TV: Abbott Elementary (Season 2)

Abbott Elementarys stock skyrocketed after a short inaugural year, including numerous awards, so it’s unsurprising it scored a twenty-two-episode renewal. While the extra time leads to a few weak plot reaches, the new season more than justifies the network’s faith in it. Set in Philadelphia, Abbott chronicles the struggles of a small group of teachers—led by chipper, enthusiastic Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson)—to educate their students in an imperfect public school system. Their problems include low budgets, indifferent parents, and inept leadership, this last in the form of self-absorbed, flighty principal Ava Coleman (Janelle James). Nonetheless, the teachers soldier through each day with a mix of cynicism, hope, and camaraderie, doing their best for the kids.

There are running subplots this year, including a takeover attempt by a charter school system and an escalation of the will-they, won’t-they romance of Janine and Gregory (Tyler James Williams), but for the most part Abbott Elementary continues its journey as a day-in-the-life workplace comedy with serious subtexts. The surface trappings—mockumentary structure, ensemble shenanigans, an awkward near-romance at the core—are less than innovative; indeed, it’s basically the blueprint for most successful sitcoms these days. But the execution is consistently winning, leveraging a talented cast well—including the children, surprisingly, who are strategically deployed with priceless dialogue. It’s more pleasant and amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, but the upbeat messaging, heart, and empathetic handling of relatable problems combine to make it well worth watching.

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