'Abbott Elementary' Returns For Superlative New Season

Somehow, “Abbott Elementary” feels Philadelphia-to-the-bone, even though virtually none of it is filmed there.

Thanks for this goes to Quinta Brunson, creator and star of the show, and recent winner of the Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.

She is an evidently proud daughter of West Philadelphia, and she does great honor to her hometown in her ABC sitcom, which returns Wednesday for its third season.

The show’s connection to Philadelphia starts with the name chosen for the locale of this one-camera, school workplace mockumentary -- Abbott Elementary.

Philadelphians of a certain age (such as yours truly) cannot help but link the name to the old Abbotts Dairies located within the city limits for something like a hundred years -- known for its milk and famed for its ice cream.



Brunson is only 34, so for all I know she has never even heard of Abbotts. As a matter of fact, she reportedly named the fictional school not after a dairy company, but after a beloved sixth grade teacher, Joyce Abbott (although the full name of the school is Willard R. Abbott Elementary).

But even when not referring directly to the things Philadelphians love most about their city – things like the Mummers, the Palestra, Teddy Pendergrass, and a hundred hoagie and cheesesteak places out-of-towners will never know about -- the show just feels like Philadelphia.

ABC is bringing “Abbott Elementary” back with a one-hour episode. In the show, plucky second-grade teacher Janine Teagues (Brunson, pictured above, standing) has undertaken a new temporary post with the Philadelphia School District.

The first big idea she brings back to Abbott is a Career Day featuring professionals from a number of fields who will speak to the classes about their jobs.

One of them is a marketing executive from the Eagles whose classroom presentation electrifies and disrupts the whole school. 

Question for real-life marketing execs who might be reading this: Have you ever heard of this happening before?

The reason for the furor is a particularly Philadelphia thing, which an ABC email forbids TV columnists from divulging.  

Like about a dozen other network TV shows about to return for their new seasons soon, the season premiere of “Abbott Elementary” was delayed for five months due to last year’s strikes.

Wednesday’s episode makes reference to the five-month delay in its opening minutes when principal Ava Coleman (played by the incredible Janelle James) faces the camera and explains that the five-month gap had to do with the unseen, fictional camera crew that is supposedly making a documentary about the school.

The reason was that five months earlier, the crew took a wrong turn at 30th Street and wound up in a rough neighborhood where they had all their equipment stolen.

As the namesake of Philadelphia’s landmark train station, 30th Street Station, the show’s use of 30th Street in this story is another example of a real-life Philadelphia reference in the show.

“Here we are five months later because that’s how long it takes for three people with art degrees to save up for new cameras!” she says, while being recorded by the very same crew.

The second season of “Abbott Elementary” ended last spring with a rare episode filmed mostly in Philadelphia, in and around the famed science museum, the Franklin Institute (pronounced IN-stee-tute by the locals).

This museum has been a beloved destination for untold multitudes of area schoolchildren since the 1930s -- as much a part of growing up there as a child’s first Phillies game.

After watching the one-hour, third-season opener on Monday in advance of this Wednesday’s premiere, I suddenly became aware of this show’s biggest attribute.

It is the way in which it has created and fostered a community that feels very real -- from the teachers to the kids they teach. 

The one-hour, third-season premiere of “Abbott Elementary” airs Wednesday, February 7, at 9 p.m. Eastern on ABC.

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