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‘Abbott Elementary’ success shows new age of comedy

Television show “Abbott Elementary” has brought a fresh comedic tone that has not been seen on TV in a long time. “Abbott Elementary” is a new TV show that released its first episode Dec. 7, 2021. So far, the series has received a numerous amount of praise, including three Emmys and three Golden Globes. Currently, the show also has a certified fresh 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Its recognition is not surprising given the personal way it has reached its audience and the educational community. 

If compared to anything, “Abbot Elementary” feels like “The Office”. Hilariously, both shows are set in Pennsylvania. While it is not immediately clear why a documentary crew would want to focus so much time in such a quiet town like Scranton, “Abbot Elementary” makes this question clear from the get go. Shaky cameras and all, the characters of Abbott work tirelessly to keep their school running despite opposing forces and provide the most impactful education for the children in the Philadelphia community. It gives the spotlight to a group of elementary school teachers and their principal, as they work to overcome the low expectations of their community and the financial hardships that plague the school. 

The success of “The Office” started a documentary-styled renaissance. In past years, we have had shows such as “Modern Family” (2009), “Parks and Recreation” (2009) and “What We Do in the Shadows” (2019). This year, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (2021) received an Oscar nomination with an outstanding performance by Jenny Slate. With “Abbott Elementary”, the documentary style seems like a personal choice. While being a comedic show, it sternly comments on what a struggling school system looks like despite the best effort from staff. This is a real issue that is not widely spoken about. While educational topics discussed in today’s stream of news are mainly the controversial curriculum or intruder safety, this show brings back the topic of school and faculty necessities. 

I also believe that “Abbott Elementary” has a level of heart and energy that “The Office” at times lacked. The tone of “The Office” felt more dreary; as these normal people found the light while working a boring day to day job, there was no grand motivation. Some characters worked to get promoted, yet there was no apparent personal growth in the group of characters. The joy of “The Office” came from the relationships of the characters. In contrast, the characters of “Abbott Elementary” really care about their jobs and the comedy comes from the human nature of making mistakes, and the level of love and respect each character has for one another. Not one character is safe from a learning moment, no matter the age or experience of the characters. And while it is amusing to see these characters try their absolute best and fail, it is even more entertaining to see them pick each other up, learn and move on. In essence, this show was made to make you feel good on the inside. It is more than the well timed punchlines and the occasional stares of distress into the camera. I think it also provides this feeling of hope that even in a system that works against you, if you have a community of people who care, you become invincible. In a community that may seem misunderstood or invisible the documentary style helps stimulate this feeling of awareness, especially in these realistic circumstances. 

The show can be personal to different audience members in a number of ways. For me, pride in community is what makes this show special. When I’m not at college, I live very close to Philadelphia, and just by watching this show, I feel like I am home. There is real knowledge about Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, and every now and then there are references I will pick up on that no one else gets. This makes the atmosphere feel authentic, while painting Philadelphia in a beautiful light. Anyone can relate to having such a tight feeling of community and a deep pride in your city. There is also this love for Philadelphia sports teams that is not shown anywhere else on television. It is refreshing to see a new perspective about the areas I grew up close to, and it is exciting it is getting recognized in a memorable way.

I think the show unintentionally takes audience members back to when they were in elementary school. The essence of the staff of the show felt very reminiscent of my teachers growing up. Sheryl Lee Ralph’s character, Mrs. Barbara Howard, reminds me of the warmth my teachers provided me growing up. There is this intense feeling of deja vu, especially with some of the scenarios the school and the staff are placed in. It amazes me that even though this is a fictional school, so much about the atmosphere feels real. That is most certainly what the show has done right in my eyes. I believe a show, especially with this style, does its job when the audience forgets the cameras are there.

Lastly, the show picks up all teachers and uplifts them in an impactful way. As a college student looking back on my educational experience, I have nothing but gratitude for the teachers who taught me how to be a good person. I was lucky enough to have been taught by good people, who put themselves into their work. “Abbott Elementary” reminds us of that gratitude. We as an audience get to see the depths these teachers go in order to give their students a good educational experience. It sparks up another debate: teachers deserve so much more than they are getting. They put their hearts and souls into each lesson, and they have a real impact on the students they teach. 

The show feels formulated, but in a way that does not feel over done or draining. More impressively, each episode is only 20 to 30 minutes long and so much can be taken from each episode. There are so many moments that were crafted with so much passion, thanks to the genius of creator and star, Quinta Brunson. “Abbott Elementary” is a timeless show, as the issues it presents are not new. With the reintroduction on these issues, one can remain hopeful of its impact.

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