(spoilers for the third season premiere of Abbott Elementary)
In a world where the new norm is waiting two or more years between seasons, getting Abbott Elementary back in ten months feels like a ‘Philadelphia Eagle Quarterback Jalen Hurts speaks to your classroom’ level miracle, especially when one considers the WGA/SAG strike that also took place during that period. But in the wake of what feels like endless news over cancellations and delays (and the state of the world in general), Abbott couldn’t come back fast enough.
Much of the super-sized episode takes place four months after the events of season two, specifically when Gregory (Tyler James Williams) finally confessed his feelings to an emotionally conflicted Janine (Quinta Brunson) at the science museum. Despite the fact that she turned him down, the pair continued to exist, for a time at least, as friends. However, things have changed considerably with the start of the new school year; not only are Janine and Gregory not talking to each other, Janine is no longer working at Abbott. If that shock wasn’t enough, Ava (Janelle James) has decided to be a model principal, leaving us to wonder if we’re all suffering from a collective head injury. Such is the power of a Harvard sweatshirt (“Oh yeah, I like books now!”).
Janine’s new role at the school district brings in a set of fresh faces to the cast, including Josh Segarra as Manny, the soft-spoken district employee who brought her onboard. Manny and Janine seem to have a connection that goes beyond mere professional alignment. I’ll eat my hat if he doesn’t become Janine’s new love interest, and honestly, she deserves it. Granted, Manny (and his colleagues) do emit a distinctly ‘too good to be true’ vibe that gives one pause, but between Gregory rejecting her romantic overture and the fact that Janine, for the first time ever, is appreciated for what she brings to the table, I’m willing to set aside the One True Pairing of Janine and Gregory in exchange for her to experience happiness for a period.
The other big romantic shake-up is Melissa’s (Lisa-Ann Walter) break-up with Gary (Bruno Amato) after her very public refusal of his marriage proposal. Sure, it would have been nice to look forward to a wedding, but anything other than a “no” would have done a disservice to the two season’s worth of characterization. Still, having to do it in front of dozens of kids, her colleagues, and oh yeah, Hurt and fellow Eagles players Brandon Graham and Jason Kelce, is less than ideal. Remember, folks, never propose marriage unless you’re damn certain you’re gonna get the answer you want to hear.
With Janine making new friends and a slightly better salary (“Two dollars?! That’s like a million dollars!”), the Abbott Elementary dynamics are getting just enough of a shake-up to keep things interesting. Personal evolution, especially those of the more subtle variety, have always been one of the show’s strengths; the Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) of season one would never have felt anything but discomfort at the idea of a young cosmetologist giving her a full face, contouring included, but season three Barbara has opened her mind enough to rock it for a night out with her husband.
The old familiarity is still there though, from Jacob’s (Chris Perfetti) well-meaning but often cringe-inducing support to Mr. Johnson’s ever-expanding mythology. We even get the old Ava back since the spell of higher-ed officiousness that was cast on her has now been broken; despite the immense power of Ivy League snobbery (“Princeton is the Temple University of the Ivies!”), it’s no match against the almighty dance classic ruler that is Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up.” Even if the season changes everything, one thing’s for certain: we’re always glad to see this cast back on TV again.
Favorite Ava moment (it’s a tie):
“Put your arms away, Jeremy Allen Black!”
“There’s no such thing as a happy career. To work is to lose in life.”
Season three of Abbott Elementary airs on ABC on Wednesday nights, available to stream on Hulu Thursday morning.
Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t eagerly awaiting the return of Zach (Larry Owens), Jacob’s all-too-adorable live-in boyfriend, she can be found on Bluesky here.