The return of Abbott Elementary feels a little…off. Unlike the first two seasons, which kicked off at the beginning of the back-to-school season, Season 3 is premiering in the middle of winter. We’ve got a supersized episode, which makes the half-hour comedy series feel entirely different. And then, the worst news of all: One of Abbott Elementary’s beloved teachers has left the building.
It feels like a punch in the gut. This is blasphemous! I never thought the day would come. And yet, we must move forward, one teacher down, already halfway through the school year.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead for Abbott Elementary’s Season 3 premiere.)
What makes the news even worse is that it’s Janine (Quinta Brunson), of all people, who’s left. Our star teacher is now working for the district in a fellowship program led by Manny (Josh Segarra). Everyone—but mostly Gregory (Tyler James Williams)—misses Janine. Is this some sort of sick and twisted nightmare?
Kind of, because after the first scene, we jump backward in time to five months ago, when Janine is still a second grade teacher at Abbott. Back-to-school events proceed as usual. Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph) prepares her desks for students. Gregory returns to his beloved garden. Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis) mops the floors while reading about the Y2K conspiracies. Most importantly: Janine is in her classroom.
The only one acting strange is, shockingly, Ava (Janelle James). Ava has spent her summer studying at Harvard—er, “Harvard.” She was actually getting her masters from Grand Canyon University while using Harvard’s Wi-Fi to complete her online courses. Ava won’t let anyone forget her valuable coursework, sporting a sweatshirt bedazzled with the letters “HARVARD”—with extra sequins on “AVA.”
Moreover, Ava is imparting her new knowledge on all of her employees. Those desks Barbara just set up in her classroom? That’s not the best way to organize a classroom. The gardening Gregory was planning on completing during lunch? He needs to do some grading instead. The mopping Mr. Johnson finished? He needs to redo it with fresh soapy hot water. The mop water replacement is too far, Mr. Johnson says: “The best stuff is like a sourdough starter. The older it is, the better it gets!”
The only thing left to do is stage a coup. The teachers are tired of Ava actually doing her job—ha!—and want her to return to her normal, careless self. Jacob (Chris Perfetti) tempts her with money. Mr. Johnson tries to lure her out of school with tickets to an Usher show. None of it works—until Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter) pitches a new idea.
The teachers blast “Back That Azz Up” by Juvenile in the gym. Ava cannot help but, well, in elementary school terms, “back that thang up.” She’s shaken out of her professional daze, and back into being the same mess she was before she got her masters degree (within the legal grounds of Harvard).
Janine, however, is a lost cause. When Manny introduces the idea of a fellowship working as a trainee for the district, which comes with a $2/hour pay raise—a huge win in any teacher’s book—Janine jumps at the opportunity. Fast-forward to where things were when the episode began: Ava is fully back to normal, Janine is working for the district, and everyone misses her dearly.
Gregory suspects there’s something else at play in Janine’s decision. It’s not just that she wants to move up in her job. Janine also, Gregory believes, wants to get away from him. Through Ava’s (illegal?) recordings of Gregory’s classroom, we find out that Janine professed her true feelings for Gregory in the days leading up to her departure. When Janine asks if Gregory wants to explore those feelings, he doesn’t outright reject her, but the answer isn’t exactly a “yes.” Instead, Gregory says he thought they had put a “period” on their will-they-won’t-they relationship.
Ugh! We’re back to square one with these two. The slow burn continues.
So, Janine is gone, and Gregory is feeling defeated. What else could go wrong? How about a failed proposal? Even though vending machine guy Gary (Bruno Amato) gets help from Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts—with a quick Jason Kelce cameo (Abbott is, like, an inch away from the Taylor Swift Universe here)—Melissa still says no when he asks her to marry him. They break up.
Everyone is down in the dumps. We need a miracle for things to turn around on Abbott Elementary, and something tells me there’s only one person for the job: Barbara Howard, who was shockingly quiet this entire episode. Barbara, work your magic.
First appeared on www.thedailybeast.com