‘Abbott Elementary’ ends the year with a bang

Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers for “Abbott Elementary” season three.

This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

As the reduced 14-episode season came to an end, it is clear that “Abbott Elementary” has felt the impact of the writers’ strike. The reduced number of episodes contributes to a lack of side character development and jokes that don’t necessarily hit the same as those in the first two seasons.

I tried to pinpoint the character and story arcs established in the season premiere, most notably Janine’s new job at the district and Gregory’s (surprising) rejection of Janine after she confessed her feelings. However, as the season progressed, different threads were created, like Melissa and Jacob’s new rooming situation and the recurrence of Mr. Morton, which left me feeling that there was a lot of untaken opportunities to explore these side characters. 

With this shortened format, the season tried to focus on the individual development of the two central characters, Janine and Gregory, as they navigate who they are in different spaces and around different people — Janine at the district, and Gregory, well, at Abbott without Janine. 

Spearheading several developments, such as the almost-disastrous Career Day and the new librarian program, we see Janine struggling to create impact on a higher-level, bureaucratic and monetarily-incentivized system. A system that, in previous seasons, has been continuously put in contrast to the on-the-ground, day-to-day work of the teachers, especially through the voices of Barbara and Melissa. As both programs turn out to be successes, Janine is offered a permanent position in the district, but ultimately remembers the reason why she became a teacher in the first place — to have face-to-face interactions with her students.

Gregory, on the other hand, discovers his passion for gardening outside of his father’s oppressive presence, as well as the fact that he has been chosen by the students as the “cool teacher” (much to Jacob’s envy). In the first two seasons, Gregory, somewhat awkward and eccentric, seemed to have predominantly chosen to stay as a full-time teacher because of his attraction to Janine, and has needed help from the other teachers, Barbara and Melissa, to navigate difficult conversations with both parents and students. In Episode 3, “Gregory’s Garden Goofballs,” Gregory steps beyond his teaching role, into the realm of establishing meaningful connections with his students through his gardening club. 

However, as the attention focuses on our two main characters and several stand-alone gag episodes, some of the other show favorites, especially Barbara and Melissa, are taking a toll. Many of the jokes written make these side characters feel like caricatures of their former selves. In Episode 10, “2 Ava 2 Fest,” the ending “twist” could be seen from a mile away.

As I wrote on the season premiere, Gregory and Janine’s will-they-won’t-they plot line had been bordering on being tiring. Going into the season, I had hoped that the show might simply continue with them being good coworkers and friends (even though I was a fervent Gregory/Janine supporter in seasons one and two). 

Yet, “Abbott” couldn’t resist the pull of its own genre conventions. After rejecting Janine, Gregory suddenly finds himself uncharacteristically jealous when he sees Janine sitting with bearded district coworker Manny in a bar. Perhaps most frustratingly is the second to last episode, “Smith Playground.” Gregory finally plans to confess his resurfaced feelings and, unsurprisingly, is thwarted by a rather over-the-top monologue from Mr. Morton, the token misogynistic and pitiful divorcee, of why to never date a coworker.

It wasn’t until the last few moments of the season finale, “Party,” that I was sure Janine and Gregory would happen. As the school year ends, Janine hosts a meticulously planned party with designated areas to accommodate all her oddball coworkers. But, in Abbott fashion, all hell breaks loose and Janine has to deal with her inability to handle unexpected situations. Here, as we have our cast of characters intoxicated and in a confined space, we see clearly how they’ve changed and stayed the same in the past season.

Things look pessimistic when Gregory leaves Janine’s apartment, and the won’t-they cycle almost repeats until both characters finally adopt a “fuck it” attitude. As Janine opens the door to chase after Gregory, she finds him standing there, having fixed her flickering lightbulb (a gestural callback to season one, when he fixes her painting). And finally, after three agonizing seasons, they share a passionate kiss, and the blinds are literally closed on the documentary crew. 

As “Abbott” has received much critical and popular acclaim, its cast has also grown wider to accommodate many celebrity cameos. After the first surprise visit of NFL Eagles, “Abbott” creator and star Quinta Brunson went above and beyond to bring in Bradley Cooper, Questlove and Kevin Hart (who, in a rather hilarious side-quest episode, Janine believes to be her father). 

“Abbott Elementary” was renewed for season four with 22 episodes, and I’m looking forward to the future of Janine and Gregory as well as a lot of the other character relationships, like Melissa and Jacob, Janine and Mr. Johnson and the season’s recurring new characters, to develop into more than just their jokes. 

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