The Spool / Reviews
Abbott Elementary is top of the class
The sitcom remains consistently charming and funny in its third season premiere.
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The sitcom remains consistently charming and funny in its third season premiere.

Keeping a sitcom afloat beyond its first season is a delicate balancing act. There needs to be enough change in the stories and situations to keep audiences interested, without losing the all-important coziness factor that comes with returning to the same characters and settings in every episode. ABC’s Abbott Elementary became an instant hit with critics and audiences alike when it premiered in 2021, winning several Emmy Awards and becoming the network’s highest-rated comedy in three years.

There was no sophomore slump for Abbott either; Quinta Brunson recently became the first Black woman to win the Best Comedic Actress Emmy in more than forty years for her work on the second season. Abbott Elementary’s highly anticipated upcoming third season kicks off with a delightful debut episode that reunites audiences with the beloved teachers of the titular school, while introducing just enough changes to the status quo to amaze and intrigue viewers. 

Five months have passed since the end of season two, and things have changed for the gang at Abbott. For instance, Principal Ava Coleman (scene-stealing breakout Janelle James) has abandoned her lazy, scammy method of administrating after being inspired by a course at Harvard, and the teachers are surprised to realize they actually prefer the old Ava.

Veteran teaching superstar Barbara Howard (the legendary Sheryl Lee Ralph, who also won an Emmy for her Abbott Elementary role) is especially put out by the principal’s interference. Her co-teacher, Melissa Schemmenti (The Parent Trap’s Lisa Ann Walter), struggles to hold her firm boundaries as her relationship with “vending machine guy” Gary (Bruno Amato) grows more and more serious.

Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)

Melissa’s not the only one struggling with romantic entanglements: Brunson, the showrunner and head writer of Abbott as well as its star, has wisely placed more obstacles in the way of Janine’s potential love match with Gregory Eddie, played by the swoon-worthy Tyler James Williams. Brunson and Williams have undeniable screen chemistry, and it would be a shame to waste it without a few more seasons of “will they, won’t they.” Audiences love yearning, and they both have big, beautiful eyes. The sometimes-cynical Gregory is an interesting foil for optimistic, bubbly Janine, and the characters’ scenes together remain some of the best in the entire show. Williams deserves lots of credit for bringing some serious smolder and genuine sweetness to the role of a clean-cut elementary school teacher.

The entire Abbott Elementary ensemble is, as always, in fine form. The extra-long premiere episode sidelines nerdy Jacob and wiley janitor Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis, Ray Donovan), but dreamboat Josh Segarra (The Other Two, Scream VI) makes a memorable entrance as a too-good-to-be-true district administrator named Manny, who might actually have the teachers’ best interests at heart. Segarra is wonderfully warm and charming in the role, supported by Kim Behpoornia (Hacks) and Benjamin Norris (Never Have I Ever) as fellow do-gooders. As always, Ralph is radiant as Barbara. She has a unique way of enunciating and inflecting that makes the character feel completely one of a kind, similar to how Max Greenfield brought the iconic Schmidt to life with a strange speech patter on New Girl

Abbott’s sense of humor is a refreshing blend of subtle character beats and topical jokes. Viewers should keep their eyes peeled for hilarious production details like Ava’s bedazzled “HArVArd” sweatshirt and Mr. Johnson’s Y2K conspiracy book. There are some very funny pop culture gags— a quip Ava makes about “Jeremy Allen Black” is particularly memorable— but the show mercifully avoids leaning too hard on current references, preferring to let us enjoy hanging out with the characters and noticing their quirky habits in our own time. It’s markedly slower-paced than a show like 30 Rock or even Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which makes for a peaceful, pleasant viewing experience. 

Some say that the sitcom is a dying art form, but Brunson and her adept creative team are proving that not all hope is lost. Abbott Elementary makes a day at school feel like a vacation. It’s so much fun.

Abbott Elementary is back in session Wednesday, February 7th on ABC.

Abbott Elementary Season 3 Trailer: