Since its debut, Abbott Elementary, which follows the lives of a group of teachers at an underfunded school in Philadelphia, has shone a light on the struggles of teachers across America who aren’t receiving the support they need to help students thrive.
It’s an impact that isn’t lost on creator Quinta Brunson, but it wasn’t necessarily her intention when she began crafting the series.
“I didn’t have it in mind as people think I did. I know that sounds bad, but a lot of people are like, ‘Wow, you did this thing to show how under appreciated teachers are, to change the world.’ Not really. I just wanted to make a comedy,” she said during Deadline’s Contenders TV panel on Sunday. “I really just wanted to make a good workplace comedy, and I think the best workplace comedies exist out of places where people are doing their best.”
Brunson pointed to series like Superstore and The Office as other examples of successful workplace comedies where the characters are doing their best with what they’ve been given.
“I’m very happy that through our storytelling that, you know, the mockumentary format is hyper realistic. We get to bring attention to teachers. I’m big on intention,” she continued. “So that’s why it’s important for me to say my intention was to make a workplace comedy. I’m very happy that through that, now people get to see what it is teachers go through and what they deserve.”
Brunson — who was joined by Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lisa Ann Walter, and Janelle James — also spoke about crafting the narrative for Season 2, which ends on Thursday. She explained that, after introducing them in Season 1, she wanted to make sure the audience saw different sides of them as the story progressed. Making sure that all the characters were multi-dimensional, especially the women, was an important part of her process.
“Our business, in some ways, tends to pigeonhole characters and women, you become a trope,” Walter said, noting that she was excited to explore her character Melissa’s softer side this season.
Abbott hasn’t only had an impact on teachers, the cast explained. Janelle James also spoke about the response she’s received to playing Abbott’s principal, Ava Coleman, specifically from Black women who have seen a multi-dimensional character that they can resonate with.
“Other black women really love Ava and they really tell me that they feel seen, which is again reinforcing that this is a character that is really new for television, this type of a Black woman,” she said. “So that makes me even more happy than the teachers [who have responded to the show], that Black women are seeing themselves in this new way through me. And what could have been a very one dimensional character that people love to hate is, even more in Season 2, so multi-layered. You find out she’s not only funny, she loves to learn, and she actually does love kids. And she actually is running the school in her own way. It’s not how people everyone might do it, but it’s pretty effective.”
Check back Tuesday for the panel video.
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