Abbott Elementary: How Quinta Brunson is Filling The Sitcom Gap
“How can I watch Abbott Elementary in the UK?” At one point I felt as though my Twitter TL was inundated with this exact tweet.
Hard-up UK fans of mockumentary style workplace comedies were suffering as our US counterparts continued to share snippets of the tv show created and produced by former Buzzfeed alum, Quinta Brunson.
I remember feeling excited when Brunson announced that her show was in pre-production. I've loved her work for a long time, even prior to joining Buzzfeed in 2014. Small but mighty, her comedy is relatable and Brunson utilised social media in a way that probably seemed crazy back then. Video shorts were common but often failed to hold watchers' interests, but with her first series “The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date”, (where the ‘He got money’ meme comes from) Viewers found her relatable, I found her relatable and her following grew.
By the end of 2014, she would be heavily involved in producing and creating content for Buzzfeed, another platform of the mid 2000s that profited off of the growing rise of Youtube and viral content.
So to see her now still creating viral content years later and on her own terms is beautiful.
Abbott Elementary is a show which seeks to tackle the hardships being faced by teachers in the American public school system in a humorous light. Inspired by her own time in Middle School, and attending a Parents Evening at the school where her mother, a teacher works. (Harper's Bazaar) Brunson plays an enthusiastic teacher whose goal is to do whatever she can for her students even if it is oftentimes misguided or ill-advised. Starring alongside Tyler James Williams; who plays a substitute, Janelle James; who plays the “tone deaf” Principal and Sheryl Lee Ralph; an inspirational kindergarten teacher. With a range of other actors, Brunson’s character takes us through the ups and downs of Willard R. Abbott Elementary School through the eyes of a documentary team that is covering the lives of teachers in underfunded schools.
Part of me also sees the show from the lens that as Black Women we are always serving others first, the show touches on this in Ep 2 in such a nuanced manner. Brunson’s character wants to be a good public servant but also comes to understand, as informed by her fellow teacher, “We care so much we refuse to burn out. If we burn out who's here for these kids, that’s why you’ve gotta take care of yourself.”
I also like how the show has brought things into a modern era, the usage of West Philly slang - which in one episode we see Brunson’s character teaching to her class. Alongside an episode that focuses on TikTok and community mobilisation where it’s otherwise hard for teachers to receive the relevant school supplies. Brunson has pulled no punches when it comes to letting watchers know that as funny as the hijinks may be, there is an underlying message which critiques local government and the selfish nature of hierarchical education systems and of course roots for everyone Black.
With Randall Einhorn (The Office, Parks and Rec, Shameless) directing a number of Abbott’s episodes, it’s hard to not see elements of Jim in Gregory Eddie's (Tyler James Williams) deadpan into the camera or the street-savvy resourcefulness of the Gallaghers in Lisa Ann Walter’s character. But the show has also carved a space of its own, tackling issues of race and postcode lotteries when it comes to education head-on and confidently, which is oftentimes rare for a genre that likes to keep things light and watchable.
Mockumentary sitcoms appear to be a dying art, Parks and Rec and The Office (both in the UK and across the pond) ended years ago. As did Modern Family, and the far too long in my opinion The Big Bang Theory which ended on a ridiculous 12 seasons. Producers are realising that sitcoms, whilst worth the hassle of a long term relationship with actors, are not made to last an overextended amount of time and work so much better ending solidly between 6 to 7 seasons and then, later on, are able to be eagerly lapped up by nostalgic 30-somethings.
Let’s hope that Abbott Elementary’s doors remain open for a good while longer.