31 Pilots in 31 Days: Abbott Elementary

When it was originally on: 2021-present

Original network: ABC

Where you can stream it now: HBO Max has Season 1, Hulu has both seasons in their entirety.

Had I seen it before: I’ve seen all of Season 1, I haven’t kept up with Season 2 but that’s not for lack of loving it.

What IMDb says: Follows a group of teachers brought together in one of the worst public schools in the country, simply because they love teaching.

Why I picked it: In a lot of these “why I picked it” sections, I find myself mentioning the decline of network television and the rise of “prestige” TV. Abbott Elementary seems to be the most recent example of one of the networks yelling “we’re not dead yet!”

I think what’s also particularly fascinating about Abbott Elementary is that this show didn’t become successful by trying to imitate the comedies of HBO, Netflix, or FX. It’s a network sitcom that’s unafraid of its network sitcom-ness. Somehow, it feels both timely, yet nostalgic; evidence that you can still make a PG-rated workplace comedy that speaks to numerous generations, and you can do it damn well. Can that success be replicated by ABC or other networks? Only time will tell.

What I liked: I love how the show simultaneously sets up an overarching conflict of naive optimism vs. experienced cynicism yet doesn’t make either side the bad guy. There’s this earnest, unbridled compassion for both the optimists who believe in the system and the pessimists who gave up on the system long ago.

Even though there’s a clear line in the sand between the older teachers and younger teachers, both are still united by their passion for helping the kids they teach. By the end of the episode, we see the older teachers stick up for Janine, and we see Janine learn how to network with the older teachers and leverage their relationships to help her kids. Not only is there a certain refreshing optimism in this world where people who disagree still are open to learning from each other, it’s also a brilliant structure for a network sitcom. This carefully balanced equation of division and unity lends itself to unlimited conflicts, yet you can still find ways to tie them up in 22 minutes.

It’s also amazing how distinct each of these characters feel after just 22 minutes. Sure there’s the old teachers and the young teachers… but it’s more than that. The “old teachers” are still two wildly different personalities. You have the stern, God-fearing Barbara, and streetwise, tough lady Melissa. On the younger side of things you have Janine, the optimist who came out of the Philadelphia public schools and sees herself in her students, and Jacob, the white boy trying too hard to be woke. That ability to quickly characterize everyone owes a lot to the mockumentary format, but I don’t really mind. The talking-head segments are funny enough that they never come off as lazy exposition (but they do accomplish a lot of exposition too).

What I didn’t like: It’s a bit of a bummer that they didn’t have time to make Gregory much of anything other than a potential love interest for Janine. They don’t hit the love angle too hard in this pilot, which is great since it’s both Gregory and Janine’s workplace, but we’ve all seen enough sitcoms at this point to pick those vibes up. That said, I have seen enough of the show to know that this isn’t a persistent problem, and Gregory will start to feel just as fully-baked as all the other characters in no time.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! This was a great reminder that I need to catch up with Season 2.


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