It feels quite appropriate that Quinta Brunson learned a few lessons while writing a series that takes place in a school.
Brunson is the creator of and stars in Abbott Elementary, which recently picked up three Emmy awards, including one for Brunson for writing.
Launching season two after having such success with season one, Brunson says her on-set work taught her, ‘to do the exact same thing again.’
She explains, saying, “The first season was much easier to do because we got to film and edit and write the majority of the season before it even went to air. This year we will be in different situations where we will still be filming and writing when the show starts airing. So, I guess what we learned from last year was to trust what we did. We did a very good job.”
Abbott Elementary is a mockumentary set in a fictional predominantly Black school in Philadelphia. Brunson plays an optimistic second grade teacher. The series also stars Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lisa Ann Walter, Tyler James Williams, and Chris Perfetti as teachers, with Janelle James as the school’s principal.
Airing weekly on broadcast television has provided a challenge for Brunson and her team, she says. “In this ever-changing, but binge-worthy climate, this [show] is not something people [are] able to binge immediately. So, I want to make sure they will be back with us every week that we are on the air.”
To do this, Brunson has shifted the narrative this season just a bit — by giving viewers a peek at the personal lives of the teachers.
“In order to flesh out the back stories of these characters a little bit more and give viewers something that they didn’t have the first season, we thought it would be great to, every now and then, go into their lives. And the home is a great place to learn more about a character. We aren’t going to technically live there, but we think it is a really fun experience for the audience to learn more about where these people came from.”
However, Brunson wants to be clear that she’s made sure that this element of the series doesn’t, as she puts it, “overwhelm this workplace comedy.
It’s not just the teachers and school staff that make the series fun and funny, says Williams, as he explains that the kids featured on-screen are a very important part of the narrative. “They add a certain something to this show that you just can’t get anywhere else.”
He says this is because they’re not, like other actors, constantly worrying about their career trajectory; they’re just kids in a classroom.
William says that, “One of the kids who cam in today asked me, ‘Are you going to be my teacher?’ [And I answered]. ‘Sure.’”
“They ask all of us questions that have nothing to do with [acting],” says Walter. “They are asking about the worksheet that is their prop in front of them or asking about something going on. Quinta will get to the point where [she says], ‘Now we have to focus’ and it’s like, ‘Okay.’”
She laughs as she adds, “Sometimes they come out with some crazy stuff. I had one kid in my class that was talking about inter-dimensional worlds and conflicted anti-heroes. I’m like, ‘How old are you?’ Ten. He is ten! Yeah. They’re amazing.”
On a more serious note, while Brunson and the creative team work to incorporate real-life issues into the series, she says that, “The focus in our writers’ room is always to start with comedy first, and if it is not something that we can truly bring humor to or that has humor in it innately that is to be mined out for our show, then we try to stay away from it.”
She says that the writers start with the reality of situations faced in the education system. “We just go ‘What does a school like Abbott deal with from the day-to-day?’ And naturally, things come into play. The more we focus on our characters and the four walls we have at Abbott, the more we wind up talking about these major issues.”
More gained knowledge about the series that Brunson wants viewers to know is that, “Our goal is to do things that you haven’t seen before. There are no guarantees. So I definitely would say tune in because I am excited about it. If I was at home watching this show, I would be really excited to just see what happens.”
‘Abbott Elementary’ airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on ABC, and is available for streaming the next day on Hulu.