The show was on a break at the time, so I wanted to space out the episodes. This soon became impossible, as I was instantly hooked right when I started watching, and it didn’t take long before I fell completely in love. 

Although “Abbott Elementary” is comparable to other workplace comedies like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” it also seems to have created a unique genre of its own. The writing is hilarious with an impeccable writing team; it is one of the funniest shows I have watched in a while. The characters are developed and dynamic, and just halfway through the season I am excited to see where the different storylines go before the end of the season. 

“Abbott Elementary” also stands out as a show with a primarily Black cast. The quick success of the show is made even more special by what it means for increasing representation in Hollywood and media as a whole. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Brunson said that the show allows her to “make a comedy for everyone that still has thought behind it, still has messaging behind it, and still has a good story. Because I think everyone deserves to watch good TV.” 

In the early days of the show so far, the show seems to be planting seeds for potentially a longer term “will-they-or-won’t-they” relationship between Brunson’s character Janine Teagues and Williams’ Gregory Eddie. This budding relationship is reminiscent of other network comedies, as the trope is incredibly common in creating tension in a series. The more I’ve watched of “Abbott Elementary,” the higher Gregory moves in my ranking of male sitcom characters; currently, he is right next to Ben Wyatt from “Parks and Recreation.”

So far, in the ten episodes of the show that have aired, it has already successfully taken on issues within education, such as an episode about gifted student programs and Janine’s ongoing struggle along with the other teachers to acquire sufficient resources for the students in an underfunded school district. Recently, it was announced that the show is partnering with Scholastic to provide free book fairs to underfunded schools across the country, including the school the show is based on. 

In the time between when I caught up on “Abbott Elementary” and when it came back from its hiatus, I found myself really missing it. Even though I love the original content on streaming platforms that I’ve been watching recently, the show made me realize the joy of a network sitcom and how much I used to love to watch them. 

In the break between new episodes of “Abbott Elementary,” I revisited some of my old favorite network sitcoms. Currently, the TV comedy landscape has crossed over to the drama side, blurring the line between the two genres. The days of the 20-minute sitcom episode airing once a week in some ways seemed gone, in favor of longer comedies releasing all at once on a streaming platform. While I also love and enjoy the comedies being released on streaming services now, and the immense amount of creativity being put into the storytelling of those shows, “Abbott Elementary” reminded me that this same level of excellence and creativity can be equally present in a network sitcom as well. 

When speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Brunson explained that the goal of the show was not necessarily to bring popularity back to the network sitcom. However, as she elaborates, “…everybody doesn’t have cable and everybody doesn’t have streaming platforms, but network TV is for everybody.” With only a few more episodes to close out the rest of the first season, I can’t wait for the second season, and hopefully the many seasons to come. 

Claire DuMont SC ’23 is one of TSL’S TV columnists. She is feeling a little overwhelmed about all of the new TV that is coming out, but recommends “Severance,” “The After Party” and “Winning Time.”

Facebook Comments