Thursday, October 6, 2022

REVIEW: 'Abbott Elementary' - Jacob Embraces How Corny He Is While Melissa Accepts That She Needs Help in 'Story Samurai'

ABC's Abbott Elementary - Episode 2.03 "Story Samurai"

A traveling storytelling troupe Jacob used to be in visits Abbott Elementary for a day of education and entertainment. Jacob can't wait to share this part of his past with his colleagues; but when he realizes they think the performers are corny, Janine does her best to help him embrace his nerdy side. Melissa struggles with the new normal of her combined second and third grade class.

"Story Samurai" was written by Jordan Temple and directed by Jay Karas

Jacob is corny. That's why the students call him Mr. C. And yet, they also appreciate who he is. Every teacher is different. And yet, they are all good at what they do. A lot of this comedy is framed around the personal eccentricities of these characters. At times, it's designed to laugh at their ridiculous details. However, the storytelling always remembers that they are good at this job. They are celebrated for who they are. Janine wants to protect Jacob from embarrassment. In reality, she is telling him not to behave like himself. That's absolutely soul-crushing. It requires Gregory to speak some reason into her. Sure, their interactions are still defined by the slow-moving will-they?/won't-they? intrigue. That's still transparent in the moment when he knocks on her door just to see how her day is. They then witness Melissa struggling in the hallway due to the demands of her expanded class. This is all meant to illustrate how these characters champion each other. Many would love to laugh at Jacob for being ridiculous. He is always going to stand out as one of the few white teachers in a predominately black school district. He always strives to find new ways to ease the racial divide. It's corny. And yet, the overall message is still appreciated. That's simply who he is. He should be allowed to shine. He joined the Story Samurai troupe because he wanted to connect with young minds. He wanted to expand their thinking by using their own suggestions to help talk about these big ideas. He saw a direct evolution from that work to teaching. He continues to be of service to the students. The new members of the troupe don't have the same aspirations. They enjoy the wholesome nature of their job. They love hanging out together and performing improv. However, this is the closest they want to get to children. They don't have to stay in one place for very long and help the children grow. They have a specific job that doesn't require them to do more. In fact, they would rather explore what it means to be a comedian or an influencer. They are still wrapped up in their own worlds. They are driven by their own selfish needs. Teaching is a profession that requires people to step outside of themselves to care for the youngest in our society. It's incredibly selfless work. It isn't always rewarded. The people who endure this job frequently find themselves having to put on a brave face to combat all they must handle at work. The school year has barely begun and every class is already behind schedule. This break from learning allows the teachers to get caught up on their work. It also allows them to forge connects based on true appreciation for what makes each of them unique.

Throughout all of this though, Ava will still laugh. She doesn't want to see her teachers from a new perspective. She wants to laugh at Jacob's expense. She shouldn't take any of this seriously. In fact, this is an opportunity to invite even more people into the space to laugh at the humiliation. That's what she wants more than anything else. It's all about the clout she can achieve. She has this personal access. She can make the whole school come together for an assembly. Students may have to sit through this performance more than once. It's not because of the educational benefits. It's all because it's convenient for Ava. Her complexity comes from her doing the right thing every now and again. She doesn't want expectations to be set high for her offering assistance. The teachers shouldn't believe that help is coming. They are expected to do the impossible. They have to accept that no matter what. There should be no shame accepting help when it's offered. This is that rare situation for Melissa. She can't control two classes at the same time. She already has a relationship with some students because she taught them last year. Managing kids at different points in their development is challenging and chaotic. Each grade has different needs. These teachers decided where they could be of service to the overall curriculum. They may not have always had the choice of which grade to teach. They have the skills to adapt to any situation that is thrown their way. Everyone is still struggling. As such, Melissa feels selfish for placing her problems above what everyone else is going through. She isn't a newcomer to this world either. She has already been at Abbott for decades. She's made her stamp on the program. Other teachers respect that about her. Melissa believes she has to appear strong just to maintain the opinion Barbara has about the work. That's not authentic though. It's up to Barbara to recognize how her best friend is flailing. She needs the teacher's aide being provided to her. She shouldn't feel ashamed or inferior for not being able to tough it out for the entire year. This resource can help everyone thrive. It can make this chaotic situation much more tolerable. Of course, only time will tell if having the particular aide in the classroom actually alleviates the burden from Melissa. It may be good enough to simply have another adult in the room who can manage the children. That may be all that Melissa truly needs. Ashley already presents herself with a distinct personality. It's one that can easy be judged and dismissed. However, the importance of this episode is in accepting how others express themselves in the world. It's all valid. It's simply about adapting to the situation to make it work instead of immediately dismissing it for not being cool enough.