Review: ‘Abbott Elementary’ Season 2 is funny as ever ahead of winter break

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Abbott Elementary' Season 2

Sitcoms have a hilarious track record for special episodes during the holidays, from the Thanksgiving episodes of “Friends” to the Christmas episodes of “Home Improvement.”

As such, I can’t wait to see what ABC’s adorably hilarious “Abbott Elementary” has in store for Wednesday night’s festive episode “Holiday Hookah,” which serves as the midseason finale of Season Two before returning from winter break next semester on Jan. 4.

If you’re not caught up yet, this midseason break is the perfect time to watch the entire series on Hulu. At 22 minutes per episode, it’s a breezy binge with easy laughs.



The mockumentary hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down in Season Two. In fact, it has somehow gotten funnier since Season One deservedly won a pair of Emmys: Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series (Quinta Brunson for the “Pilot” episode) and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Sheryl Lee Ralph as teacher Barbara Howard).

Created by Brunson, the series follows the fictional Willard R. Abbott Elementary School, a small-budget, predominantly Black school with plenty of faculty turnover in Philadelphia. The opening credits are simple with no fancy theme song. Just a kid with a backpack entering the front steps of the school as the title appears. And boom, we’re into the story.

Brunson plays protagonist Janine Teagues, the Pollyannaish second-grade teacher who loves helping students with her bubbly personality. She’s also fresh out of an unhealthy relationship with rapper Tariq Temple (Zack Fox), whose immaturity makes him unreliable.

Instead, viewers are rooting for her to date Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams), the mild-mannered substitute teacher who earns his way into a full-time role as a second-grade teacher. The “will they, won’t they” subplot between Janine and Gregory recalls Ross and Rachel in “Friends” or Jim and Pam in “The Office,” which makes Tariq our Joey/Roy.

Professionally, we’re rooting for Gregory to someday become principal after being passed over in favor of the outlandishly tone-deaf Ava Coleman (standup comedian Janelle James), who blackmailed the county superintendent to get the gig. Her shady job security allows her to waste time at her desk watching Instagram videos and shopping online.

Far more responsible is Sheryl Lee Ralph as the experienced kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard, whose stern, old-school, by-the-book approach is effective at reaching her students and provides a motherly wisdom to the young faculty. Ralph’s Emmy Award victory was the night’s most pleasant surprise, capped by a speech for the ages.

Silver Spring native and Catholic University grad Lisa Ann Walter plays second-grade teacher Melissa Schemmenti, who is tough as nails with a Bette Midler sassiness and potential mob connections. Her character feels like someone out of “The Sopranos,” threatening anyone who crosses her, but she also has an underdog blue-collar charm.

The corniest lines intentionally belong to Chris Perfetti as the awkward history teacher Jacob Hill, who tries to stay hip by quoting the latest hip-hop lyrics and street jargon of his students. Usually, he earns eye rolls or roasts, but we realize that his students actually appreciate him during his dorky “Story Samurai” improv group performance on the school stage.

Best of all is William Stanford Davis as the eccentric, wisecracking janitor Mr. Johnson, who is always pushing a trashcan and ready to pop into a doorway to tell kids to clean up a mess. He boasts the longest tenure of anyone, so if he says the basement is haunted by the ghost of a previous janitor, Jacob is bound to believe it based on his wily seniority.

The plot lines are cleverly drawn, be it a healthier juice option causing students to flock to the bathroom, or kids getting hopped-up on sugar after eating too much Halloween treats in “Candy Zombies.” The best plot is probably the “Attack Ad” episode when a former student (Leslie Odom Jr.) leads a rival school in filming a negative commercial about Abbott.

In the end, the secret sauce is that it’s all shot in a mockumentary style like “The Office” or “Parks and Rec.” The handheld punch-ins, zooms and pans to characters’ reactions keep the show alive with kinetic energy, while hilarious cutaways “interviewing” the characters allow us to see what they are really thinking outside the confines of the classroom.

Will I miss the show during its midseason break?

Definitely.

Is it the best sitcom currently on television?

Probably.

Should you get caught up immediately?

Absolutely.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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