“I am just so happy to be back!” Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson) squeals in the opening scene of Abbott Elementary’s second season. Janine is excited to get into the classroom again and prove she has it all together this year (and for her colleagues to notice she parted her hair on the other side), but I imagine Brunson is also thrilled to be back: After an historic three Emmy nominations, she nabbed her first win (Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the pilot), while the show picked up two more statues.
It’s well-established that a sitcom takes time to find its footing. Go back and rewatch the first seasons of Parks And Recreation or The Office and you’ll see that things feel a little off compared to the comedic timings and dynamic chemistries they became known for. Thanks to Brunson’s clear vision and specificity as a Philly local, though, Abbott Elementary showed a rare confidence in its first outing. And it’s exciting to think that with time and development, the show is going to become even funnier and deeper as it goes on. The good news: The laughs came more frequently in the back half of season one, and this season-two premiere doesn’t skip a beat.
We pick up with the gang on the titular “Development Day,” with the teachers returning from summer break to prepare their classrooms before the students arrive. Janine assures the audience and her colleagues that she “fast-tracked” her breakup with Tariq (Zach Fox), which is basically Chekhov’s “Janine is going to have a meltdown” for the episode. This year is going to be different! But when she gets to school and tries to park, she finds that Ava (Janelle James) has commandeered the parking lot to charge Eagles fans to tailgate. So…not that different.
We get a quick rundown of what everyone did for the summer: Jacob (Chris Perfetti) taught abroad in Peru and took an ASL class (“I wasn’t inspired by CODA, per se, but…”); Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph–also an Emmy winner) lost her shoes on an all-inclusive cruise while extremely inebriated (“Sea Barbara is different than Land Barbara”); Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter) was down on the Jersey shore with Gary the vending machine guy; and Gregory (Tyler James Williams) dove into the first-grade curriculum since he’s now a full-time teacher.
During her morning address in the gym, Ava throws a few summer thirst traps of herself up on the screen for Gregory’s benefit before sharing the agenda for the day. Janine has planned a teacher’s mixer, and when she mentions her “wisdom swap” idea, Barbara and Melissa are quick to tell her it won’t work. She starts to argue but then stops herself—“I don’t have to change your minds, because it’s mandatory”— in a show of confidence that impresses the veteran teachers. Between that and the reveal that she’s snagged “the only celebrity that matters” to surprise the kids on the first day of school (Gritty, the terrifying Flyers mascot), Janine is stepping up. “Looks like somebody got it together this year,” Barbara mutters to Melissa.
The team is quickly bogged down in the…