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Abbott Elementary - Episodes 1.01 through 1.04 - Review

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Back in December, right before the winter hiatus was upon us ABC teased us with the pilot of its new single cam comedy Abbott Elementary, a workplace mockumentary with the backdrop of the American public school system. Widely praised on social media by public school teachers for the honest representation of the tragicomic realities of their profession and daily working conditions, the show follows a group of elementary school teachers, both young and seasoned veterans, trapped in the bureaucratic vortex the system has bred and trying to do the best they can as they teach, guide and care for their kids and each other.

The hopeful and idealistic Miss.Janine, woke and white-guilt ridden social warrior Mr.Jacob and current substitute-teacher-who-really-wants-to-be-a-principal Mr.Gregory really do want to make a change in the world and do their job as best they can, but find themselves constantly against obstacles either set by the district protocols, the lack of funding and sometimes even themselves. The contrast against Mrs.Barbara Howard and Mrs.Melissa Schemmenti, two teachers that have seen it all, and know how to survive and thrive in this hostile environment, engineered to eat up children and teachers alike, with the appropriate mix of cynicism and pragmatism is startlingly beautiful. Still these two wonderful educationers find themselves offering guidance to the young people who “have answered the calling”. They freely dispense information when they need to, trying to explain again and again there are some battles that can’t be won, no matter how many emails Janine may send. They stand by them about issues they know matter, and refuse to allow anyone to belittle their good intentions. They let them know that burning out and letting their personal lives get in the way helps no one, and always assisting them to find solutions to their respective problems.
Rounding up the school staff is the utterly unqualified and clueless principal Ava, who offers an over the top comedic element to the show and who as principal is the mouthpiece of obstacles that are put in our teachers’ way and often even the actual reason behind of some of them, and quirky, good hearted and sometimes out of touch janitor Mr.Johnson.

With a new episode tonight lest do a quick rundown of the show’s first four episodes

1.01 - The first episode takes its time to introduce the teachers and the set up of the show, as we learn that Ava has hired a crew to film this documentary about the school. Things start out rough as one of the three new teachers ends up hitting a child and, so Gregory comes in to substitute for her rounding up our final cast call. The episode’s main issue arises from the fact that Janine’s class rug gets rendered useless, and she goes out on a quest to try and replace it. When at some point the funding she hoped Ava had secured to replace the rugs goes to a sign for the school instead, Janine takes matters into her own hands and writes an email to the superintended complaining about her principal’s mishandling of the funds. That plan backfires as the email circles back to Ava. Vindictively she embarrasses Janine and that’s when Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Schemmenti who have been rather dismissive of her crusade so far stand up for her, acknowledging her good intentions. In the end Melissa “knows a guy” and gets the classrooms new rugs from the stadium construction site.

1.02 - In the show’s second episode, Janine funnels her frustration about some personal issues she’s having at home with her unreliable boyfriend into work in order to regain some control. Her plans go awry and every little thing she tries to fix just sucks the school further and further into disarray, as she breaks the lights to the heating system. After ruining Mrs. Schemmenti’s branzino with her shennaningans Melissa explains to her that refusing to burn out is a huge sign of caring and that she can’t let her personal stuff affect her work. Elsewhere, Gregory turns to Mrs.Howard for advice when he has a student repeatedly being dropped off late for class. Her advice is simple and to the point: Talk to the parent, which is something Gregory seems unwilling to engage with. In the end and after a little pushing and trickery she gets him to do the job and makes him feel like he is a better communicator and teacher because of it.

1.03 - It’s wish list time for the third episode, in which the teachers fill out applications listing essential materials and equipment they need for each of their classrooms and hoping for donations from the public to have their needs met. After Janine successfully with Ava’s help gets everything on her list via a viral video she wants to extend the courtesy to Mrs.Howard as well. Her heart is in the right place, but unfortunately with Ava in the mix things go terribly wrong. While the viral video they make for Mrs.Howard is indeed a hit and gets her everything she asked for in abundance, the premise of the video itself is sensionalizing and exploiting Barbara’s older age and the children’s needs in all the wrong ways. Still Barbara thanks Janine for the effort and gets to keep everything on her wish list anyway.
Elsewhere Gregory has a hard time personalizing his classroom seeing that he doesn’t feel there’s a point when as a substitute teacher it won’t have any real impact on him or the kids. In the end however, he realises that the drawings his students have been giving him all week will be more than sufficient decorations, slowly embracing the fact that he is in fact making a bigger impact than he thought. Lastly Jacob tries desperately to upcycle an old printer much to Mr.Johnson’s dismay. In the end though, the old man is right... it IS trash and even Jacob can’t deny it.

1.04 - While Mrs.Schemmenti takes Jacob to school about his misconception about history when she sees him trying to sanitize the ugly parts of it in class, Mrs.Howard finds herself in hot water for the fourth episode of the season. Barbara is having a hard time adapting with a new educational software Ava introduces into the classrooms. Janine rightfully thinks this is her time to be helpful to Barbara by being more tech-savvy, but Mrs. Howard’s pride gets in her way. She fumbles with the program’s data and as such gives the impression her kindergarteners are reading at a much higher level. After a showcase at an assembly exposes her she cops up to not being able to use the program in front of everyone. Later, when Janine asks her in private why she didn’t reach out for help, Mrs.Howard admits the whole situation made her feel old. Janine is the one to dispense wisdom this time as she explains these things are hard for everyone, even the kids.

And that’s all from the show so far! Tune in tonight for a brand new episode of Abbott Elementary!

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