New beginnings in ‘Abbott Elementary’ season three premiere 

Feb. 19, 2024, 10:46 p.m.

Spoilers ahead, read with caution.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

On Feb. 7, the Emmy Award-winning “Abbott Elementary” premiered with “Career Day,” the first two episodes of its third season. Created by and starring Quinta Brunson, the sitcom follows several teachers in an underfunded, predominantly Black public school in Philadelphia. Utilizing the popularized mockumentary format, the show relates both the hilarious and heartwarming lives of these teachers with different — and often conflicting — personalities, as they all dedicate themselves to their students. 

Because of the writers’ strike, the show’s initial premiere in September, meant to mirror the start of the school year, was delayed, and the season was reduced from 22 to 14 episodes. To reflect its February premiere, the season starts well into the school year, where many things, including characters, have changed since we last saw them. 

For one, often well-mannered Janine tries cursing, fortunately giving up rather quickly. Oh, and she now works at the Philadelphia School District, with Career Day being her pilot idea. Things seem awkward between her and Gregory (Tyler James Williams), a coworker with whom romantic tension has been brewing, with them finally sharing in a kiss at the end of season two. Ava (Janelle James), Abbott’s inept principal, returns with a new college degree, ready to take on the serious responsibilities of her job. The choice to give Ava a complete 180 is genius in its ensuing hilarity in bringing out other surprises: we see a “sexy” Gregory and a Barbara that misses the old Ava.

With Janine’s new job, season three offers the possibility of change that has been previously denied. From the start of the show, Janine has been the optimistic, go-getter who always tries (though often fails) to improve the school. Her character is juxtaposed with the more seasoned teachers, Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter), whose philosophy is to “do the best with what they’ve got.” 

From trying to change a lightbulb that ends up short circuiting the entire school’s electricity, to her latest endeavor of putting on a Career Day for the students, Janine’s ideas are often put down. However, her enthusiasm is noticed by one of the school district representatives, Manny (Josh Segarra), who offers Janine an esteemed fellowship that will “make some real change.” At first, while the viewer is primed to see Manny as an enemy of the school, his earnestness, capable of winning Barbara over, shines through.

Even though initially Janine wastes no time in rejecting the offer, she grows more and more indecisive as she considers the possibilities of the fellowship. The audience knows that she eventually chooses to pursue a career at the District, but through the flashback, we inhabit Janine’s torn mind, as she doesn’t wish to leave her students and her coworkers but is propelled to the fellowship because of her optimistic and problem-solving nature. 

Beyond the change to the classroom that Janine seeks to bring with her new job, we also see a change in character. In Janine’s indecision, she consults Barbara about the position, expecting, and perhaps hoping to hear Barbara’s typical realistic attitude. Instead, Barbara is taken by Manny’s seemingly genuine dedication to bettering the school and instead tells Janine to go for it, much to her and the audience’s surprise. This change in Barbara’s optimism isn’t provoked simply by Manny, but by two seasons of Janine’s constant striving, and we understand that she has been changed by Janine as much as Janine has been by her. 

Whereas the first two seasons encouraged traditional romantic tropes, the season three premiere overturns them. The other major romantic relationship between Melissa and Gary (Bruno Amato), the vending machine stocker, ventures into uncomfortable conversations. Gary, a good-natured man who matches Melissa’s banter, has started joking about marriage, an idea that Melissa continually rejects, saying it “would take a miracle.” 

And a miracle is what Gary gives her. With the surprise celebrity appearances of the NFL Eagles on Zoom for Career Day, Gary proposes to Melissa. To audiences well-versed in rom-coms or comedies in general, it comes as a surprise when Melissa rejects him (in front of the Eagles and the classroom), reiterating her stance on marriage. The show’s uncompromising representation of the integrity of Melissa’s opinion on marriage pushes back against the many instances in media where women are “convinced” into relationships by grand gestures, creating a counternarrative of women maintaining their independence. 

As the viewer eagerly awaits a hint of the Janine/Gregory situation, Ava is the one who reveals the status of their relationship. Caught on one of Ava’s new secret cameras, Janine talks to Gregory about potentially pursuing their relationship, and Gregory, the one who has pined over Janine for two seasons, tells her that he has emotionally moved on. Again, while frustrating for a viewer primed for easy endings, the show realistically depicts how romantic feelings change. At a certain point, this one-sided pining becomes boring, and hopefully, the rest of the season will be focused more on their friendship.

After all the excitement of rejected proposals and NFL cameos, Janine finally gets a moment of quiet to talk with Gregory. Despite the extreme awkwardness, the two quickly start gossiping and laughing like old times. “I missed this,” Janine confides, elevating their friendship, rather than a potential romance. 

Career Day was chaotic, and did not go according to plan, quite characteristic of happenings at Abbott. However, as Janine apologizes profusely and waits for admonishment, the District representatives unexpectedly rave over its success (mostly due to the appearance of the NFL players).  

As a new year starts at Abbott, there’s been a lot of changes. The first two episodes successfully maintain the show’s humor and its heart, allowing the characters to grow without compromising their true selves. 

Emma Kexin Wang '24 is a Arts & Life staff writer, and Screen columnist for vol. 264 and vol. 265. She greatly enjoys horror and Ghibli movies. Contact her at ekwang 'at'

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