TV: Abbott Elementary (Season 3)

It’s not that Abbott Elementary isn’t fun; it’s that isn’t always funny. If there’s a gripe to be had about the critical darling’s third season, that might well be it: it’s heart is always in the right place, but the laughs don’t always follow. Still, Abbott remains a pleasant workplace comedy full of quirky mannerisms and solid chemistry from its talented ensemble. The show, which follows a faculty of grade-school teachers and staff in inner-city Philadelphia, is centered on the relentlessly chipper Janine Teagues (creator Quinta Brunson). Her life gives this season its most distinct story arc when she accepts a job at the school district, a decision that separates her from her friends, her students, and her largely unacknowledged love interest, Gregory (Tyler James Williams).

Shortened by the writer’s strike, Abbott’s third season doesn’t have quite enough narrative rope to draw out Janine’s key dilemma—the fact that, by taking a new job to help all the city’s schools, she has severed a key social and emotional lifeline. It’s easy to see what direction this arc is drifting, as is the usual will-they won’t-they dance that Janine continues with Gregory. Humor keys on surprise—something that works brilliantly, for example, whenever the writers put adult dialogue into the mouths of random children at judiciously timed moments. But it’s possible the big picture was too expected this year. Still, the district subplot has some pluses, situating Janine in a goofy workplace with a staff worthy of its own show, including Kimia Behpoornia, Keegan-Michael Key, Benjamin Norris, and Josh Segarra, all of whom provide considerable comic zing. And Chris Perfetti in particular has a strong season, continuing to refine his role as the neurotic, awkward Jacob. Abbott Elementary has never been a laugh riot, in my book, but it may be enough that I enjoy hanging out with its faculty.

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