Abbott Elementary: Season 3 – Review

Abbott Elementary: Season 3 - Review

Abbott Elementary: Season 3 – Review. By Christopher Patterson.

The First Time I’m Gonna Say, Unironically: Don’t Be Late To Class

Back in school, it seems. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” – The Godfather Part III. A quote is never needed more than here. And I checked a lot of possible situations. Though, back to the season, is this the disappointing continuation to finish this show off or is it a breakthrough in a newer direction? The previous season really hit all the usual material you could hit here, so what’s next? Well, Quinta Brunson has the answer, and, thankfully, as usual and as always, it’s better than you can imagine. Thankfully, this season hits a home run in quality most of the time, though it does fall slightly behind on its heels compared to the previous fantastic and quite neat seasons that ran this show. Simply put, the stars don’t align. Well, they don’t align as well.

Abbott Elementary is one of those shows you can just go back to. Its rewatchability is its reliability for the little details. Those little moments that might go unnoticed were in the spotlight. Sadly, that is kind of, most definitely, lost here.

Season three has this aurora that is more generally the same as previous seasons yet flipped on its head. But that “generally the same” part is what’s key. While Abbott Elementary has the usual mockumentary jokes and styles, what it had so uniquely was this sense of individuality. It simply stood out from the crowd since it innovated so much with its unique and promising premise and how it delivered it, plus more. This season goes in, even more than past seasons, on innovation, promising, and delivering, but misses out on more. It simply feels like it didn’t have much time. This is due to the WGA Strike that makes this season feel like a cutting-edge but not always consistent season in the line of television.

One minor, but still frequent enough to a point of mention, issue persistent with Abbott Elementary (with all seasons) is its humour strategy. “You could never expect us to do this.” “Actually, yes. I literally suspected it the whole time.” This quote literally represents my entire issue with this show’s thought writing of comedy. Abbott Elementary has a structure and never feels like it evolves. If I had one issue with so many comedies, it’s that. To put it better, it’s that back-to-basics style that, while serviable enough, never feels enough. Like doing the bare minimum of effort. For instance, when Janine and Gregory surprise Ava with their strategy to keep her principal, they tell her confidently something along the lines of: You thought we would give up that easily. In most comedies, the next line would be nothing but a smile to show a heartwarming moment. Instead, Abbott Elementary takes the subversive route of her saying something like: Oh yes, I did think you would give up; that was literally all I thought. While it is funny, this rejection of a normality in television, this subversive style of humour, when repeated nearly every single, possible second, turns sour and repetitive by not even the halfway point, making jokes like this less funny and more just a smile. Though, for Abbott Elementary, it is a smile about to turn into a laugh since, despite this shortcoming, the writers really have a handle on making the littlest jokes so strong that despite sights of substantial repetition, it flows quite impressively. This criticism is more towards other shows since Abbott Elementary certainly isn’t the only one and one of the better ones by a long, long mile. Though, this Abbott Elementary does suffer from a slight predictability that is quite purposeful. Moments that build to the inevitable and take only a few minutes to, usually, but most of the time you don’t feel those minutes. Though, at its lowest, which is important to account for, you really feel those minutes. It’s almost itched into the show itself. To be clear, I’m referring to moments like a character showing how happy they are to do something in a way where you know it’s going to go wrong.

A weak and strong point in this Abbott Elementary (as a whole) is the use of mockumentary-style television. In my opinion, at least, mockumentary-style television can be quite good when it is done properly. The failures of mockumentary shows are that, a lot of the time, the jokes are worn out and never feel innovative. Simply put, they were already done a million times before, to be exact, in The Office (UK) or (US), and half the time they are not really innovative; they are just the same punchline but slightly different. Even worse, we get the stereotypical archetypes. The quirky character, the funny one, the bad boss—it comes in nearly every single mockumentary series since the British The Office and never as original. The only one, I have seen at least, to have done it properly to a point, with this season especially, which has not only revitalised the genre and what it can do but also pushed the possibilities of television, is Abbott Elementary, specifically season three. This season generally feels like a more precise, neater, and groundbreaking version of what mockumentary entertainment can be. If you need any other  proof, watch the first episode of this season and how it explains even the camera crew to fit with the more unique style of this season. 

Though, there is one issue, for the mockumentary style, and it all relates to one character. Gregory. Gregory is nice for comedic relief somewhat, but he can feel derivative of better cool guy performances, like how John Krasinski was more of a pale imitation of Martin Freeman. For as much depth Gregory gets, his comedic relief could use more of it than what’s consistently presented. For instance, his look into the camera is a joke that has been done by millions of other comedies, like The Office, and feels more derivative and tired than standout and funny. This doesn’t go for many other characters, though, amazingly. It feels like, mostly, Brunson made this show her own in every conceivable aspect.

Season three of Abbott Elementary has this maturity to it that other seasons miss in terms of, at least, its general story outline. The plot points of the characters are now less focused on the mundane lives of these characters, and the oddities these teachers get themselves into, and more of the straightforward concepts like Janine leaving Abbott Elementary and having to make fewer choices on love and more to-the-point yet explosive ones like job decisions. 

In a way, this season is a progression and digression of all that came before. While the first season was a nice introduction to the characters general personalities, season two really pushed in depth to knowing each character in unique and complex ways that gave an exuberant amount of depth to these teachers and expanded the world in such a casual and slick manner. Season three, on the other hand, doesn’t really expand any of the characters at all. Really, in a sense, that all feels harshly held back. Instead, we are given the characters just making choices that never feel as detailed or even nearly as interesting and more straightforward. Simply, whatever goes seems to be the attitude here. What makes this work, though, is the switch-up. 

This season takes its main lead, Janine, in a unique direction and has a different flow from the previous seasons. In a sense, the show has said: we have seen enough of the characters’ lives; now get ready for the crushing drama that was finally really hit in the season two finale. While there is a point of critique for this decision, sacrificing character depth, it works generally well in serving and making this season an almost precise and sometimes mind-blowing continuation of the immaculate previous season. 

The one weak point in all of this is the lack of complexity in the characters. Not to say they are completely one note, but it feels, at points, quite close. In season two, for instance, the romance between Janine and Gregory felt real. Janine, for instance, at one point, attempts to go out with her ex, and Gregory, noticing this, feels almost unhelpful to her ex in his rebuilding of the relationship, almost protective of what he has with Janine. It’s flawed in the sense of what one will do for love, but it’s love. It’s complex. It’s not so simple. In season two, that idea of love blossomed. Now, in season three, it all feels rotten and dry. Though, thankfully, possibly to compensate for this staleness, the romance feels more at the back end of all that season three brilliantly offers. Though that doesn’t make the issues with characters good since there are more direct examples where the romance to be shown slips on its face. Though, to be more direct, it’s like a slip on the cement with the level of clear damage in coherency and heart.

A great example of this is when Janine breaks up with her boyfriend from childhood in the finale of season one. It nicely plays up to the show’s best qualities, feeling intimate despite the humour and having a nice send-off. We see them hug, and it feels like a true goodbye to a relationship and the start of a new one. It’s hard to even watch with the level of emotion there. It feels real in its weight. In season three, moments like in the start, where Janine is rejected by Gregory, feel more shallow as we see it through security cameras with commentary. First of all, though quite a nice execution of the concept the writers were going for, it is quite a horrible way to continue this relationship and feels more like a rough draft that should’ve never been sent out and secondly, the camera being there makes it feel less intimate and more like a discussion on a failed relationship then a continuation, as will be shown later, of a romance. What made Janine and her boyfriend’s breakup more impactful was the care and honesty that was put into it by the writers. It simply beamed with life and love from the writers, despite it being a side story and not a really serious romance. It felt more real than anything Gregory or Janine ever did in season three. The other scene simply had thought and personality—something season three only sometimes has one of. And it’s usually thought with innovation but no strong package unlike previous seasons. Simply put, season three feels somewhat dysfunctionally hollow.

To build on my point further about the romance in this season being more shallow now than even the most minor and inconvenient romances in the show, in season two, it felt as though there was a battle going on with the romance. It was love. And it was war. And it was season two. Season three feels like an unnecessary epilogue to season two, whereas season two felt like Janine fighting at every turn with Gregory’s romances and right back with Gregory for Janine. Here, in season three, it feels like when romance occurs, it’s predictable and thrown at random like on a dart of scribbled in joke ideas. It, quite simply, feels cluelessly directed at. It is like when the character Morten in season three described his relationship and how miserable it sounded. That is the relationship here. Unironically sour and losing flavour or spark. It is a love that feels gone, yet, seemingly, the writers still think it exists. It’s an oddity. It seems to have felt more necessary to have kept Janine and Gregory, based on how this season’s romance feels, apart for good. Even if it’s just a comedy, moments like this would work well. 

To touch on the positives, which very much overshadow any negatives, the mockumentary-style direction here feels even more enhanced than in previous seasons. No longer does an episode feel like an imitation in its direction of a better mockumentary show, unlike sometimes in season one. Now, it feels as though the show has found its groove, is running with it, and is making some bold choices so as not to run out of steam. It’s even more impressive considering after like twenty years of mockumentary style shows always having this almost map of how it would run itself dry and when it attempts otherwise, it usually is less good. Finally, Quinta Brunson has beaten everyone to making a new map. This show, unlike almost every other mockumentary-style show in existence, doesn’t feel like it’s beating a dead horse after the third season, but rather, it just got a new one to beat up. And with style and just the right amount of explosion to come with it, this season mostly rocks.

A key element of loss, though, is the factor of unnecessary and annoying continual  cameos. To put it nicely, lots of celebrities show up that are celebrities in the show itself. While this seems nice, the fact this illustrates this isn’t some little show now; the issue is that it takes away from the groundedness of the world. Isn’t this supposed to be some little school from nowhere? Instead of feeling like just some school like the premise, it falls into feeling specific, which takes away from the more grounded and humble tone season two really hammered down on. In other words, this season is a betrayal. Though, on its own, these cameos are usually quite humorous and well written. So despite its clear issues, there’s that.

Abbott Elementary, at its best, is when the show just gets it. Not just the characters, but the comedy. When we see each character play off each other or certain characters get paired up, that’s when the show is at its best since it makes for unique or either nicely flowing dialogue or scenes. Here, season three does a great job at this in the general sense, but misses out on the more little moments that defined the previous season. But, in a sense, it makes up for this with some explosive and nice writing decisions by Brunson that keep you guessing at every turn as to which mind-blowing thing will happen next. 

It’s an interesting switch-up, to be sure, but it feels more like a restarter than anything. At the start of a series, it usually takes a bit of time or the next season to really get a stronger and better grasp of what’s being played at. Here, it feels as though Abbott Elementary will go down this route with each passing season, changing the game even slightly to keep interest and work with ending storylines like Janine and Gregory finally getting together at the end of season three. This inhibits many nice future episodes to come, but it also limits and possibly hurts the show all at once. One of the main threads is now resolved, and if they break up, then this all loses impact, so a change up, you could say, is more than necessary.

Though if change-ups like this season just keep happening and the cameos continue, the show will lose groundedness and realisticness, and even more, it will just lose intrigue. It would feel like a loose cannon firing for more without understanding where it’s firing. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen, and if this season is anything, it shows Brunson is always one step ahead. Though it also makes clear, some new talent needs to be added to this show, like writers or supporting cast, which could be necessary so as to not fall into repetitiveness or lose itself in mediocrity.

