‘Abbot Elementary’: Philly School stars in the new Quinta Brunson ABC comedy

The comedian drew on stories from his mother, a longtime elementary school teacher in Philadelphia.

Quinta Brunson in 'Abbott Elementary'

Prashant Gupta / ABC

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West Philly native and comedian Quinta Brunson brings her spotlight home on Dec. 7 when ABC premieres “Abbott Elementary,” a workplace comedy set in a Philadelphia elementary school.

The series is created by 31-year-old Brunson and plays her as Janine Teagues, a 2nd grade teacher on a team that prioritizes students amidst the challenges with scarce resources and a poorly funded building. Yes, it’s based on reality – “Abbott Elementary” is loosely inspired by the stories of Brunson’s mother, a teacher who spent 40 years in the Philadelphia school district.

“It’s a fun show, it’s a live comedy,” Quinta Brunson said in July on Jimmy Kimmel Live. “We are dealing with ordinary people in work situations that they love.”

Trailers for the show shows Brunson’s character in “work situations,” which include replacing bulbs, updating outdated textbooks, trying to repair a “reverse flush” toilet, and teaching math with potatoes smuggled from the cafeteria.

Although her character theoretically has only one year of teaching experience, Brunson plays the mentor of a replacement played by Tyler James Williams, perhaps best known for her portrayal of a young Chris Rock in the CW’s “Everybody Hates Chris.” They play alongside Sheryl Lee Ralph – who is married to Senator Vincent Hughes of Philly State – plus Janelle James, Chris Perfetti and Lisa Ann Walter.

After the premiere, “Abbott Elementary” airs Tuesday night at 7 p.m. 21.00 starting on January 4, where it will serve as the lead-in to the final season of “black-ish”.

ABC picked up the show in March last year after a competitive bidding war drew attention to the marketability of Quinta Brunson’s creative vision. The comedian’s rise to fame began on Instagram in 2014. Almost as soon as the social media platform introduced the video, Brunson began releasing the roughly edited short sketch series “The Girl Who’s Never Been On a Nice Date.”

The vignettes not only went viral, but also slung Brunson’s face and her character’s slogan – “He got money!” – in meme status. BuzzFeed took note, hired the West Philly native as a video producer, and that platform accelerated her progress as a comedic actress. She had gone to Temple University, but when she returned to Philly after a stay in LA, it did not make sense to finish school anymore for me, she told Cosmo in 2016.

Since then, in addition to creating, producing and appearing in streaming series for YouTube, Verizon Go90 and Facebook Watch, Quinta Brunson has appeared in or performed roles on Netflix, Comedy Central and Adult Swim. Before making her 13-episode “Abbott Elementary” deal, she starred in season one of HBO’s “The Black Lady Sketch Show.”

Brunson discusses her rise to fame, her Philadelphia childhood, and tensions between her personal and professional lives in her book of essays, “She Memes Well,” published last June.

With “Abbott Elementary” and a primetime spot on the mainstream media, she’s up to add a fan base of families and older generations who ironically see her as a newcomer.

There are similarities, but the show feels different than “The Office.” The Scranton-based comedy made us laugh by exaggerating the workplace culture and studying the dysfunctional work family. “Abbott Elementary” is fun too. But by giving her quirky characters something noble to work towards, Quinta Brunson uses her latest project to draw attention to teachers as everyday heroes. It is perhaps her highest and most far-reaching platform yet.

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