Faced with a new curriculum at the start of the second season of Abbott Elementary, first-grade teacher Gregory (Tyler James Williams) manically schedules every class period down to the minute, desperate to keep up with the school district’s demands. As kindergarten guru Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) explains to him, “Being a teacher is like being asked to do the impossible year after year.” So, too, is being a hit show.
In its first season, Abbott Elementary—created by Quinta Brunson (who stars as second-grade teacher Janine Teagues)—kind of did the impossible. Last season’s 13 episodes were a perfect storm of fiercely witty comedy intermixed with a genuine tenderness for public school teachers, led by sharply written characters played by a superb ensemble. (For the educators among us, Brunson’s faithful focus on deep-cut pedagogical topics—like Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences or the debate over Gifted and Talented programs—especially hit home.)
With a 22-episode order, season two of the series feels a little bit like Gregory’s jam-packed whiteboard, as Brunson has a lot of balls to keep in the air for far longer than before. For the most part, the two episodes made available to press capture the first season’s distinctive blend of exuberance and cynicism, even if the jokes feel a little baggier and the plots a bit sillier. There’s a sense throughout that Abbott Elementary’s mockumentary-style comedy needs to slow down its rapid-fire pace in order to keep up with the marathon of a full season.
The first season’s storylines nestled just inside the realm of plausibility; even Ava (Janelle James), the raunchily self-involved, TikTok-addicted principal, possessed a nearly believable amalgamation of the most misguided instincts of school leaders. But season two stretches those realistic boundaries a little too far. When Ava is unsure what to do with the school’s leftover grant money, she holds a Shark Tank-inspired competition judged by the custodian, Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis). The montage of pitches grows so preposterous that it’s hard to keep track of the point that’s being made about the randomness of how limited funds are doled out when there’s so much unmet need in every corner of a school system.
Embodied by the irrepressibly appealing Brunson, Janine may have been shaken by her recent breakup from Zack Fox’s Tariq, but she sure hasn’t succumbed to jadedness. Janine remains eternally sunny, steering a train of good-natured cheesiness that she hopes will spread to her colleagues. She’s even organized a mixer featuring veteran teachers doing a “Wisdom Swap.”
There’s a gorgeously understated pair of plotlines in the season opener in which Barbara campaigns fiercely for an accessible desk for an incoming student who uses a wheelchair, and fellow veteran teacher, Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter), instantly adjusts to the last-minute news that she’ll be teaching a combined class of second and third-grade students because a nearby school is overenrolled. Janine may want to change the world and Gregory may want to check every box (while Ava, God love her, just wants more than anything to influence her Instagram followers), but Barbara and Melissa take it, with quiet majesty, one day, one kid at a time.
“We may not be able to do it all,” Gregory’s ready to admit to the camera by the end of the first episode. “But we’ll do what we can.” And while viewers may have grown accustomed to Brunson doing it all, these first episodes of Abbott Elementary’s second season, despite their slightly less dexterous humor, still make the show, as we say in the business, a pleasure to have in class.