Abbott Elementary. ABC. Tuesday, December 7, at 9:30 PM
Broadcast network TV usually shuts down during December. They air reruns, burn off pilots, and wait for the new season to start in January. ABC has a brand new story about time travel this week. No, not the long-threatened remake of The Time Tunnel. It’s Abbott ElementaryA new sitcom, “The Laughing School”, is about an inner-city school that’s crowded and its teachers who try to make it work. It will give you painful 1970s and 1960s whiplash.
Every episode Abbott Elementary starts like the prototype schoolteacher TV show of the mid-1970s, Kotter: Welcome backAs a teacher who is beleaguered and has no other resources than his or herself (or the screenwriters’), he or she must fight off underage extortionists as well as bunco artists that resemble less of a class to a street gang.
You’ll be transported to 1960s TV, where TV teachers were social scientists, caring for teenage misunderstood teens in touching dramas. Novak and Room 222. And more often than you might wish, you’ll find yourself longing for a visit from that archetypal character of the 1950s, Officer Krupke.
Written starring internet comedian Quinta Brunson, Abbott ElementaryBefore she joins the ABC regular schedule,’s getting a sneak peek. This mockumentary is based on the story of her mother, who spent 40 years in Philadelphia school teaching. It’s a lot of fun, and sulphurous. Brunson is the second-year teacher, one of three survivors among 20 new recruits from a year back. Janine Teagues plays Janine Teagues. Janine Teagues still has a bubbly personality, even though her professional goals have diminished significantly since her days at college. “I became an educator to ensure that students get out alive.”
Jonah Hill (Chris Perfeti), is another member of her faculty. Night OfHe just fulfilled his long-held ambition to be retweeted daily by Rachel freaking Maddow. ExesBarbara Howard (Sherylle Ralph, Ray DonovanJanine is an stern-faced, self-proclaimed “woman God”, whose main career goal is never to have lunch with Janine.
Ah, but there’s also the Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis). Ray DonovanAfter the former teacher had been suspended due to kicking or, in the official report, for “punting”, he took control of the classroom. As a first teacher, Mr. Johnson writes “ILLUMINATI” across the chalkboard. He then tells his students “That’s the one who runs the world!” The Principal Ava Coleman (Janelle Jones) supervises the group. Black MondayShe was inevitably described as unique by her coworkers. Janine explained that it meant she was bad at her job.
This does sound like an ensemble of super-scholastic heroes, but you get the point. There is no hope for the students at this school. They are constantly in a cycle of failure, with story time rugs dying from urine poisoning and then hamster powered lights and air-conditioning. At least, the kids who aren’t punted plot against each other with malicious glee. But we’re still a ways away. Sweet Valley High here.
These characters are hilariously drawn (and very authentic; my father would recognize them all, despite being an incredible grumbler over his 20 years as a high-school biology teacher). Brunson’s first production as a producer has a wonderful sense of humor, with Janine providing the voiceovers. The footage shows Brunson and her fellow colleagues, who are huddled in order to stop the bombardment of child-hurled junk.
Brunson doesn’t have is the courage of her cynical convictions. The three episodes are available on Abbott Elementary that I watched ended with abrupt reversals in which the teachers, after 20 minutes of chaos, indolence, thievery, and swinish maladministration, spend the final two gushing platitudes about the nobility of their profession and its perpetual self-sacrifice, padded with syrupy, self-serving questions like, “How do you and Barbara stop yourself from caring too much?” Then I could only respond with the text of the note in the student’s suggestion box from the 1965 classic about New York schools. Step up the Down Staircase: “Fuk. Screw. Crap. Goddam. Nerts to you.”