Sometimes, even with these wintry temperatures keeping us housebound and lonely in year 47 of an isolating and traumatizing pandemic, you all do something that melts my icicle-caked heart.
That frost is a defense mechanism against crushing disappointment—one that has crystallized after expecting the worst for so long.
Yes, I could be talking quite seriously about, well, pretty much anything you see when you click on any news website. (Might I recommend a scroll through thedailybeast.com?) But I’m more selfishly referring to what I try to do: peruse through endless options of entertainment in order to point you toward something genuinely worthwhile so that you may experience joy, emotional catharsis, and sometimes even greatness to fulfill you while everything else around us is so bad. And then what happens instead? You all watch Too Hot to Handle on Netflix.
But this thawed heart of mine is fluttering like a hummingbird in spring, like a fairytale princess’s eyelashes after being awakened from an enchanted slumber by a kiss, like my gay friends’ excited applause when we learn that bottomless mimosas at brunch are only $10 extra.
It was reported this week that one of this TV season’s most precious gems, a small network comedy that I was all but certain, based on viewership trends, would be completely ignored and quickly forgotten about—despite the fact that it is so funny and smart—is actually being watched by people. By a lot of people. You all are turning ABC’s Abbott Elementary into an actual hit!
The Office-inspired comedy series, about teachers at an inner city school in Philadelphia getting by in spite of a lack of resources, has aired five charming, laugh-out-loud funny episodes so far. What began as quiet word of mouth praising the series—“Hey, this show is pretty good!”—has grown into a screaming obsession. Or, at least, the 2022 equivalent thereof: everyone on social media seems to be posting about it.
Unlike other broadcast hits, Abbott Elementary doesn’t star big names and isn’t a spin-off from any legacy brand (like Young Sheldon or The Conners). There’s no edgy provocation or convoluted high concept used to attract viewers. It’s so much simpler than that. It’s an impeccably cast show with sharp writing and a lot of heart that, without being patronizing, feels incredibly current and resonant. Teachers deserve our attention! And, as Abbott Elementary makes the point week after week, much more respect and a lot more resources.
Deadline reported this week that Abbott Elementary is ABC’s first series to quadruple its ratings in the span of 35 days, at least in the years since that metric has been measured. Sure, even the show’s creator and star, Quinta Brunson, wasn’t exactly sure what the specifics of that stat means—“I had to google MP35, too,” she tweeted—beyond the fact that this is obviously great news: “Thank you so much for watching everyone!”
I normally like to remind myself that what I’m seeing on my social media feeds is, usually, a curated echo chamber of my own tastes and interests. So while I’ve delighted this past month in seeing more and more screenshots of funny moments from the show and tweets recommending it, it was unclear until now if that enthusiasm translated into real life.
It’s one thing when everyone on Twitter is losing their minds over Succession. It’s another when they’re all collectively going apeshit for a TV series in which one episode’s major plotline was teachers desperately trying to get new rugs for their classrooms.
A few choice moments memorialized by Abbott Elementary fans in recent weeks?
The hilarious plot from this week’s episode, in which Chris Perfetti’s Mr. Hill has his ego bruised when his students keep roasting him:
Nearly everything said by Janelle James’ Principal Ava Coleman, an aspiring TikTok star who arranges students’ files by their dads’ sexiness and forgets important information if it’s told to her during Essence Fest. (Her reaction when she thought Janine looked “pale like a zombie” is seared into my brain: “You know, they eat the hottest people first. Let me back my tasty ass up.”)
And even just cute moments that seize on the specific hilarity of what it means to be a teacher:
Then there’s the growing chorus championing a cause I think we can and should all get behind: that the legendary Sheryl Lee Ralph zooms to the top of anyone’s list of award-worthy performances that should be considered at the next Emmy Awards.
She plays Mrs. Howard, a teaching veteran and proud, classy Black woman who both stands in defiance of—but is amused and even encouraged by—the younger teachers’ pursuit of reform and validation. She moves comedic mountains with a pursed smile and a raised eyebrow, and she’s got the crack timing and, especially important on this show, the warmth of a seasoned pro.
(Search “Sheryl Lee Ralph Emmy” on Twitter and prepare for an endless scroll.)
I think, especially now, we’re all seeking out nice things. We’re certainly yearning for nice things. It’s why it’s been so confusing and frustrating that, so often when they’re sitting right there, the masses tend to ignore them in favor of something buzzier and worse. Abbott Elementary is a genuine, earnest, heartfelt comedy, with a Black female creator and predominantly Black cast, about the experiences of teachers and students in a Black community that is never exploited or patronized.
It’s so nice that I was certain everyone would ignore it. I’m so glad you’re not.