Wednesday, September 21, 2022

REVIEW: 'Abbott Elementary' - Janine Approaches the New School Year With a New Mentality in 'Development Day'

ABC's Abbott Elementary - Episode 2.01 "Development Day"

The teachers are back at Willard R. Abbott Public School for development week, a time to prepare for the upcoming year before the students' first day of school. Post-breakup, Janine is determined to start the year off right and leave her problems at home. With this new outlook, she takes on organizing the faculty mixer and announces a special celebrity surprise she planned for the kids' first day.

"Development Day" was written by Quinta Brunson and directed by Randall Einhorn

As a third year teacher, Janine is still learning. In her first year, it was all about survival. It was only when she made the commitment to return for a second year that she could learn how to handle the demands of this job. The first season depicted that growth. The veteran teachers couldn't respect her at the start of the series. By the finale, they came to see her as someone worthy of treating with dignity. Of course, that humanity should always be on display. This is a very difficult profession. One that is constantly losing talented people because the stress is so much. Gregory starts to feel that pressure now as well. He was only a longterm sub previously. He had his sights set on becoming a principal. That couldn't happen for him despite Ava being a terrible administrator. He still chose to give it his all as a teacher. He also hopes to plant roots at Abbott. That means being handed the packet of curriculum he is expected to get through in just one year. He believes the school board must understand what is actually possible. That is never a guarantee. People love pointing at the standards on paper. It would be miraculous if everything could be covered. It's just not realistic. Right now, it's all about doing the most for as long as possible. The school just doesn't have the resources to do more than that. They make it work. They do so by relying on each other. Janine constantly hopes to force those bonds into reality. That's simply who she is. She hopes to enter this new school year with a different mentality. Dealing with her first breakup ever, she wants to keep her personal life outside of the job. And yet, those emotions have an effect on her. She's not approaching the job with the clarity she is capable of providing for her students and fellow teachers. She's distracted because her life is spiraling out of control. She doesn't know what to do because she has never gone through this before. That sets up the others teachers to pass along their wisdom. They are each trying to do their best. They had relaxing summers that they love bragging about to the cameras. They are reinvigorated for a new school year. Ava even celebrates them during Development Week. Sure, it's odd for anyone to want barbecue so early in the morning. This is a unique environment though. People who would normally not be a part of each other's lives are forced together. It's all a result of their circumstances. They make it work. They can't help but get invested in what is going on elsewhere. People want to help Janine. She can't continue living in denial. She has to face the reality of her situation. She has to pay her bills. That's her sole responsibility now. She can't blame everything going wrong in her life on Tariq no longer being around. The world doesn't care about her circumstances. That empathy is left for the people who care about her and are willing to help during this difficult time.

Dysfunction and chaos aren't confined to school hours. Of course, those elements can come together in a fun and amusing way too. That's the energy Gritty embodies even though the citizens of Philadelphia are enthralled by the mascot. That's the celebrity appearance that matters the most to the teachers. It would matter to the students as well. However, they can easily be satisfied by Mr. Johnson dressing up as a bush. That doesn't matter as much as the teachers showing how empathic and accommodating they are to their students. Barbara wants to ensure that her student who uses a wheelchair is just as capable for success as anyone else in her classroom. Meanwhile, it's useful that Jacob learned sign language because it immediately presents him as a teacher who understands and communicate with another student. Sure, it's also hilarious when Jacob translates for Gritty as the mascot explains why he shows up when Janine wasn't expecting him. That's a fantastic punchline too. That's what makes this show so great. It's aware of the comedic situations these characters frequently find themselves in. It never loses sight of the genuine emotions that radiate throughout this environment. Teachers are set up to fail. They continue to show up. They help each other out. Gregory searches through the basement to find a desk that Barbara needs for her student. She helps him cope with the daunting reality of the schedule. He feels the pressure because he now has to take this job seriously. He didn't behave that a way a year ago. Now, he has expectations to live up to. He is responsible for the development of these children. The two of them help each other. That's in contrast to Ava throwing even more students into Melissa's room. That's going to provide more chaos. She knows how to handle a certain amount of students. Even more bodies have been added into her limited space. They aren't even from the same grade level. That is thrown at her at the last minute. That's how the school has to adapt to changing situations. Barbara helps Ava with the school grant. That makes an immediate impact with the wheelchair ramp. Everything else is fundamentally the same. These characters have to rely on each other because no one else can understand what they are going through. Some concerns are universal. Janine isn't unique in trying to suppress her feelings about her breakup. They inevitably pop up at the most inopportune times. A hug from Gritty can accomplish a lot. That's also true of wisdom from Barbara. Janine has the support when she needs it. She understands that now. People notice and appreciate her - even in subtle ways, like how she parts her hair. That can only be one thing they can focus on at a job that requires so much of them. It's exhausting but the show never loses sight of what's so fun about this premise either. That's what makes it such a success. It's all-consuming while remaining solid entertainment.