‘Abbott Elementary’ is reviving the network sitcom

Tori Coker, Content Editor

Picture this: it’s a Thursday night in 2010. You’re kicking back on the sofa after a long day of work or school, and you flip the channel to NBC to spend the evening enjoying their primetime comedy lineup: “Community,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office” and “30 Rock.”

Can you believe all of that excellent television was part of a single primetime lineup?

I should note that, as a part of Gen-Z, this was not at all my viewing experience. Unfortunately, my nine year old self was not sat before the television waiting to see what was new at Greendale Community College or with the Pawnee Parks Department each week — though fortunately, thanks to a handful of streaming services and even some DVD boxsets, these fictional settings grew to feel like a second home to me throughout my teenage years.

Before this pristine lineup were the days of “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” two other NBC treasures that act as timeless tokens of the 1990s zeitgeist and have an ongoing impact on both pop culture and syndicated programming which feels like it will last several lifetimes.

More recently, shows like “Modern Family” generated similar acclaim and watercooler conversation — though since its finale, the network comedy landscape has been drawing considerably less attention.

Enter Quinta Brunson with Emmy-award winning, critically acclaimed savior of the network sitcom, “Abbott Elementary.”

Since premiering in Dec. 2021, the ABC sitcom has garnered plenty of attention from the Emmy’s and audiences across social media, with the show’s second season premiere amassing 7 million total viewers in a week across premiere day and subsequent streaming viewership.

The show follows a group of teachers working to give their students the best education possible in an underfunded Philadelphia public school. Between a district that doesn’t properly invest in its schools and a hilariously out-of-touch and underqualified principal in Janelle James’s Ava, this ensemble has the odds stacked against them time and again, though nothing seems to dissuade them from fighting the good fight.

Protagonist Janine Teagues (Brunson)’s relentless optimism and well-intentioned meddling often act as the catalyst for each episode’s plot, with the varying eccentricities of the supporting cast enhancing Teagues’ journey to a lesson learned with humor and heart.

From Lisa Ann Walter’s tough-as-nails and comically resourceful Melissa to Chris Perfetti’s endearingly corny Jacob to Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Emmy-winning portrayal of the ardently resilient Barbara Howard, the writing powering the personalities in “Abbott Elementary” feels brilliantly intentional and breathtaking (and believe me, the laughs will leave you breathless.)

Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams), a substitute turned full-time teacher with dreams of assuming the principal position one day, is the richest source of dry humor on the show. Eddie has already offered dozens of GIF-worthy stares into the camera à la Jim Halpert, and his learning to love working in education through bonding with colleagues and students is one of the show’s most heartwarming themes.

Eddie and Teagues have had a classic sitcom slowburn relationship developing from the pilot onward. While the rate things are going suggests we’re far yet from one of them actually making a move, Brunson and Williams infuse every interaction with the most knee-weakening, heartwarming, electrifying, Ben and Leslie from Parks and Recreation-esque chemistry — so bring on the wait.

It’s like “Abbott Elementary” saw the gaps in the network television landscape and decided to deliver everything audiences ached for and thensome.

Its sharp humor sizzles the way it does because every character is rounded out with that aforementioned intentionality, so the writers can forgo over explaining every joke — audiences know what is funny and why because they feel close to these characters.

Its depiction of the harsh realities faced by educators undervalued by the community they serve balances sentimentality and realism with optimism in a way that feels believable, a perfect foundation upon which humor can thrive.

“Abbott Elementary” successfully captures the laughs network sitcoms of yesteryear used to provoke — this time managing to double that impact by leaving audiences hopeful. Tune in for yourself on Wednesdays at 9:00 p.m. on ABC, and streaming on Hulu and HBO Max.