Abbott Elementary's Quinta Brunson Has Seen The Office Comparisons, And Explains Why They're Different Shows

Abbott Elementary staff picture.
(Image credit: ABC)

Abbott Elementary is a mockumentary-style comedy that follows a small group of Philadelphia public school teachers around, documenting their successes, frustrations, and often-cringey interactions. If that premise sounds similar to another beloved workplace mockumentary set in Pennsylvania — The Office — you should know that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Quinta Brunson, who created the already-popular Abbott Elementary and stars as the fresh and optimistic second-grade teacher Janine Teagues, has seen the comparisons but says if you look past the surface, the elementary teachers are very different from the Scranton paper pushers.

Along with Quinta Brunson as Janine, Abbott Elementary stars Tyler James Williams as first-grade substitute Gregory, Lisa Ann Walter as second-grade teacher Melissa, Sheryl Lee as veteran kindergarten teacher Barbara, Chris Perfetti as history teacher Jacob, and Janelle James as cool but incompetent principal Ava. An otherwise motley crew, the teachers are united by the common goal of really wanting to do everything they can for their students, and that’s where the ABC show differs the most from The Office, as Brunson told Insider.   

Everyone cares about this job. Everyone is dedicated to doing a good job because if they don't, it means a child doesn't learn.

It’s a lesson Janine was taught early in show. The staff puts up with the less-than-ideal conditions, because the children’s futures are literally what’s at stake. Gregory may consistently break the fourth wall with a “WTF?” look into the camera — a move perfected by The Office’s Jim Halpert — but Gregory is not stuck in a job pulling pranks on his co-workers like Jim was; he’s on a mission to become a school principal, the creator says. 

Speaking of Gregory and Jim comparisons, another one that Quinta Brunson has heard is that Janine and Gregory are the new Jim and Pam. While there are some hints that the co-workers are crushing on each other, Brunson has bigger things in store for Janine than being one-half of a “will they-won’t they” story. Brunson said Janine has more personal goals than Pam did, especially in the earlier seasons of The Office, when a lot of her story revolved around her then-fiancé Roy. According to Brunson:

[Janine and Gregory] will both be going on totally different personal journeys than what we've seen in 'The Office.'

Janelle James’ Ava falls into the “bad boss” category, much like Michael Scott on The Office. She’s pretty tone deaf, cares way too much about what the camera thinks of her, and her priorities are all out of whack, but James plays her to still be sympathetic and relatable. Quinta Brunson points out that part of what makes Ava so great is how rare it is to see a Black woman in such a role. 

What I do think is cool about Ava is, I think it's rare that we've gotten to see a Black woman perform like this and still be funny and still be lovable. And I've seen so many people say, 'I know so many people like Ava and I've never seen her on TV.' And that's the stuff that makes her different to me than what we've seen already.

The Office is a comedy treasure that set the bar for workplace mockumentaries, to be sure, but Abbott Elementary stands on its own merits. I, for one, am excited to see what Quinta Brunson has in store. Abbott Elementary airs at 9 p.m. ET Tuesdays on NBC. Be sure to check out our 2022 TV schedule to get all of the upcoming premiere dates.

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.