Sound the bell. School’s back in session over at ABC with the new comedy series Abbott Elementary.
The series comes from, executive producer and star Quinta Brunson and executive producers Justin Halperin and Patrick Schumacker. According to ABC, ‘It is a workplace comedy following a group of dedicated, passionate teachers — and a slightly tone-deaf principal — as they navigate the Philadelphia public school system. Despite the odds stacked against them, they are determined to help their students succeed in life, and though these incredible public servants may be outnumbered and underfunded, they love what they do — even if they don’t love the school district’s less-than-stellar attitude toward educating children.’
Brunson wanted this to be more than just another comedy and more than just another school series. She was dedicated to shining a light on the state of our education system through humor. “With a school comedy with the state of our schools, right, not only do we have things like shootings which are going on, COVID, the gun crises — there’s so many to name. At the root of it being, you know, underfunding and lack of care for our teachers and students. It means that we have to be special about the kind of stories that we want to tell, and I think we did that in this show.”
She continued, “What we want to do is say, look at these people who do the job anyway. How can we support them further? How can we take a look at our school system and say it shouldn’t be this way anymore?”
The humor not only helps deliver laughs, it serves as a way to add balance to storytelling that will cover some heavier topics facing educators. In a world overloaded with less-than-good-news, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. “I think that balance also allows us to tell these stories,” said Brunson. “If we were just straight-up telling people the reality of what’s happening in these schools, that’s not fun to watch. That’s just straight-up documentary. But we get to have this absurdist humor that I hope, once people see it — I hope it gives them the opportunity to laugh and think. But, ultimately, I want people to be able to laugh with us.”
And if laughs are the main subject for this course then there’s no better models to take after than the mockumentary approach take by series like The Office, Parks and Rec, favorites of Brunson. “I was so impressed with what they did. What I love the most about the format is it gives an opportunity for the audience to build a different relationship with the characters. I think teachers deserve that.”
Brunson goals go beyond making just another mockumentary. Hers would be different in one very important way. “Black people have been dying for a mockumentary show with Black people in the front seats. We love those shows. I was like, you know what? What if we, for the first time in my knowledge, see some characters of color at the forefront of those shows? It just was an opportunity.”
The journey of getting Abbott Elementary to the ABC was a long one which had a very different destination than where it arrived. Series Executive Producer, Patrick Schumacker explains, “Weirdly enough, though, like, two years ago, three years ago at this point, Quinta sat down with us. We were looking to do something together because Quinta had starred in a pilot that we did for CW that just ended after the pilot. And she had pitched us this show as an animated show — because we were doing “Harley (Quinn on HBO)”
The problem is animated series come with a much bigger workload. Schumacker continued, “We were like okay. Quinta’s like, “I can do a voice on it. I can create the show, but I’m doing some other stuff that just — I don’t have the bandwidth. And for whatever reason, that didn’t, kind of, go anywhere. And then like a year later, I ran into Quinta on the lot at Warner Bros. She was like, ‘Oh, I Uber-ed here.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, do you need a ride home?’ On the ride, we were like, ‘What do you think about doing that as a live-action thing?’ It just kind of was serendipity.”
The rest is Hollywood History 101.
Abbott Elementary stars Quinta Brunson as Janine Teagues, Tyler James Williams as Gregory Eddie, Janelle James as Ava Coleman, Chris Perfetti as Jacob Hill, Lisa Ann Walter as Melissa Schemmenti and Sheryl Lee Ralph as Barbara Howard.
A Special Early Premiere of ‘Abbott Elementary’ Debuts Tuesday, Dec. 7, ahead of Regular Time Period Debut on Tuesday, Jan. 4, on ABC. Your homework assignment, be in front of your television set or expect detention… and don’t tell us your dog ate your TV.
In the meantime check out a first look at the show and a video featurette starring the cast dedicated to educators, below.