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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer


‘Abbott Elementary’: The best character is the worst principal

What “Abbott Elementary” teaches us and how Ava Coleman rewrites it.

Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for “Abbott Elementary” season three. 

School is back in session for “Abbott Elementary.” The show, whose third season premiered earlier this month, follows in the footsteps of other network sitcoms like “Parks and Recreation” and ”The Office.” However, the show creates its own distinct energy, highlighting how each educator continues to change in and out of the classroom.

This is best highlighted with none other than Principal Ava Coleman. A force to be reckoned with (who may or may not have blackmailed a deaconess and a superintendent to get her job), Coleman seems to lack any care toward her job: “working” on Instagram Live during school hours, putting 26-inch rims on the school’s bus and renaming Abbott’s wifi network to “Bad B*tches Only.”

Antics like these are the core of Coleman, along with her boyfriend who she’s dated for two years (he thinks it’s five) and her doomsday prepping which landed her on the cover of the fictional Inner City Doomsday Preppers Digest. Still, as the series progresses, Ava, like “Abbott,” continues to surprise her audience and herself. In past seasons, she sat in on classes about Black history and challenged her own ideas on race. She created her own brand of khakis so she could give them out to her students for free and emphasized the importance of creating autonomy for her students, many of whom are disadvantaged.

This season has seen many changes: the mockumentary cameras are all new because the crew‘s equipment was stolen and the five month gap between seasons is because “that’s how long it takes for three people with art degrees to save up for new cameras.”  In reality, the delay was a result of the writers’ and actors’ strikes. Our main character Janine has transitioned out of the classroom and into a year long fellowship in the district while Ava went to Harvard.

Well, according to her anyway. She completed the requirements for her degree through Education Connection on Harvard’s campus, using their Wi-Fi, so she’s basically a Harvard grad. Or at least enough of a graduate to wear wide frame glasses and a Harvard sweatshirt with “A-V-A” bedazzled. In addition to completing her degree, “new” Ava has a strict emphasis on productivity: any break periods, off-campus lunches and non-productive work gatherings are strictly forbidden.

As the new semester continues on, teachers are desperate to get back to work, and Ava needs to stop doing hers. As they attempt “Operation Reset Ava” and their first mission without Janine, Abbott’s favorite educators find themselves tempting her with everything Old Ava would’ve liked, enticing her to trick Jacob and offering her Usher tickets. After these attempts fail, it’s everyone’s favorite church-going teacher, Barbara (Mrs. Howard, played by the amazing Sheryl Lee Ralph), who politely asks for the Lord to close His ears while she plays the one song that will get Ava back. And before Juvenile’s voice finishes saying “Cash Money Records taking over for the ’99 and the 2000” over the loudspeaker in his song “Back That Azz Up,” Ava is back.

In the final minutes of the episode, not only does our beloved principal show off her moves in the school gym, but “Abbott” continues to do what it does best: produce genuine laughter. This, alongside creator and lead actress Quinta Brunson’s desire to highlight how “all people have the ability to be both powerful and fragile” is what makes us invested in characters like Principal Coleman (even when she‘s hiding in a doomsday bunker created in the school’s basement) and keeps us tuning in to “Abbott” every week.