‘Abbott Elementary’ season one review: A witty critique of the American education system

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With a fantastic ensemble cast, the show is a masterclass in mockumentary filmmaking and offers a brilliant peek into what lies behind the doors of a school staff room

With a fantastic ensemble cast, the show is a masterclass in mockumentary filmmaking and offers a brilliant peek into what lies behind the doors of a school staff room

Created by Quinta Brunson, the thirteen-episode show is a masterclass in mockumentary filmmaking and offers a brilliant peek into what lies behind the doors of a staff room. Something that is usually clouded in mystery, the show successfully demystifies the people who become teachers in a regular class as they attempt to tackle real-life problems like a common person. From teachers ganging up on one of their own for not liking pizza, to the principal assuming the new substitute teacher is a stripper, the teachers at Abbott Elementary serve you a proper laugh riot.

It kicks off with the over-excited but under-qualified principal, Ava Coleman (Janelle James) inviting a TV crew to film their dilapidated buildings and under-staffed school, because she strongly believes that all press is good press.

Set at Willard R. Abbott Elementary, a public school in Philadelphia, the show, while warming our hearts and throwing multiple laugh-out-loud moments, is a sharp critique of the education system, especially that which is accessible to underprivileged kids. It also goes one step ahead and highlights the issue of teachers being under-paid and overworked, a phenomenon that seems universal.

Each episode spanning roughly 20 minutes involves the teachers at the school trying to solve a new problem with minimum resources; sometimes it is a flickering light in the corridor that scares the students, while at others, it is a kid getting lost at a picnic in the zoo.

The ensemble is Abbott Elementary’s greatest strength. Janelle James as Ava Coleman, the unqualified principal, and Tyler James Williams as the stoic sub Gregory, are in a league of their own.

The characters are easy to love and grow on you as the season continues; even Tariq (Zack Fox) who claims he is a feminist, because he gets his girlfriend to pay for all his things, makes his way to your heart.

The show brings back the side-eye gaze to the screen, which if you are a TV buff, is likely to fill you up with some nostalgia.

It also goes beyond the gates of the school and makes very interesting observations on a lot of societal issues, addressing the dynamics of age gap between co-workers at a workplace. While the new teachers at the school — Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson) and Jacob Hill (Chris Perfetti) — are highly optimistic and looking for opportunities to innovate and experiment, older teachers — Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter) — are more or less set in their ways and try to stick to them. The different approaches often results in conflicts that get resolved when they take an empathetic approach.

The show even attempts to study and dissect the relationship that children share with their parents and successfully portrays all types of relationships; from Janine’s absent mother who influences her everyday life decisions, to Barbara who is very dependent as a mother.

Finally, Abbott Elementary is a sharp critique of race in America. Almost all the children at the school are black or brown kids just like the teachers. The show’s take on the allyship of white people — a running joke throughout — is very well done. Jacob, one of the only two white teachers at the school, is always seen bringing up the aspect of race in everyday lunchroom converstations out of the wild just to prove his allyship.

While we have been exposed to the drug and sex-fuelled lives of students in schools through recent shows like Gossip Girl and Euphoria, Abbott Elementary gives the audience something to actually relate to. Focusing on the teachers, a group that until now has been relegated to the background on television, is like a breath of fresh air.

This season has set the stage and with the show getting renewed for a second season, we can’t wait for the play to begin!

Abbott Elementary season one is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar 

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