To end off on a good sight of what this season is at its best, look no further than episode four, “Smoking.” Here, the idea is of the teachers lives interfering with the school, especially with the topic of the teachers on things like cigarettes, and, in turn, some people show up to warn the students while Janine struggles with the facing of a substitute teacher, to which the substitutes practices and Janine’s don’t meet eye to eye. What keeps this episode going is its flowing comedic nature, its clever subtext, and most importantly, the acting. Not once is there a lacking joke. It all just pops. 

For instance, we get a biting joke from some student who says something to Janine in the hallway, and it comes off the lines of the student using something Janine said about being high to say she’s high. It works since the cast just bounce off each other so naturally and effectively. It’s this striking and small yet hilarious comedy that is Abbott Elementary almost at its best. At its true best, though, is the scene where we see the students and teachers show up to a discussion on the importance of not taking certain substances where the speaker, in particular, just bounces off of the students questions with this quick flowing nature where each cast member just got the punchline and went for it so well. And a cherry on top is the substitute teacher Janine deals with, has her own comedic style that just bounces with the show magnificently. Even better is that this episode builds on the change up this season encompasses. Here, Janine is facing more than the mundane problems of teaching or a random teaching dilemma, unlike previous seasons. Here, she faces the feeling of being replaced and the rejection of different teaching practices. Thanks to this season’s ever-changing nature, it opens the floodgates to unique and stunning episodes like this that do so much with quite a bit to chew on.

Quinta Brunson leads this show in such an impressive manner that it is worth mentioning highly. She is not only an amazing actor but also a fantastic creator. Two pluses and no minuses. 

If I had to describe this season, it’s like a comeback for a cancelled show. It has some of the qualities you love from before, but it doesn’t hit quite the same. Simply put, it’s not the original. Here, it is simply not what came before. But that’s fine. And speaking of fine, that is this season in one word. Just fine. 

This comeback quality also signifies why the show feels odd in another way. The previous seasons, for instance, had this timelessness to them, a word I love to use. The last season felt like a show that, twenty years from now, people would still cut on. This season, on the other hand, while nice on its own, is one that would be skipped on the re-watch.

Season three feels like a step up with interesting turns and nice promises, but looking at what it took to get here, this season feels like a fall down an endless staircase and a case of neverending tumbling, though this tumbling is in regards to the specialness the previous seasons had. It had a structure. It felt like a show with family. Now, it feels like just a show with a mockumentary brushed into it with nice comedy and good writing and direction. But it misses the charm. While, as said before, this is due to the strike and all and also the timeline of the school year the show keeps for consistency, it can’t help but feel like an imitation of a better show. Even if, on its own, this is a true good one.

A key to Abbott Elementary is the cast building off each other. Here, that is no different. To be more specific, it’s even better now. The change that Janine and many other characters face as we see and catch up to them is natural in a sense but also slightly phoney in its fanfiction-like presentation with how it conducts so many things, from either the romances feeling forced at points or misdirected with a feeling of indulgence towards certain areas of comedic relief or change-ups that feel too new to really hit hard. It’s a respectable, but slightly mischaracterized, season of what the show is at its best. It’s an identity crisis, almost, that while it works on its own as a great piece of entertainment, it slips up more than before and more noticeably, or, to be precise, well quite noticeably, as the trips here are more apparent.

Despite the criticism I have given, it is all very minor. Especially for this season. Episode four, as I have mentioned before, is like every other episode in general quality, though marginally better. In a sense, while there are a lot of little things to critique, but overall, this is an example of a bold choice made by a great creative that mostly paid off, with some slight issues that might become bigger ones on the horizon. Even with some of my critique, it is more examination towards how the show has progressed since, on its own, than this season fully. Since this season is quite a nice slam dunk.


Abbott Elementary is back and less intimate and grounded, but more bolder and revolutionary than ever, mixed with the usual care put in, albeit more purposefully, it seems, to make a show that not just stays good but also reinvents itself from the ground up.


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