Thursday, February 9, 2023

REVIEW: 'Abbott Elementary' - Janine Sees Her Friendship with Gregory in a New Context in 'Valentine's Day'

ABC's Abbott Elementary - Episode 2.14 "Valentine's Day"

On Valentine's Day, the Abbott teachers discuss their relationships and plans for the holiday. Janine finds out one of her students has a crush on her and when turning to a colleague for advice, she inadvertently learns a secret about another teacher. Elsewhere, Ava sits in on Jacob's Black History class after receiving a complaint.

"Valentine's Day" was written by Justin Tan and directed by Justin Tan

It's insane for anyone to suggest that Janine and Gregory like each other. They are just really good friends. That's how Janine responds after Jacob mistakenly believes Gregory has confessed his true feelings towards her. It doesn't make any sense to her. Of course, it's blatantly obvious to everyone around them. Their colleagues don't believe they should constantly be talking about it. They have their opinions. Those are shared in the various comments they make every day. It's not as if the rest of the staff is rooting for the two of them to get together. They view it as inevitable. They also aren't pressuring Janine and Gregory. They are simply waiting for the two of them to figure things out. They are accustomed to things moving slowly. As such, it's better to just focus on what's going on in their own classrooms. Janine and Gregory aren't interesting enough to require so much attention all the time. All of this is shocking to Janine. She's not the most self-aware person. That's evident in her video call with her sister, Ayesha. The entire time she's talking about Ayesha to Jacob instead of actually communicating with her. Janine has strained relationships with her family. That has been well-documented at this point. She is eternally optimistic because that's how she copes with tension elsewhere. And yet, she can't exactly remove herself from that situation entirely. She's merely projecting her own insecurities onto Ayesha instead of engaging with who she truly is. Now, it's all played as a joke. Jacob wanted to be included but was ultimately forced into hearing a very long story. That's all on Janine. Ayesha presents with a normal life in her brief moment onscreen. If everything Janine says is true, then the two are more alike than she may be willing to admit. Again, that highlights her insecurities. Even when the truth is right in front of her, she can't quite accept it. She rationalizes that everyone else at Abbott is silly. Janine and Gregory are in relationships with other people. It's impossible for them to like more than one person at the same time. Even then, the show is quick to point out that Janine and Gregory understand each other better than their respective partners do. Mo and Amber show up at the school to make that comparison clear. Janine shows no interest in the designer bag Mo got her. Amber doesn't appreciate the LEGO flower from Gregory. Strong relationships are informed by gestures that display something romantic and personal. Those happen in other contexts. Janine sees how considerate and creative Gregory is with his gift for Amber. It's enough for her to accept that his love is clearly directed elsewhere. It's impossible for her to see things aren't reciprocated by Amber. That revelation will happen at some point. Janine continues to live in denial until then.

Elsewhere, Ava receives a complaint about Jacob's class. It has nothing to do with what he is actually teaching his students. One parent simply views it as inappropriate for a white man to be teaching Black history. Ava sees the concern as valid. She actually steps into her role as principal and evaluates the class. In doing so, she is actually inspired by school for once. There is such an inherent irony in someone who hates school being the principal. That's just a fun joke that has been well-executed across two seasons now. It works because the storytelling always provides room for growth. The various stories reveal how the teachers are actually good at their jobs. They care about these students. They try their best to make things work even without all the proper resources or responsible partners in the parents and administration. Ava is successful in her own way. She always has some hustle going on. She always has some angle to improve her life even if the staff questions her morals. All it took was one teacher to inspire her. She is just as shocked as everyone else that Jacob is that teacher. He goes beyond the bare minimum of expectations when it comes to delivering a Black history lesson. It's not surprising to see the discussion centered around Martin Luther King Jr. However, Jacob hopes to ignite a discussion about how united the famed activist was with Malcolm X. They embraced different tactics in pursuit of the same goals. So often, the historical narrative pits them against each other to create a tragic story resulting in their subsequent assassinations. It's done with the intention to place them in opposition instead of having a shared history and devotion to the same cause. Jacob opens the floor to discuss about these men and their impact on history. These students already know so much. They have the opportunity to share that wisdom. Ava appreciates that. In fact, she wants to remind Jacob of every detail in this lesson so he doesn't forget in a later class. She wants all of his students to know everything he has already shared with her. Of course, he's afraid of what her personal attachment means. He fears being fired. And yes, it's probably only a matter of time before Ava finds him annoying again. But she's also inspired to actually get the degree she said she had in order to get the principle job. That's a huge achievement. Moreover, she goes back to the concerned parent to criticize him for only caring about his child's education during Black History Month. Jacob has put in the work every month of the school year to champion Black history. All of this showcases the ways in which people inspire each other every single day. It doesn't have to solely be through a romantic context either. Jacob loves his relationship with Zach. Melissa receives a grand romantic gesture from Gary by the end of the day too. These relationships are positioned as what should be expected from romance. It matters a lot but it's not the only thing that creates happiness either. All of those nuances are powerful and add up to a show with so much attention to detail without skipping a joke along the way.